Ant Filter to Include Files with Configurable Names

I have been using Ant for a lot of things in the past. Just recently, I decided to also leverage it for an important aspect of my approach to shell script programming. This had been accomplished by a combination of Perl and Bash in the past. The “old” approach is ok, except that it doesn’t integrate with Maven as well as Ant does. Also, I have the requirement to run the build process on various operating systems, incl. Windows and Unix flavours that don’t necessarily have Bash installed.

So what needs to happen during the build? A lot of things in shell script programming come up time and again. So I want to encapsulate them as functions and build a library. Sourcing libary files in at run-time is really hard to achieve, if you want to be portable (your favourite search engine has loads of information on the topic). So instead of throwing a lot of time on these sometimes very subtle problems, I decided to have include statements in the source code and pre-process the scripts during the build.

There is include as well as replace functionality in Ant in Maven. But nothing I found gave me the capability to easily retrieve the file name from the currently processed source file. Yes, it would have been possible to come up with something based on normal Ant tasks (perhaps with some support from ant-contrib), but the result would have been quite ugly. So, after some investigation, I decided to write my own Ant filter reader for that. To speed things up, I borrowed from two of the filters that come with Ant, ExpandProperties and ReplaceTokens. (Needless to say my stuff comes with the same licence terms as the rest of Ant.)

Here is how it works:

  • Check the source content (in most cases coming from a file) for a regular expression. This has to match the format in which you have the include statements in your source code. So while I have set the default regex to fit my needs, you can configure it to whatever you need; just remember that Java regex handling is a bit different from e.g. Perl. This also means, that the thing can not only be used for shell scripting but any purpose that requires parametrised includes.
  • Retrieve the file name from the regex match. This is done by using a regex group. By default the first group is taken, but you can also override this if needed.
  • Read the include file line by line and insert them into the original content.
  • Optionally, you can add prefixes and suffixes to every line. By default both are set to an empty string, which effectively switches things off. My personal use case was that I want to be able to include instructions from a file and have them marked as a comment (prefix = “# “). Probably this could have been achieved differently as well. But it was easy to implement on top of the rest and makes things more comfortable for me.

Now, let’s look at an example Ant build file:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<project name="TestAntTools" basedir="." default="" >

<property name="base.dir" value="../../.."/>
<property name="lib.dir" value="${base.dir}/target"/>

<property name="test.file"

<typedef resource="antlib.xml">
    <pathelement location="${lib.dir}/ant-0.0.1.jar" />

<!-- =================================
target: TestProcessIncludes
================================= -->
<target name="TestProcessIncludes" depends=""
    description="Test the filter processIncludes">
  <loadfile srcfile="${test.file}" property="test.file.processed">
        <setting key="prefix" value=""/>
        <setting key="suffix" value=""/>
        <searchdir value="."/>
        <searchdir value="../resources"/>


The main file has this content:

# !/bin.bash

# This is before include

##include "incl_file.txt"

# This is after include

And the included file looks like this:
# ===========================
#   This was included
# ===========================

The result from the Ant script above:
Buildfile: /home/XXXXX/workspace/AntTools/src/test/ant/build.xml
[echo] # !/bin.bash
[echo] # This is before include
[echo] # ===========================
[echo] #   This was included
[echo] # ===========================
[echo] # This is after include
Total time: 142 milliseconds

As you can see, nothing special here. To download the jar containing the filter, please click here. You will need to rename the file upon saving to end up with a proper extension (WordPress does not allow to save attachments with .jar as extension). And for those intersted, here is the Eclipse project with source code etc.

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