As already mentioned on various places in this documentation, build-automation is a very important part of contemporary software development. Apache Maven is the leading tool in the Java world. Maven is not only a tool, it is actually a manifestation of build-best practices. Maven supports all stages of build automation including (but not limiting to) pre-processing activities, compiling, testing, sophisticated library dependency management, generation of documentation. Additionally project files for IDEs like Eclipse, IntelliJ and Netbeans can be generated.
We strongly recommend to read the "Getting Started" documentation on the Maven website and read at least the introduction chapter in the "Better Builds with Maven" book, that is freely available as PDF.
Basically, Maven consits of three parts:
The "heart" of a Maven project is the "POM file", the "project object model: All "metainformation" about the project like library dependencies, modules, code-generation or documentation generation plugins, developers, program name and version, distribution server and so on are defined in this xml file.
If you follow Mavens suggestions ("best practices") to organize your sourcecode and ressources, Maven needs almost no configuration to build your project. One main feature is it's ability to deal with your dependencies (e.g. libraries). For example: You simply define that your projects use jUnit in version 3.8.1. If this library is not installed yet, Maven will go online, download that library to your computer and then package it with your application. If this junit library needs other libraries (is depending on them), then Maven also downloads these libraries and adds all into the classpath for compilation and testing. Especially in big projects, with many libraries and even more different versions, Maven greatly simplifies dealing with dependencies and version problems.
But Maven is also great for smaller projects like this one. If you put your sourcecode on another machine or give it to a fellow developer, there is no need to copy many libraries, correct the classpath and check if older libraries in the classpath may interfere with a new application. Simply copy the source and the Maven configuration file (the POM "project object model") and Maven will take care of all dependencies.
Maven is configured using the Project Object Model. If you follow Mavens suggestions for organizing your sourcecode, not much needs to be configured, because Maven assumes most settings with a default value.
Maven also has simple commands to generate a defauls project structure including the one java class, one test class the project object model definition file including dependencies for junit.
This tutorial shows how to use Maven and perform basic tasks to create and build a project with documentation.