Migrating from Maven to Bazel

This page describes how to migrate from Maven to Bazel, including the prerequisites and installation steps. It describes the differences between Maven and Bazel, and provides a migration example using the Guava project.

When migrating from any build tool to Bazel, it’s best to have both build tools running in parallel until you have fully migrated your development team, CI system, and any other relevant systems. You can run Maven and Bazel in the same repository.

Before you begin

Differences between Maven and Bazel

  • Maven uses top-level pom.xml file(s). Bazel supports multiple build files and multiple targets per BUILD file, allowing for builds that are more incremental than Maven’s.
  • Maven takes charge of steps for the deployment process. Bazel does not automate deployment.
  • Bazel enables you to express dependencies between languages.
  • As you add new sections to the project, with Bazel you may need to add new BUILD files. Best practice is to add a BUILD file to each new Java package.

Migrate from Maven to Bazel

The steps below describe how to migrate your project to Bazel:

  1. Create the WORKSPACE file
  2. Create one BUILD file
  3. Create more BUILD files
  4. Build using Bazel

Examples below come from a migration of the Guava project from Maven to Bazel. The Guava project used is release 22.0. The examples using Guava do not walk through each step in the migration, but they do show the files and contents that are generated or added manually for the migration.

1. Create the WORKSPACE file

Create a file named WORKSPACE at the root of your project. If your project has no external dependencies, the workspace file can be empty.

If your project depends on files or packages that are not in one of the project’s directories, specify these external dependencies in the workspace file. To automate the listing of external dependencies for the workspace file, use rules_jvm_external. For instructions about using this ruleset, see the README.

NOTE: The previously recommend tool, generate_workspace, is no longer maintained by the Bazel team.

Guava project example: external dependencies

Using the rules_jvm_external ruleset, we can list the external dependencies of the Guava project.

Add the following snippet to the WORKSPACE file:

load("@bazel_tools//tools/build_defs/repo:http.bzl", "http_archive")

RULES_JVM_EXTERNAL_SHA = "79c9850690d7614ecdb72d68394f994fef7534b292c4867ce5e7dec0aa7bdfad"

    name = "rules_jvm_external",
    strip_prefix = "rules_jvm_external-%s" % RULES_JVM_EXTERNAL_TAG,
    url = "https://github.com/bazelbuild/rules_jvm_external/archive/%s.zip" % RULES_JVM_EXTERNAL_TAG,

load("@rules_jvm_external//:defs.bzl", "maven_install")

    artifacts = [
    repositories = [

2. Create one BUILD file

Now that you have your workspace defined and external dependencies (if applicable) listed, you need to create BUILD files to describe how your project should be built. Unlike Maven with its one pom.xml file, Bazel can use many BUILD files to build a project. These files specify multiple build targets, which allow Bazel to produce incremental builds.

Add BUILD files in stages. Start with adding one BUILD file at the root of your project and using it to do an initial build using Bazel. Then, you refine your build by adding more BUILD files with more granular targets.

  1. In the same directory as your WORKSPACE file, create a text file and name it BUILD.

  2. In this BUILD file, use the appropriate rule to create one target to build your project. Here are some tips:
    • Use the appropriate rule:
      • To build projects with a single Maven module, use the java_library rule as follows:

            name = "everything",
            srcs = glob(["src/main/java/**/*.java"]),
            resources = glob(["src/main/resources/**"]),
            deps = ["//:all-external-targets"],
      • To build projects with multiple Maven modules, use the java_library rule as follows:

            name = "everything",
            srcs = glob([
            resources = glob([
            deps = ["//:all-external-targets"],
      • To build binaries, use the java_binary rule:

            name = "everything",
            srcs = glob(["src/main/java/**/*.java"]),
            resources = glob(["src/main/resources/**"]),
            deps = ["//:all-external-targets"],
            main_class = "com.example.Main"
    • Specify the attributes:
      • name: Give the target a meaningful name. In the examples above we call the target “everything.”
      • srcs: Use globbing to list all .java files in your project.
      • resources: Use globbing to list all resources in your project.
      • deps: You need to determine which external dependencies your project needs. For example, if you generated a list of external dependencies using the tool generate_workspace, the dependencies for java_library are the libraries listed in the generated_java_libraries macro.
    • Take a look at the example below of this top-level BUILD file from the migration of the Guava project.
  3. Now that you have a BUILD file at the root of your project, build your project to ensure that it works. On the command line, from your workspace directory, use bazel build //:everything to build your project with Bazel.

    The project has now been successfully built with Bazel. You will need to add more BUILD files to allow incremental builds of the project.

Guava project example: start with one BUILD file

When migrating the Guava project to Bazel, initially one BUILD file is used to build the entire project. Here are the contents of this initial BUILD file in the workspace directory:

    name = "everything",
    srcs = glob(["guava/src/**/*.java"]),
    deps = [

3. Create more BUILD files (optional)

Bazel does work with just one BUILD file, as you saw after completing your first build. You should still consider breaking the build into smaller chunks by adding more BUILD files with granular targets.

Multiple BUILD files with multiple targets will give the build increased granularity, allowing:

  • increased incremental builds of the project,
  • increased parallel execution of the build,
  • better maintainability of the build for future users, and
  • control over visibility of targets between packages, which can prevent issues such as libraries containing implementation details leaking into public APIs.

Tips for adding more BUILD files:

  • You can start by adding a BUILD file to each Java package. Start with Java packages that have the fewest dependencies and work you way up to packages with the most dependencies.
  • As you add BUILD files and specify targets, add these new targets to the deps sections of targets that depend on them. Note that the glob() function does not cross package boundaries, so as the number of packages grows the files matched by glob() will shrink.
  • Any time you add a BUILD file to a main directory, ensure that you add a BUILD file to the corresponding test directory.
  • Take care to limit visibility properly between packages.
  • To simplify troubleshooting errors in your setup of BUILD files, ensure that the project continues to build with Bazel as you add each build file. Run bazel build //... to ensure all of your targets still build.

4. Build using Bazel

You’ve been building using Bazel as you add BUILD files to validate the setup of the build.

When you have BUILD files at the desired granularity, you can use Bazel to produce all of your builds.