JVM Projects with Pants

Assuming you know the basic Pants concepts and have gone through the first Tutorial, you've made a great start towards using Pants to work with Java and Scala code. This page goes into some of the details.

If you are accustomed to the Maven tool and contemplating moving to Pants, you are not alone; Pants for Maven Experts has some advice.

Relevant Goals and Targets

When working with JVM languages, the following goals and targets are especially relevant.

Deployable Bundle Runnable Binary, optionally with non-JVM files

Deployable bundles are directories, optionally archived, that contain all files necessary to run the application. The bundle goal is used to create these deployable bundles from either jvm_binary or jvm_app targets.

Bundling a jvm_binary target is appropriate when your application is entirely jar-based; that is, it's entirely class files and resources packaged inside the jars themselves. If your application requires "extra stuff" (e.g.: start scripts, config files) use a jvm_app which allows you to include files in the bundle directory that supplement the binary jar and its dependencies. You can learn more about bundles.

Runnable Binary

On its own, a jvm_binary BUILD target describes an executable .jar (something you can run with java -jar). The jar is described as executable because it contains a manifest file that specifies the main class as well as classpath for all dependencies. If your program contains only jars (and resources packaged in those jars), this is all you need to run the binary. Use ./pants binary to compile its code; ./pants run to run it "in place".

Importable Code

java_library BUILD targets make Java source code import-able. The rule of thumb is that each directory of .java files has a BUILD file with a java_library target. A JVM target that has a java_library in its dependencies can import its code. scala_library targets are similar, but compiled with Scala.

To use pre-built .jars, a JVM target can depend on a jar, a reference to published code; these jars normally live in a directory called 3rdparty.

Pants can publish a JVM library so code in other repos can use it; if the *_library target has a provides parameter, that specifies the repo/address at which to publish.

An annotation_processor BUILD target defines a Java library one containing one or more annotation processors.


A junit_tests BUILD target holds source code for some JUnit tests; typically, it would have one or more java_library targets as dependencies and would import and test their code.

Pants also includes support for using the ScalaTest framework. The testing framework automatically picks up scala tests that extend the org.scalatest.Suite class and runs them using org.scalatest.junit.JUnitRunner.

Most other scala test frameworks support running with JUnit via a base class/trait or via a @RunWith annotation; so you can use junit_tests for your scala tests as well.

The Pants test goal runs tests.

Generated Code

A java_thrift_library generates Java code from .thrift source; a JVM target that has this target in its dependencies can import the generated Java code. A java_protobuf_library is similar, but generates Java code from protobuffer source. A jaxb_library definition generates code to read and write XML using an XML schema (.xsd files).

BUILD for a Simple Binary

The Pants Build Java hello world sample code shows the BUILD file for a simple Java binary (in the main/ directory):

jvm_binary(name = 'main-bin',
  dependencies = [
  source = 'HelloMain.java',
  main = 'org.pantsbuild.example.hello.main.HelloMain',
  basename = 'hello-example',

This small program has just one dependency. It is a library, a java_library, a compiled set of source code from this workspace.

Depending on a Library

The rule of thumb is that each directory of .java or .scala files has a library target. If you find yourself thinking "we should move some of this code to another directory," you probably also want to set up a BUILD file with a java_library (or scala_library) target. Here we see the library target which main-bin depends on. This library target lives in hello/greet/BUILD:

# Note that the target has no explicit name, so it defaults to the name
# of the directory, in this case 'greet'.
# It also has no explicit sources, so it defaults to the sources implied
# by the target type, in this case "globs('*.java')".
  dependencies = [], # A more realistic example would depend on other libs,
                     # but this "hello world" is pretty simple.
  provides = artifact(org='org.pantsbuild.example',

This library could depend on other build targets and artifacts; if your code imports something, that implies a BUILD dependency.

A Test Target

The Pants Java Hello World example tests are normal JUnit tests. To run them with Pants, we need a target for them:


As with other targets, this one depends on code that it imports. Thus, a typical test target depends the library that it tests and perhaps some others (here, junit). The dependency on junit is a "third party" dependency, a pre-compiled artifact whose source lives somewhere outside the workspace.

Depending on a Jar

The test example depends on a jar, junit. Instead of compiling from source, Pants invokes ivy to fetch such jars. To reduce the danger of version conflicts, we use the 3rdparty idiom: we keep references to these "third-party" jars together in BUILD files under the 3rdparty/ directory. Thus, the test has a 3rdparty dependency:


The BUILD files in 3rdparty/ have targets like:

            jars = [
              jar(org='junit', name='junit-dep', rev='4.11').with_sources(),
            dependencies = [

Those jar() things are references to public jars. You can read more about JVM 3rdparty dependencies.

