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<title>The Apache Ant frontend: ProjectHelper</title>
<h1>The Apache Ant frontend: ProjectHelper</h1>
<h2 id="definition">What is a ProjectHelper?</h2>
The <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> in Apache Ant is responsible for parsing the build file
and creating Java instances representing the build workflow. It also signals which kind of file it
can parse, and which file name it expects as default input file.
Ant's default <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code>
(<code class="code"></code>) parses the
usual <code>build.xml</code> files. And if no build file is specified on the command line, it will
expect to find a file named <code>build.xml</code>.
The immediate benefit of a such abstraction it that it is possible to make Ant understand other kind
of descriptive languages than XML. Some experiments have been done around a pure Java frontend, and
a Groovy one too (ask the dev mailing list for further info about these).
<em>Since Ant 1.8.2</em>, the <a href="Tasks/import.html">import</a> task will also try to use the
proper helper to parse the imported file. So it is possible to write different build files in
different languages and have them import each other.
<h2 id="repository">How is Ant is selecting the proper ProjectHelper</h2>
Ant knows about several implementations of <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> and has to decide
which to use for each build file.
At startup Ant lists the all implementations found and keeps them in the same order they've been
found in an internal 'repository':
<li>the first to be searched for is the one declared by the system
property <code class="code"></code>
(see <a href="running.html#sysprops">Java System Properties</a>);</li>
<li>then it searches with its class loader for a <code>ProjectHelper</code> service declarations
in the <samp>META-INF</samp>: it searches in the classpath for a
file <samp>META-INF/services/</samp>. This file will just
contain the fully qualified name of the implementation
of <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> to instantiate;</li>
<li>it will also search with the system class loader for <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code>
service declarations in the <samp>META-INF</samp>;</li>
<li>last but not least it will add its default <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> that can
parse classical <samp>build.xml</samp> files.</li>
In case of an error while trying to instantiate a <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code>, Ant will
log an error but won't stop. If you want further debugging info about
the <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> internal 'repository', use the <strong>system</strong>
property <code>ant.project-helper-repo.debug</code> and set it to <q>true</q>; the full stack trace
will then also be printed.
When Ant is expected to parse a file, it will ask the <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code>
repository to find an implementation that will be able to parse the input file. Actually it will
just iterate over the ordered list and the first implementation that returns <q>true</q>
to <code class="code">supportsBuildFile(File buildFile)</code> will be selected.
When Ant is started and no input file has been specified, it will search for a default input
file. It will iterate over list of <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code>s and will select the
first one that expects a default file that actually exist.
<h2 id="writing">Writing your own ProjectHelper</h2>
The class <code class="code"></code> is the API expected to be
implemented. So write your own <code class="code">ProjectHelper</code> by extending that abstract
class. You are then expected to implement at least the function <code class="code">parse(Project
project, Object source)</code>. Note also that your implementation will be instantiated by Ant, and
it is expecting a default constructor with no arguments.
There are some functions that will help you define what your helper is capable of and what is is
<li><code class="code">getDefaultBuildFile()</code>: defines which file name is expected if none
<li><code class="code">supportsBuildFile(File buildFile)</code>: defines if your parser can parse
the input file</li>
<li><code class="code">canParseAntlibDescriptor(URL url)</code>: whether your implementation is
capable of parsing a given Antlib descriptor. The base class returns <q>false</q></li>
<li><code class="code">parseAntlibDescriptor(Project containingProject, URL source)</code>:
invoked to actually parse the Antlib descriptor if your implementation returned <q>true</q> for
the previous method.</li>
Now that you have your implementation ready, you have to declare it to Ant. Three solutions here:
<li>use the system property <code class="code"></code> (see also
the <a href="running.html#sysprops">Java System Properties</a>);</li>
<li>use the service file in <samp>META-INF</samp>: in the jar you will build with your
implementation, add a file <samp>META-INF/services/</samp>.
And then in this file just put the fully qualified name of your implementation</li>
<li>use the <a href="Tasks/projecthelper.html">projecthelper</a> task (<em>since Ant 1.8.2</em>)
which will install dynamically a helper in the internal helper 'repository'. Then your helper
can be used on the next call to the <a href="Tasks/import.html">import</a> task.</li>