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The top Java deployment tools to use on your next project

As software development teams get larger, application packaging and deployment tasks become much harder. Handwritten scripts and low-level JDK utility calls just don't scale as teams grow, which is why easy-to-use Java deployment tools are essential in any enterprise software development environment.

If you need to figure out your Java deployment tool of choice, here are a few of the most important candidates to consider.

1. Apache Maven

Maven is everywhere. And Maven isn't just a deployment tool. It can compile code, pull JAR files from remote repositories, run unit tests, package applications and even push code releases into artifact repositories. While it's more of a build tool than a Java deployment tool, Maven tends to form the foundation of any enterprise software development project.

It should be noted that Apache Maven is primarily focused on application packages and builds. However, there is a giant ecosystem of Apache Maven plugins that make it possible to not only package your web applications, but also deploy them to JAR file repositories such as Nexus or to application servers such as Tomcat or WebSphere.

Maven install command
The invocation of the Maven install command on a Spring Boot microservices application.

2. Gradle

Maven isn't perfect. Maven rose to prominence in the era of XML, but in this new age of JSON and YAML, any tool that relies heavily on extensible markup tends to feel dated and cumbersome. Gradle builds upon many of Maven's best practices, and provides an infinitely flexible programming model through Groovy language inclusion.

Like Maven, Gradle initially made a name for itself because it simplified application build and package tasks, but framework enhancements and additions to the Gradle API make it an excellent Java deployment tool. While it doesn't have the same handsome user interface that Jenkins boasts, the Gradle API rivals any of its Java deployment tool competitors in terms of features and capabilities.

3. Jenkins CI

Jenkins CI is the most popular open source continuous integration tool on the market. It's an excellent way to organize your builds and move releases into a production stage or an artifact repository. It should be noted that Jenkins itself is more of an orchestrator than an implementer, but Jenkins doesn't actually compile code. Instead, it delegates that step to the underlying Java compiler.

Jenkins also doesn't run tests, but instead will pass along that task to a build tool like Gradle. Jenkins won't package a microservice in an embedded Tomcat server; a tool such as Maven will do that instead. One of Jenkins' biggest perks is the ability to orchestrate these tasks in a single, centralized place. That's what makes this continuous integration tool one of the most important Java deployment tools to know.

However, the Jenkins CI isn't the only game in town in terms of continuous integration tools. There are other CI and CD options, including JetBrains' TeamCity, Atlassian Bamboo and AWS' CodeDeploy and CodeShip for those who are heavily invested in microservices and Docker-based deployments.

4. CA Release Automation

The CA Release Automation tool is a popular choice for developers who need to manage software releases capable of integration with a large number of third-party tools and can deploy Java components to multiple software tiers. The tool really hits a soft spot when it comes to the management of complicated Java deployments.

Simple tasks tend to be easier to demonstrate in tools such as Jenkins, where a simple build job can be put together quickly. But when a complicated and modular Java deployment pipeline is required, the CA Release Automation tool tends to shine brighter than many of its competitors. If you like CA Release Automation but want to deploy microservices applications to a Kubernetes-based architecture such as OpenShift, CA's Qubeship is a popular alternative.

5. Low-level Java deployment tools

Tools like Jenkins and Maven perform tasks by calling on various other services, utilities and tools that are very specific in function. Because many tools such as Maven, Jenkins and Gradle invoke other tools to accomplish goals, we can consider the build tools "high-level" tools, and the other tools and services low-level tools. But when problems occur in a build tool that calls various other tools, sometimes it is good to know how those other tools work. For example, if a Maven build struggles to compile code, it is helpful to know how to go to the actual compiler itself and run that low-level tool on its own to see if the problem still occurs.

Troubleshooting failures? Need to fix a poorly configured environment? Have to bypass the entire development pipeline to get a missing file on the server? In cases like these, knowledge of tools like Putty, WinSCP and a simple, yet reliable FTP tool such as FileZilla or WS-FTP becomes indispensable. These tools are very specific in nature and focus on a single task. If the higher level tool fails on these tasks, using the low-level tools allows you to give more focused attention on the problem.

Java Deployment Tools List

Apache Maven

An XML-based build tool with deployment capabilities provided through its plugin architecture

Gradle

A Groovy-based Java build tool with an API that makes it possible to write complex deployment routines

Jenkins CI

A continuous integration and deployment tool with a friendly UI with built-in integration with Git, Groovy, Gradle and Maven

CA Release Automation

An enterprise-scale deployment and release management tool capable of managing multi-tier deployments
GitLab A full suite of tools built into a single cloud-based offering facilitating all aspects of the software development lifecycle, including source code management, software builds and application deployment

Java deployment frameworks

There are a number of pieces to the Java deployment puzzle, be it source code repository pulls, testing, release management or Docker container pushes to a cloud hosting service. As such, it's not surprising to discover that there are plenty of vendors in the Java deployment frameworks space that attempt to be a one-stop shop for all aspects of software development.

Some options include GitLab, BitBucket and JetBrains, all of which have a full suite of tools. For those who want an out-of-the-box option without the need to install and configure a disparate set of arguably best-of-breed products, these are all excellent turnkey considerations.

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What is the most important factor to consider when choosing a Java deployment tool for your project?
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Thanks for this great overview of Java development tools. For engineers who don't like writing Groovy, Gradle also has a Kotlin DSL for writing the build automation scripts. It's also extensible and binary plugins can be written in Java, Groovy, or Kotlin.
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