The Usual Commands: JVM

Make sure code compiles and tests pass:

Use the test goal with the targets you're interested in. If they are test targets, Pants runs the tests. If they aren't test targets, Pants still compiles them since it knows it must compile before it can test.

$ ./pants test examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/:: examples/tests/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/::

Assuming you use junit_test targets, output from the junit run is written to .pants.d/test/junit/; you can see it on the console with --output-mode=ALL:

$ ./pants test.junit --output-mode=ALL examples/tests/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello::

Run just that one troublesome test class: (assuming a JUnit test; other frameworks use other flags)

$ ./pants test.junit --test=org.pantsbuild.example.hello.greet.GreetingTest examples/tests/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/::

Packaging Binaries

To create a bundle (a binary and its dependencies, perhaps including helper files):

$ ./pants bundle --archive=zip examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/main
   ...lots of build output...
08:50:54 00:02       [create-monolithic-jar]
08:50:54 00:02         [add-internal-classes]
08:50:54 00:02         [jar-tool]
                   created dist/hello-example.zip
08:50:54 00:02     [dup]
08:50:54 00:02     [apk]
08:50:54 00:02       [apk-bundle]

This generates a zipfile with runnable contents; instead of a zipfile, we could have put the contents a directory tree, a giant jar, or something else. Learn more about bundles.


Pants uses Ivy to resolve jar dependencies. To change how Pants resolves these, configure resolve.ivy.

Pants uses Nailgun to speed up compiles. Nailgun is a JVM daemon that runs in the background. This means you don't need to start up a JVM and load classes for each JVM-based operation. Things go faster.

Pants uses Zinc, a dependency tracking compiler facade that supports sub-target incremental compilation for Java and Scala.

Java7 vs Java6, Which Java

Pants first looks through any JDKs specified by the paths map in pants.ini's jvm-distributions section, eg:

paths = {
    'macos': [
    'linux': [

If no JVMs are found there, Pants uses the first Java it finds in JDK_HOME, JAVA_HOME, or PATH. If no paths are specified in pants.ini, you can use JDK_HOME to set the Java version for just one pants invocation:

$ JDK_HOME=/usr/lib/jvm/java-1.7.0-openjdk-amd64 ./pants ...

If you sometimes need to compile some code in Java 6 and sometimes Java 7, you can define jvm-platforms in pants.ini, and set what targets use which platforms. For example, in pants.ini:

default_platform: java6
platforms: {
    'java6': {'source': '6', 'target': '6', 'args': [] },
    'java7': {'source': '7', 'target': '7', 'args': [] },
    'java8': {'source': '8', 'target': '8', 'args': [] },

And then in a BUILD file:


You can also override these on the cli:

./pants compile --jvm-platform-default-platform=java8 examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/main

If you want to set the -bootclasspath (or -Xbootclasspath) to use the appropriate java distribution, you can use the $JAVA_HOME symbol in the args list. For example:

default_platform: java6
platforms: {
    'java7': {'source': '7', 'target': '7', 'args': ["-C-bootclasspath:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/resources.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/rt.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/sunrsasign.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/jsse.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/jce.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/charsets.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/lib/jfr.jar:$JAVA_HOME/jre/classes"] },

Your -bootclasspath should be designed to work with any compatible version of the JVM that might be used. If you make use of [jvm-distributions] and have strict control over what jvm installations are used by developers, this means you probably only have to make it work for one version of the JDK. Otherwise, you should design your bootclasspath to reference the union of all possible jars you might need to pull in from different JVMs (any paths that aren't available will simply be ignored by java).

Note: Currently, pants is known to work with OpenJDK and Oracle JDK version 7 or greater.

Bundles: Deploy-able Runnable File Trees

You can enjoy your web service on your development machine's localhost, but to let other people enjoy it, you probably want to copy it to a server machine. With Pants, the easiest way to do this is to create a bundle: a directory tree of .jar and helper files.

Our "hello world" sample application needs a configuration file to run correctly. (You can try to run without the configuration file, but the program crashes immediately.) We define a jvm_app that represents a runnable binary and "bundles" of extra files:

# Note that the target has no explicit name, so it defaults to the name
# of the directory, in this case 'main'.
  basename = 'hello-example',
  dependencies = [
  bundles = [
    bundle(relative_to='config', fileset=globs('config/*'))

Here, we keep the extra files in a subdirectory, config/ so that they don't clutter up this directory. (In this simple example, there's just one file, so there isn't actually much clutter.) By using the bundle's relative_to parameter, we "strip off" that subdirectory; in the generated bundle, these extra files will be in the top directory.

