Eclipse Ant basics

Here we cover the basics of Creating, editing, configuring and reusing Ant buildfiles using Eclipse.

Creating Ant buildfiles

Ant buildfiles are just text files, so the most straightforward way to create an Ant buildfile in Eclipse is:

  1. File > New > File.
  2. Enter any name for the file, but make sure it has a .xml extension.
  3. Click Finish.

As long as the file has a .xml extension, Eclipse will consider it to be a possible Ant buildfile, and will enable Ant-related actions when it is selected.

Editing Ant buildfiles

Because Ant buildfiles are simple text files, any text editor can be used to edit them. But there are several advantages to using the Eclipse Ant editor, including syntax coloring, content assist and an outline view. To get familiar with the Eclipse Ant editor, create a simple Ant buildfile using this editor.

  1. Create an Ant buildfile called HelloWorld.xml.
  2. Open the Ant editor on the file by selecting Open With > Ant Editor from the file's context menu.
    Note: To change the default editor for a .xml file to the Ant Editor, go to Window > Preferences > Workbench > File Associations.  Then click Add to add a new extension, type *.xml and click OK.  Then select it from File Types box, and in the Associated Editors box click Add.  From there select Ant Editor and click OK.
  3. Enter the following content in the editor.

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>

    <project name="Hello World" default="Hello" basedir=".">

    <property name="Hello Text" value="Hello"/>

    <target name="Hello">





  4. Notice the syntax coloring for property values.
  5. Begin to enter a second target by typing '<tar', then hit Ctrl-Space to activate content assist. A list of valid completions is presented. In this case there is only one, the <target> tag. Select this completion and notice that the editor inserts both the opening and closing tags and leaves the cursor positioned to enter properties for this tag.
  6. Name this target 'World'.
  7. Enter a property task called "World Text", with a value of "World", similar to the "Hello Text" property.
  8. Enter an 'echo' task for this target similar to that for the Hello target, but change the text to 'World'.
  9. Save the changes to HelloWorld.xml.
  10. Make the Outline view visible (Window > Show View > Outline) and notice that there are entries for each property and each target. In addition, each task under a target has an entry.
    Outline view for an Ant buildfile
  11. Clicking on an entry in the Outline view will scroll the editor to that entry. In addition, when the Outline view has focus, typing a character will move the selection in the Outline view to the next visible entry beginning with that character.
  12. Position the cursor just past the end of one of the '<target>' tags, type '<tar', then hit Ctrl-Space to activate content assist. Notice that now the only valid completion is the 'tar' tag. This is because the Ant editor knows that nested targets are not allowed. Previously, when the content assist was used to create a target tag, the editor knew that a tar task was not allowed outside of a target.
    Code assist in Ant editor
  13. Close the editor and do not save changes.

Running Ant buildfiles

Any file with a .xml extension can be run as an Ant buildfile. Of course, not all such files really are Ant buildfiles, but no harm is done if an attempt is made to mistakenly run a non-Ant .xml file as an Ant buildfile.

In this section, the basic mechanisms for running Ant buildfiles in Eclipse will be covered, using the HelloWorld.xml file created in the last section.

  1. Select HelloWorld.xml in the Navigator and choose Run > External Tools from its context menu.
  2. The External Tools dialog appears.
  3. Click New to create a new Configuration.

  1. The new dialog that is created allows the configuration of the many aspects of the way an Ant buildfile is run, but for now concentrate on the Targets tab which allows the selection of which Ant targets to run and their order. Select both targets and leave the order as the default.
  2. Click Run.
  3. The Ant buildfile is run, and the output is sent to the Console view.

Fortunately, if the buildfile is run so that the Hello target is executed first and other times so that the World target is first, the dialog does not need to be brought up each time nor does the ordering need to be changed.

Saving & Reusing Ant options

When we ran the HelloWorld.xml Ant buildfile in the last section, the choice of targets, along with all other options in the Run Ant dialog were saved in an entity called a 'launch configuration'. Launch configurations contain all details necessary to run a single Ant buildfile in a particular way. It is perfectly valid to have multiple launch configurations associated with a single Ant buildfile. So, in addition to the launch configuration that was created in the last step, specifying that our HelloWorld.xml buildfile should execute the targets Hello & World in that order, we could create a second launch configuration for this same buildfile specifying the same targets but in the reverse order. So far so good. But the really nice thing about launch configurations is that now you can quickly run your Ant buildfile in either configuration by simply specifying the corresponding launch configuration.

  1. From the Workbench toolbar, select Run > External Tools....
  2. The External Tools dialog opens and presents a choice of launch configurations to view and edit. The launch configuration we created when we ran the build.xml buildfile is selected in the tree at the left, and the tabs on the right show the options for this launch configuration.
    External tools dialog
  3. At the top of the dialog, change the Name to 'Hello World' and Apply the change.
  4. In the tree at left, right-click on Hello World.xml and choose Duplicate. A copy of the launch configuration for the Hello World buildfile is created, '(1)' is appended to the name, and the new launch configuration is selected in the tree.
  5. Rename the new configuration to 'World Hello.xml'.
  6. In the Targets tab, click the Order... button, change the order of the targets so that the World target executes first, and Apply the change.
  7. Click Run.
  8. As before, the HelloWorld.xml buildfile runs and sends its output to the Console view. This time however, because the targets were reversed, the output is reversed as well.
  9. Go back to the External Tools drop down in the toolbar.

    Notice now that there are two entries in the history, one for Hello World and one for World Hello. In order to rerun the Ant buildfile so that it outputs Hello World, just select this launch configuration in the history. To rerun the launch configuration that outputs World Hello, select this configuration in the history.
    Note: The history is ordered so that the most frequently run configurations are at the top of the dropdown.

Using the Ant view

Eclipse provides a standard view, the Ant view, that lets you work with your Ant buildfiles. This view is tree-structured, showing Ant buildfiles as top-level entries and targets & internal targets as children. The main advantage of this view is that you can work with all of your Ant buildfiles in one place, as opposed to hunting them down in the Navigator.

  1. Open the Ant view from the workbench menu by selecting Window > Show View > Ant.
  2. By default, the Ant view is empty. There are two ways to add Ant buildfiles to this view:
  3. Click Add Buildfiles with Search. Suppose you only remember that the buildfile you want to work with starts with 'H'. Enter 'H*.xml' for the buildfile name. Make sure Workspace is selected for the scope, then click Search. The HelloWorld.xml file is found and placed in the Ant view.
  4. Expand the top-level entry to see the default target Hello, and the internal target World.
    Ant view
  5. Select the World internal target and click Run the Default Target of the Selected Buildfile Ant view.  Choose your configuration from the Ant Configuration Selection box (if you chose to create a second configuration above) and click OK.  Notice that just the World target gets executed.
  6. Select the top-level HelloWorld buildfile and click Run the Default Target of the Selected Buildfile. Notice that just the default target, Hello, gets executed.
  7. To edit your buildfile, right-click on the HelloWorld file and select Open With > Ant Editor.
    : The choice and order of targets is ignored when running from the Ant view.

For a full list of the Ant Tasks see the Ant Manual.