Build cache is an extension that makes large Maven builds more efficient.

A combination of features achieves that:

  • Incremental builds work on the modified part of the project graph part only
  • Subtree support for multimodule projects builds part of the codebase in isolation
  • Version normalization supports project version agnostic caches
  • Project state restoration (partial) avoids repeating expensive tasks like code generation

Large projects pose scalability challenges, and working with such projects requires a build tool that scales. The cache extension addresses that with incremental build execution and the ability to efficiently work on sub-parts of a larger project without building and installing dependencies from the larger project.

Cache concepts

The build cache calculates a key from module inputs, stores outputs in the cache, and transparently restores them later to the standard Maven core. The cache associates each project state with a unique key and restores it in subsequent builds. It analyzes source code, project model, plugins, and their parameters. Projects with the same key are up-to-date (not changed) and can be restored from the cache. Projects that prodiuce different keys are out-of-date (changed), and the cache fully rebuilds them. In the latter case, the cache does not make any interventions in the build execution logic and delegates build work to the standard maven Maven core. This approach ensures that artifacts produced in the presence of a cache are equivalent to the result produced by a standard Maven build.
To achieve an accurate key calculation, the build-cache extension combines automatic introspection of project object model and fine-grained tuning using a configuration file. Source code content fingerprinting is digest based, which is more reliable than the file timestamps used in tools like Make or Apache Ant. Cache outputs can be shared using a remote cache. Deterministic inputs calculation allows distributed and parallel builds running in heterogeneous environments (like a cloud of build agents) efficiently reuse cached build artifacts as soon as they are published. Therefore, incremental The build cache is particularly useful for large Maven projects that have a significant number of small modules. Remote caching, combined with relocatable inputs identification, effectively enables the “change once - build once” approach across all environments.

Maven insights

Maven is a proven tool with a long history and core design established many years ago. Historically, Maven's core was designed with generic stable interfaces that don't have a concept of inputs and outputs. It just runs as configured, but the core does not control the inputs and effects of the run. Most commonly, artifacts produced in the same build environment from the same source code will be considered equivalent. But even two identical looking builds from the same source code can have two different results. The question here is tolerance level — can you accept particular discrepancies? Though technical differences between artifacts like timestamps in manifests are largely ignored, when compilers used are of different levels, it is likely a critical difference. Should the produced artifacts be considered equivalent? Yes and No answers are possible and could be desirable in different scenarios. When productivity and performance are the primary concerns, it could be beneficial to tolerate insignificant discrepancies and maximize the reuse. As long as correctness is in focus, there could be a demand to comply with the exact release requirements. In the same way as Maven, the cache correctness is ensured by proper build configuration and control over the build environment. As Maven itself, the cached result is just an approximation of another build with some tolerance level (implementation, configuration, and environment driven) that must be configured to meet your needs.

Implementation insights

Simply put, the build cache is a hash function that takes a Maven project and produces a unique key. Then the key is used to store and restore build results. Because of different factors, there can be collisions and instabilities in the produced key. A collision happens when the semantically different builds have the same key and will result in unintended reuse. Instability means that the same input yields different keys resulting in cache misses. The ultimate target is to find a tradeoff between correctness and performance by configuring cache processing rules in an XML file.

To maximize correctness:

  • Select every relevant file as input to the engine
  • Add all the functional plugin parameters to the reconciliation

To maximize reuse you need to:

  • Filter out non-essential files (documentation, IDE configs, and similar)
  • Minimize the overall number of controlled plugin parameters and exclude behavioral plugin parameters (like the number of threads or log level)
  • Make source code relocatable (environment agnostic)

Effectively, cache setup involves inspecting the build, taking these decisions, and reflecting them in the cache configuration.

Though strict, comprehensive cache rules aiming for 100% coverage of all parameters and files might be tempting, it is rarely the optimal decision. When applied to real projects, perfect correctness could lead to prevailing hit misses and render caching useless. Configuring sufficient (good enough) correctness might yield the best outcomes. Incremental Maven provides flexible and transparent control over caching policy and allows achieving desired results - maximizes usability or maximize equivalency between pre-cached candidates and requested builds.


Cache extension is an opt-in feature. It is delivered as is, and though the tool went through careful verification, it's still the build owner's responsibility to verify build outcomes.

Recommended Scenarios

Given all the information above, the build-cache extension is recommended for use in scenarios when productivity and performance are high priorities. Typical cases are:

  • Continuous integration. In conjunction with the remote cache, the extension can drastically reduce build times, validate pull requests faster, and reduce the load on CI nodes.
  • Speedup developer builds. By reusing cached builds, developers can verify changes faster and be more productive. No more -DskipTests and similar.
  • Assemble artifacts faster. In some development models, it is critical to make the build/deploy turnaround as fast as possible. Caching drastically cuts down build time because it doesn't build cached dependencies.

For cases when users must ensure the correctness (e.g. prod builds), it is recommended to disable the cache and do clean builds instead. Such a scheme allows cache correctness validation by reconciling the outcomes of cached builds against the reference builds.

See also