(If you want to set up a tree of static files but don't need it to be runnable, you can define a jvm_app target with bundles (and/or resources) but whose jvm_binary has no source or main; the resulting bundle will have the files you want (along with a couple of not-so-useful stub .jar files).)

Generating a Bundle

Invoke ./pants bundle on a JVM app or JVM binary target:

$ ./pants bundle examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/main:main

With options, you can tell Pants to archive the bundle in a zip, a tar, and some other common formats. See the bundle help for built-in choices.

Contents of a Bundle

The generated bundle is basically a directory tree containing .jars and extra files. The .jar in the top-level directory has a manifest so you can run it with java -jar:

$ cd dist/hello-example-bundle/
$ java -jar hello-example.jar
16:52:11 INFO : Hello, world!

The "bundle" is basically a tree of files:

$ cd dist/hello-example-bundle/
$ find .
$ jar -tf hello-example.jar

That greetee.txt file came from the bundles= parameter. The libs/ directory contains 3rdparty jars (if any). The jar in the top directory contains code compiled for this target.

Deploying a Bundle

Instead of just creating a directory tree, you can specify bundle --archive=zip to ./pants bundle to generate an archive file (a .zip, monolithic .jar, or some other format) instead.

To use such an archive, put it where you want it, unpack it, and run:

$ ./pants bundle --archive=zip examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/main
    ...lots of build output...
10:14:26 00:01       [create-monolithic-jar]
10:14:26 00:01         [add-internal-classes]
10:14:26 00:01         [jar-tool]
                   created dist/hello-example.zip
10:14:26 00:01     [dup]
10:14:26 00:01     [apk]
10:14:26 00:01       [apk-bundle]
$ # let's use it:
$ mkdir tmp; cd tmp
$ unzip ../dist/hello-example.zip
Archive:  ../dist/hello-example.zip
  inflating: greetee.txt
  inflating: hello-example.jar
$ java -jar hello-example.jar
Hello, Bundled-File World!
Hello, Resource World!

Omitting or Shading the Contents of a Binary


Sometimes you want to leave some files out of your binary.

You can omit jars from the binary by means of the jvm_binary's deploy_excludes parameter. For example, if you're making a binary to run on Hadoop and there are some "standard jars" already on the destination machines, you can list those in deploy_excludes.

More generally, you can omit files from the binary jar with deploy_jar_rules. For example, a 3rdparty dependency might have a transitive dependency with a bad manifest file. If you try to run the jar you might get Invalid signature file digest for Manifest main attributes. If you don't actually use the code in that transitive dependency, you might work around the error by omitting the dependency.

To tell Pants to omit some files from the binary, set the deploy_jar_rules parameter of jvm_binary to a jar_rules. E.g., to omit all files containing the regexp Greeting, you might set


After building our hello example, if we check the binary jar's contents, there is no Greeting.class (and running that jar crashes; we omitted a class this binary needs):

$ ./pants binary examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/main:main
$ jar -tf dist/hello-example.jar


Sometimes you have dependencies that have conflicting package or class names. This typically occurs in the following scenario: Your jvm_binary depends on a 3rdparty library A (rev 1.0), and a 3rdparty library B (rev 1.3). It turns out that A happens to also depend on B, but it depends on B (rev 2.0), which is backwards-incompatible with rev 1.3. Now B (1.3) and B (2.0) define different versions of the same classes, with the same fully-qualified class names, and you're pulling them all onto the classpath for your project.

This is where shading comes in: you can rename the fully-qualified names of the classes that conflict, typically by applying a prefix (eg, __shaded_by_pants__.org.foobar.example).

Pants uses jarjar for shading, and allows shading rules to be specified on jvm_binary targets with the shading_rules argument. The shading_rules argument is a list of rules. Available rules include: shading_relocate, shading_exclude, shading_relocate_package, and shading_exclude_package.

The order of rules in the list matters, as typical of shading logic in general.

These rules are powerful enough to take advantage of jarjar's more advanced syntax, like using wildcards in the middle of package names. E.g., this syntax works:

# Destination pattern will be inferred to be
# __shaded_by_pants__.com.@1.foo.bar.@2

Which can also be done by:

:::python shading_relocate_package('com.*.foo.bar')

The default shading prefix is __shaded_by_pants__, but you can change it:

shading_relocate_package('com.foo.bar', shade_prefix='__my_prefix__.')

You can rename a specific class:

shading_relocate('com.example.foo.Main', 'org.example.bar.NotMain')

If you want to shade everything in a package except a particular file (or subpackage), you can use the shading_exclude rule.

shading_exclude('com.example.foobar.Main') # Omit the Main class.
shading_exclude_package('com.example.foobar.api') # Omit the api subpackage.

