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Jenkins vs. Maven: Compare these build and integration tools

DevOps advocates are often asked for a Jenkins vs. Maven comparison. But those asking often discover that Maven-Jenkins integration is the true path to continuous integration success.

When it comes to arguing the virtues of Jenkins vs. Maven, there really isn't much to debate.

If someone asked me to choose between the two, I'd put a ring on Maven's finger and never regret terminating my relationship with Jenkins. I really can't think of a build tool that has done more to make software development easier for me than Maven.

Maven vs. Jenkins: Java ecosystem contributions

Why do I consider Maven king in the Maven vs. Jenkins debate? Largely because of all of the incredible things I can do with the Apache build tool.

With Maven I can run a single archetype command and create the skeleton of a fully compliant Jakarta EE, Spring Boot, Java EE MicroProfile or Android application. Writing a Maven plug-in is easy, as doing so only requires a basic knowledge of Java programming. Because of this low barrier for entry, a rich set of Maven add-ons exist, ranging from code quality quantifiers like PMD to McCabe cyclomatic complexity reporting tools like Jacoco. Maven is Java-based. Maven's installation couldn't be simpler. And Maven doesn't need to be hosted in a servlet engine. These are just a few of the reasons why Maven wins in any Maven vs. Jenkins comparison.

And as impressive as these aforementioned virtues are, they don't even touch upon Maven's greatest contribution to the Java development community, which is the fact that Maven solved the contemptuous problem of resolving dependent JAR files at runtime.

Maven dependency management

Prior to the advent of Maven, Java developers wasted far too many clock cycles wondering why the log4j dependency was unsatisfied on the production server, or why pre-prod was encountering a SunCertPathBuilderException every time a remote session was invoked. Maven's ability to consistently build Java applications across disparate development stages, all while maintaining linked library consistency, can't be overstated. The capacity to resolve linked libraries is a facet that is now taken for granted, but it shouldn't be. It's an amazing technical feat.

In fairness, Jenkins can do some cool stuff, too. Jenkins builds can be highly parameterized, and Jenkins can easily modularize builds into multiple steps, such as compile, test and package. Maven can even deploy production-ready artifacts to remote servers or software repositories.

Maven-Jenkins integration

It's worth nothing that when Jenkins deploys artifacts to remote repositories, those repositories are typically Maven repositories, such as JFrog's Artifactory or Sonatype's Nexus. Furthermore, what underlying technology does Jenkins use to perform the package and deploy steps? Jenkins tends to package and deploy using the same underlying technology that performs compilation and runs tests: the Jenkins Maven plug-in. Even when Jenkins appears to be doing something useful, behind the scenes, it's actually the Maven plug-in that does all of the heavy lifting

Of course, the Maven build tool is by no means a software development panacea. Maven has plenty of shortcomings.

Maven vs. Jenkins: Programming models

If Jenkins is the most downloaded and most actively maintained continuous integration server on the market today, it's because it stood on the shoulders of giants like Maven.

The client-facing programming model Maven provides leaves plenty to be desired. Creating plug-ins is relatively easy, as their Maven plain Old Java Object (MOJO)-based twist on Plain Old Java Object (POJO) development is both clever and easy to learn. But, externally, Maven is configured primarily through XML-based Project Object Model (POM) files. Personally, I'd rather spend an afternoon filing expense reports than fiddling around with Maven POM files. I think most Java developers would agree with me on that point.

Lacking a friendly programming framework, modularizing Maven builds and linking modular build steps together can be a pain. It's been said that most of the stuff you want to do with Maven is incredibly easy, but without a programming model built around it, doing something challenging, like turning Maven into an integration server, is a completely futile quest. And that's precisely where an integration server like Jenkins earns points in the Jenkins vs. Maven debate.

Sir Isaac Newton reportedly once said, "If I have seen further than others, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants." If Jenkins is the most downloaded and most actively maintained CI server on the market today, it's because it too stood on the shoulders of giants; giants with names like Maven, Gradle, SonarQube and Git.

Reframing the Jenkins vs. Maven debate

Jenkins doesn't need to compete with Maven in terms of compiling code and running tests. Maven has that covered. That's exactly why Jenkins delegates to Maven for such things. Maven and Jenkins complement each other. There really shouldn't be any debate about Jenkins vs. Maven. The discussions should instead be about Maven-Jenkins integration. Jenkins is a powerful CI/CD tool because of the seamless Maven-Jenkins integration, not because the two compete with each other.

Truth be told, the Jenkins vs. Maven argument is a specious one. The two tools are quite distinct. There are few intersectionalities here, and I can't think of a conceivable situation in which you'd have to choose one over the other. The smoothest DevOps journeys are the ones that prioritize Maven-Jenkins integration. Nothing is gained by pitting the two against each other.

How to become a Jenkins expert learning path

Part 1 -- A step-by-step Jenkins installation and config tutorial 

Part 2 -- Creating your first Jenkins Freestyle build job

Part 3 -- Shell scripts and the Jenkins environment variables list 

Part 4 -- Fix the Jenkins SunCertPathBuilderException

Part 5 -- Framing the Maven vs. Jenkins debate (this one)

This was last published in June 2018

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