The Curse of Maven

This is my most delayed blog entry ever… I wrote the first draft many years ago and for some reason it just sat there. Recently a friend got stuck having to deal with maven and I remembered this article, so might as well post it.

Lately we’re seeing lots of tools which completely miss the point of The UNIX Philosophy. Perfection is achieved through a collection of small simple tools, all of which do one thing very well and allow themselves to be combined with ease.

A counterexample which gets everything wrong is maven. It’d be easy to dismiss tools which are as bad as that. Unfortunately the attraction of these tools is that they make it very easy to get started and thus they become hugely popular (another example of this thinking is Rails; yet another example is Hibernate).

The siren call of these tools is they let you get started without effort nor understanding, which is not a bad thing in itself. But as soon as your project grows beyond the hello world stage, you’ll be stuck wasting most of your time fighting the constraints of the tool. It is never a bargain worth making.

Here’s the example that motivated this article some years ago. This is an actual piece from a maven build file I had to work on once:


Here is the equivalent line (yes, one line!) from a Makefile:

        cd ${} && tar -zxf ${}-${project.version}-distribution.tar.gz

The specific action here is not the point (I bet there is a maven plugin these days to make builing a tarball a bit easier, though not as easy as with the Makefile; keep in mind this example is from years ago). The fundamental insight here is that a tool like maven which requires every action to be built will by definition never be able to be as flexible and effective as a tool which can directly leverage all the existing tooling available on UNIX.

More recently I’ve been having to deal with gradle instead. While it is a slight improvement over maven, it is also a result of this misguided culture of trying to hide complexity which results in making easy things easy, moderate things excruciatingly difficult and difficult things completely impossible.

Here’s another article on the topic: Why Everyone (Eventually) Hates (or Leaves) Maven