Again, order matters here: excludes have to appear first.

To see an example, take a look at testprojects/src/java/org/pantsbuild/testproject/shading/BUILD, and try running

./pants binary testprojects/src/java/org/pantsbuild/testproject/shading
jar -tf dist/shading.jar

Target Scopes


Pants supports marking targets with a scope value which the JVM backend will use to filter dependency subgraphs at compiletime and runtime. Scopes are also used for unused dependency detection: only default scoped targets are eligible to be considered as "unused" deps.

Correspondence with other build systems

Scopes in pants are similar to scopes in other build systems, with the fundamental difference that they apply to targets (the "nodes" of the build graph), rather than to dependency "edges". The reason that Pants differs in this regard is that, in a monorepo, it is strongly encouraged to make changes to your dependency targets (which benefits all consumers) rather than to work around an issue in a dependency by making a local change to your target.

Scope values

Pants' built in scopes are:

  • default: The "default" scope when a scope is not specified on a target. default targets are included on classpaths at both compiletime and runtime, and are the only targets eligible for unused dep detection.
  • compile: Indicates that a target is only used at compiletime, and should not be included in runtime binaries or bundles. javac annotation processors or scalac macros are good examples of compiletime-only dependencies.
  • runtime: Indicates that a target is only used at runtime, and should not be presented to the compiler. Targets which are only used via JVM reflection are good examples of runtime-only dependencies.
  • forced (available from pants 1.1.0): The forced scope is equivalent to the default scope, but additionally indicates that a target is not eligible to be considered an "unused" dependency. It is sometimes necessary to mark a target forced due to false positives in the static analysis used for unused dependency detection; if possible, you should always prefer to mark a target runtime or compile if that more accurately describes their usage.

Setting target scopes

To set the scope of a target, you should generally prefer to pass the scope parameter for that target:


If the scope of a target is not matched for a particular context, the entire subgraph represented by the dependency will be pruned. This means that if a dependency 'B' of a target 'A' is marked compile (for example), the dependency targets of 'B' will only be included at compiletime (unless 'A' has other dependency paths to those targets).

One effect of this behavior is that you can introduce intermediate aliases to "re-scope" a target when consumers need to use it in multiple ways:

# An alias of `:lib` which consumers can use to indicate that they only need it at compile time.


Finally, for cases where only a few consumers need to "re-scope" a particular target, it is possible to change the scope of a single edge locally to a consumer via the scoped macro (which, under the hood, uses the previous technique of creating an intermediate alias):

    scoped('src/java/the/best/lib', scope='compile'),

Dependency Hygiene

As the set of targets in a repository grows larger, it becomes increasingly important that they observe good dependency hygiene. In particular, following the 1:1:1 rule helps keep useful code self-contained. But even while observing 1:1:1, it's possible to declare and use dependencies that add little or no benefit for a target.

For example: a particularly large target may expose many different APIs. In cases where other targets depend on the large target, they might need only a fraction of those APIs. But because they can't declare a dependency on a smaller subset of the large target, they are forced to build the entire dependency. Even in the presence of distributed builds and caching, this slows down your build!

To help users address these problems for JVM targets, pants has a dep-usage.jvm task which supports scoring and summarizing the fractions of each dependency that a target uses.

For local analysis

In the default output mode ("summary" mode) the dep-usage.jvm task outputs targets ordered by a simple 'badness' score. The "badness" score is intended to indicate both how easy the dependency would be to remove (based on the maximum fraction used by each dependee) and how valuable it would be remove (based on a estimate of the transitive cost to build the dep).

$ ./pants dep-usage.jvm examples/src/scala/org/pantsbuild/example::
  {"badness": 4890, "max_usage": 0.3, "cost_transitive": 1630, "target": "examples/src/scala/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/welcome"},
  {"badness": 1098, "max_usage": 1.0, "cost_transitive": 1098, "target": "examples/src/java/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/greet"}

The above example indicates that within the scope of the scala examples, the examples/src/scala/org/pantsbuild/example/hello/welcome target is the worst dependency. This is because it has a high transitive "cost" to build, and sees a maximum of 30% usage by its dependees.

For global analysis

The summary mode is great when users want to inspect their own targets. But for more in-depth analysis, disabling summary mode (by passing the --no-summary flag) will output raw usage data for each dependency edge. This mode does no aggregation, so using it effectively usually means doing analytics or graph analysis with an external tool.

Further Reading

If you use Scala, see Scala Projects with Pants.

If you know Maven and want to know Pants equivalents, see Pants for Maven Experts.

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