Starting with Gradle

6 min read

(For more resources related on Gradle, see here.)

Let’s take a look at some of Gradle’s features.

Declarative builds and convention over configuration

Gradle uses a Domain Specific Language (DSL) based on Groovy to declare builds. The DSL provides a fl exible language that can be extended by us. Because the DSL is based on Groovy, we can write Groovy code to describe a build and use the power and expressiveness of the Groovy language. Groovy is a language for the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), such as Java and Scala. Groovy makes it easy to work with collections, has closures, and has a lot of useful features. The syntax is closely related to the Java syntax. In fact, we could write a Groovy class file with Java syntax and it would compile. But, using the Groovy syntax makes it easier to express the code intent, and we need less boilerplate code than with Java. To get the most out of Gradle, it is best to learn the basics of the Groovy language, but it is not necessary to start writing Gradle scripts.

Gradle is designed to be a build language and not a rigid framework. The Gradle core itself is written in Java and Groovy. To extend Gradle we can use Java and Groovy to write our custom code. We can even write our custom code in Scala if we want to.

Gradle provides support for Java, Groovy, Scala, Web, and OSGi projects, out of the box. These projects have sensible convention over configuration settings that we probably already use ourselves. But we have the fl exibility to change these configuration settings, if needed, in our projects.

Support for Ant tasks and Maven repositories

Gradle supports Ant tasks and projects. We can import an Ant build and re-use all the tasks. But we can also write Gradle tasks dependent on Ant tasks. The integration also applies to properties, paths, and so on.

Maven and Ivy repositories are supported to publish or fetch dependencies. So, we can continue to use any repository infrastructure we already have.

Incremental builds

With Gradle we have incremental builds. This means tasks in a build are only executed if necessary. For example, a task to compile source code will first check whether the sources since the last execution of the task have changed. If the sources have changed, the task is executed, but if the sources haven’t changed, the execution of the task is skipped and the task is marked as being up to date.

Gradle supports this mechanism for a lot of the provided tasks. But we can also use this for tasks we write ourselves.

Multi-project builds

Gradle has great support for multi-project builds. A project can simply be dependent on other projects or be a dependency for other projects. We can define a graph of dependencies between projects, and Gradle can resolve those dependencies for us. We have the flexibility to define our project layout as we want.

Gradle has support for partial builds. This means Gradle will figure out if a project that our project depends on needs to be rebuilt or not. And if the project needs rebuilding, Gradle will do this before building our own project.

Gradle wrapper

The Gradle wrapper allows us to execute Gradle builds, even though Gradle is not installed on a computer. This is a great way to distribute source code and provide the build system with it, so that the source code can be built.

Also, in an enterprise environment, we can have a zero administration way for client computers to build the software. We can use the wrapper to enforce a certain Gradle version to be used, so the whole team is using the same version.

Free and open source

Gradle is an open source project and it is licensed under the Apache Software License (ASL).

Getting started

We will download and install Gradle before writing our first Gradle build script.

Before we get and install Gradle, we must make sure we have a Java Development Kit (JDK) installed on our computer. Gradle requires JDK 5 or higher. Gradle will use the JDK found at the path set on our computer. We can check this by running the following command on the command line:

java -version

Although Gradle uses Groovy, we don’t have to install Groovy ourselves. Gradle bundles the Groovy libraries with the distribution and will ignore a Groovy installation already available on our computer.

Gradle is available on the Gradle website, at From this page we can download the latest release of Gradle. Or, we can download a previous version if we want to. We can choose among three different distributions to download. We can download either the complete Gradle distribution, with binaries, sources, and documentation, or only the binaries, or only the sources.

To get started with Gradle, we download the standard distribution with the binaries, sources, and documentation. On computers with a Debian Linux operation sytem, we can install Gradle as a Debian package. On computers with Mac OS X, we can use MacPorts or Homebrow to install Gradle.

Installing Gradle

Gradle is packaged as a ZIP file for one of the three distributions. So, when we have downloaded the Gradle full distribution ZIP file, we must unzip the file. After unpacking the ZIP file we have the following:

  • Binaries in the bin directory
  • Documentation with the user guide, Groovy DSL, and the API documentation in the docs directory
  • A lot of samples in the samples directory
  • Source code for Gradle in the src directory
  • Supporting libraries for Gradle in the lib directory
  • A directory named init.d where we can store Gradle scripts that need to be executed each time we run Gradle

Once we have unpacked the Gradle distribution to a directory, we can open a command prompt. We change the directory to bin, which we extracted from the ZIP file. To check our installation, we run gradle -v and we get output, listing the JDK used and the library versions of Gradle:

$ gradle -v
Gradle 1.1
Gradle build time: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 1:24:32 PM UTC
Groovy: 1.8.6
Ant: Apache Ant(TM) version 1.8.4 compiled on May 22 2012
Ivy: 2.2.0
JVM: 1.6.0_33 (Apple Inc. 20.8-b03-424)
OS: Mac OS X 10.7.4 x86_64

Here we can check whether the displayed version is the same as the distribution version we have downloaded from the Gradle website.

To run Gradle on our computer we only have to add $GRADLE_HOME/bin to our PATH environment variable. Once we have done that, we can run the gradle command from every directory on our computer.

If we want to add JVM options to Gradle, we can use the environment variables JAVA_OPTS and GRADLE_OPTS. The former is a commonly used environment variable name to pass extra parameters to a Java application. Similarly, Gradle uses the GRADLE_OPTS environment variable to pass extra arguments to Gradle. Both environment variables are used so we can set them both with different values. This is mostly used to set, for example, an HTTP proxy or extra memory options.

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