Pants Internals

Pants is a build tool. This document describes some of its internals, concentrating on how to tailor Pants to your needs, such as integrating it with other tools.

If you want to run Pants or to write BUILD files, you probably want the Pants Conceptual Overview instead. But if you want to support a new tool or a new language, read on.

How Some Base Classes Interrelate

Target
An addressable thing, such as a python_binary or junit_tests. To add support for a new language, you probably want to add new target types to represent things you can build with that language. Most Target instances can depend on other Target instances. As a rule of thumb, if code in Target _A_ imports code in Target B, then A depends on B. If A depends on B, then when carrying out some goal on A, you can be sure that goal has been carried out on B.

Goal
A build verb, such as compile or test. Internally, a goal is implemented as a set of Tasks.

Task
A Goal has one or more Tasks, which do the actual work of invoking tools. A compile Goal, for example, could contain a Task for Java compilation, a Task for Scala compilation, etc. If you want an existing Goal to do something new (e.g., compile FooLang), instead of cramming your code into an existing Task, you probably want to define a new Task and install it in the existing Goal. A Task looks at the environment and Targets, invokes some tool, generates things, and reports success/failure. If you're giving Pants the ability to do something new, you're probably adding a Task. See Developing a Pants Task.

Plugin (or "Backend")
Collection of Targets, Goals, Tasks, Commands to do something useful. At Pants' core are the abstractions Target, and Task. These abstractions don't do anything in particular. To build real code, you need to define and register some more specific classes. For example, to build Java code, you want the JavaLibrary Target, ZincCompile task (registered in the compile goal), and many more. We organize this "real" code into "plugins". A typical plugin defines several classes and registers them with the Pants core. For a design discussion on registering plugins, see the Plugin Engine pants-devel thread.

Context
An API to the state of the world. A Task uses this to find out things like the flags the user set on the command line, pants.ini config, and the state of the build cache. The task uses context.products to communicate results and requests for build results.

Examining a Goal-Task Chain

It's not so easy to figure out in your head which Goals+Tasks are invoked for some command line. The dependency relationships between Goals and Tasks gets complex. The --explain global flag helps here. Instead of building something, it echoes a summary of the goals and tasks it would use to build something. For example, you can find out what happens on a compile:

$./pants --explain compile
Goal Execution Order:

bootstrap -> imports -> gen -> resolve -> compile

Goal [TaskRegistrar->Task] Order:

bootstrap [bootstrap-jvm-tools->BootstrapJvmTools]
imports [ivy-imports->IvyImports]
gen [thrift->ApacheThriftGen, scrooge->ScroogeGen, protoc->ProtobufGen, antlr->AntlrGen, ragel->RagelGen, jaxb->JaxbGen, aapt->AaptGen]
resolve [ivy->IvyResolve]
compile [jvm->SingletonGroupTask]
$

This tells you that the resolve goal comes before the compile goal, the gen goal comes before that, etc. There is more than one Task registered for the gen goal. In the gen [thrift->ApacheThriftGen,... text, thrift is the name of a task and ApacheThriftGen is the name of the class that implements it.

Defining a Task

Defining a new Task tells Pants of some new action it can take. This might be a new goal or adding new functionality in an existing goal (e.g., telling the "gen" code-generation goal about some new way to generate code). See Developing a Pants Task.

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