Why I converted a Gradle project to Maven

It may sound quirky, but I had finally HAD IT with a project I manage: Spring Web Services. There were several aspects of the build file that kept getting in my way.

Well, I was about to embark upon a critical change from which Gradle pushed me over the edge. To the point that not only did I convert to Maven, but ALSO moved the reference documentation from DocBook to Asciidoctor.

So what’s wrong with Gradle?

I know this is controversial, but I have worked with many projects. On the Spring team, it’s a common paradigm that if you need either a feature or a bug fix applied to some aspect of the portfolio, you check it out and submit a patch.

The community embraces this, and sometimes, if you really need something, the fastest route is to do it yourself.

Spring Framework, Spring Security, Spring Cloud Stream, Spring Session, Spring Session MongoDB, Spring Data Commons, blah blah blah. Just a handful of the projects I have dipped my toe in, some more than others.

Many use Maven, many use Gradle. I don’t mind Gradle for the occasional patch request. But when it came to an up-and-coming switch Spring Web Services had to make, Gradle wasn’t going to cut it.

Spring Web Services was going to create a new major release. We had supported 2.4 for a couple years, and 3.0 was about to get launched. This was the version where I could bump up the minimum to Java 8, Spring Framework 5, and other key 3rd party libraries.

That wasn’t the tricky part. The fact that we had to maintain the 2.4 branch at the same time, meant I needed a simpler build model.

Gradle comes loaded with a programming model that lets you declare things, and then hook in extra code to tailor things. And that is the problem!

Declarative vs. programmatic

Maven has this pattern of declaring what you want, and it goes and carries it out. You declare things like:

  • Artifact coordinates
  • Dependencies
  • Plugins

Because people frequently need to adjust settings for different scenarios, Maven supports the concept of profiles.

Gradle starts with the concept of a declarative build system as well. You can also declare:

  • Artifact coordinates
  • Dependencies
  • Plugins

But guess what? No first class support for profiles. Most people say, “no problem! Just code it.” Gradle uses Groovy, so you can write a little glue code, and BAM you have the concept of profiles.

Why do I need profiles? To make backwards compatibility maintainable, I always test each patch against the latest GA release of Spring Framework, as well as the latest snapshot release and the next major version. Each of these, captured in a separate profile, allows me to command my CI server to run every single patch across multiple versions of Spring Framework/Spring Security, and verify I’m not breaking anything.

Gluing this together with Groovy code was okay when I maintained a single branch. But migrating into maintaining two branches (master for 3.0 stuff and 2.x for the 2.4 stuff), that frankly wasn’t going to cut it. You see, Maven profiles are supported inside IntelliJ IDEA, but some glue code that emulates the same concept in Gradle doesn’t work AT ALL. It drives me to use the command line when my IDE should be supporting me.

This isn’t the only thing I’ve seen Gradle come short on where one must write code in their build file.

Frankly, I don’t WANT to write code there. That’s what I was able to do with Ant, and Ant drives one to spend too much time in the build file. Gradle is by no means as bad as Ant, but it seems a tad ant-ish.

Anything else?

Since you asked, there is another irritant. Gradle has plugins and that is great. Except that the blocks they add to your build file are at the global level. That means any construct you spy with settings inside it doesn’t identify the plugin they came from. You want to debug some piece of the build? You can’t jump to the plugin’s docs. You must first rummage around Google to determine which plugin is at hand.

To drive my point home, I’ve checked out projects where the developer built a handful of custom gradle plugins. That’s nice and handy, but it raises the need for me to READ every single plugin to know what’s happening.

Frankly, I’d prefer a block of XML, where the coordinates of the plugin AND its configuration details are RIGHT THERE. Maven may not offer the same magic of codability, but I fear that feature is shadowed by lack of discoverability.

Why the hate?

Okay, I know that Gradle is pretty cool out there. Many have been driven over the cliff by Maven. But to be honest, I haven’t seen enough payoff to warrant sticking with Gradle.

Since I could be wrong, feel free to dive into the comments and give me your pluses and minuses about Gradle vs. Maven!

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