Apache Ant/Property

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Ant does not have variables like in most standard programming languages. Ant has a structure called properties. Understanding how properties work is critical to understanding how (and why) Ant works so well.

Here is a simple demonstration of how to set and use properties

  <project name="My Project" default="MyTarget">
      <!-- set global properties -->
      <property name="SrcDir" value="src"/>
      <property name="BuildDir" value="build"/>
      <target name="MyTarget">
         <echo message = "Source directory is = ${SrcDir}"/>
         <echo message = "Build directory is ${BuildDir}"/>

Note that to use a property you have to put a dollar sign and left curly brace before it and a right curly brace after it. Don't get these confused with parens.

When you run this you should get the following:

  Buildfile: C:\AntClass\PropertiesLab\build.xml
       [echo] Source directory is = src
       [echo] Build directory is build
  Total time: 204 milliseconds

Ant properties are immutable meaning that once they are set they cannot be changed within a build process! This may seem somewhat odd at first, but it is one of the core reasons that once targets are written they tend to run consistently without side effects. This is because targets only run if they have to and you cannot predict the order a target will run.

Properties do not have to be used only inside a target. They can be set anywhere in a build file (or an external property file) and referenced anywhere in a build file after they are set.

Here is a small Ant project that demonstrates the immutability of a property:

   <project name="My Project" default="MyTarget">
      <target name="MyTarget">
         <property name="MyProperty" value="One"/>
         <!-- check to see that the property gets set -->
         <echo>MyProperty = ${MyProperty}</echo>
         <!-- now try to change it to a new value -->
         <property name="MyProperty" value="Two"/>
         <echo>MyProperty = ${MyProperty}</echo>

When you run this, you should get the following output:

  Buildfile: C:\AntClass\PropertiesLab\build.xml
       [echo] MyProperty = One
       [echo] MyProperty = One
  Total time: 343 milliseconds

Note that despite trying to change MyProperty to be "Two", the value of MyProperty does not change. Ant will not warn you of this.

For newcomers this might seem strange, but this is ideally suited for building up complex trees of values that are set once and used over and over again. It makes your build scripts easy to maintain and reliable.

Ant also has a nice set of "built in" properties that you can use:

This demonstrates how to read system properties

   <project name="MyProject" default="Display-Builtins">
      <target name="Display-Builtins" description="Display Builtin Properties">
         <!-- the absolute path to the location of the buildfile -->
         <!-- the absolute path of the buildfile -->
         <!-- ant.version - the version of Ant that you are running -->
         <!-- ant.project.name - the name of the project that is currently executing; it is set in the name attribute of <project>. -->
         <!-- ant.java.version - the JVM version Ant detected; currently it can hold the values "1.1", "1.2", "1.3", "1.4" and "1.5". -->

When you run this program you should get an output similar to the following:

  Buildfile: C:\eclipse\workspace\Ant Examples\build.xml
    [echo] C:\AntClass\PropertiesLab
    [echo] C:\AntClass\PropertiesLab\build.xml
    [echo] Apache Ant version 1.6.2 compiled on July 16 2004
    [echo] MyProject
    [echo] 1.5
  Total time: 188 milliseconds

See the ant reference manual for a full list of built-in ant and Java properties or you can try the following link for the Java properties: getProperties

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