In Maven, LESS is less

Sorry, this is a rant.

I was recently investigating Maven plugins for LESS compilation. The use-case is pretty run-of-the-mill (I think?): I want to be able to write a .less file anywhere in my project src/ folder and have Maven compile it to CSS in the corresponding folder in target/ at some point of the build pipeline.

I first looked into lesscss-maven-plugin, a short-and-sweet kind of tool that looks perfect if you have one (and *only one*) target folder for all of your CSS. Working on a large project including things such as separate templates and per-plugin CSS, this would not be working for us.

More reading and research lead me to Wro4j, Web Resources Optimization for Java. One understood the cryptic acronym, it sounds like the kind of all-encompassing tool that the Gods of Bandwidth and Simplicity would bestow upon us mere mortals provided we made the required server sacrifices. A noble idea, but after actually using the thing, it didn’t take me long to drop the religious metaphor.

Wro4j is a horrible mess. There’s absolutely no justification in any way, shape or form for the complexity involved in this plugin. As a perfect example of being too clever for its own good, Wro4j includes several parsers for the configuration file: an XML parser, a JSON parser, and for some reason a Groovy parser. Why you would need three different ways to configure a poor Maven plugin —which should get its configuration from the pom.xml anyway— is beyond me.
And the implementation is the most horrific part: when supplied with a config file, Wro4j will try all successive parsers (yes, even when the file extension is .xml(1)) on the file and end up with this absolutely undecipherable error message if parsing failed with each ‘Factory’. Which will happen when Wro4j doesn’t like your XML configuration file for some reason.

I ended up using a bash script to find .less files and call lessc on them. No it’s not portable, no it’s not “the maven way”, but at least it works and it’s maintainable.


1: it takes a special kind of crazy YAGNI-oblivious Java helicopter architect to consider that a Groovy file saved as ‘config.json’ should be a supported feature. In a Maven (which is so heavily XML-based) plugin of all places!

Photocard – a Java postcard generator

As a school project, we recently finished Photocard, a Java application for Linux that allows you to design postcards (‘we’ as in a couple of other students & me).

Basically, Photocard listens to /media/ for an USB key, lets you chose a blueprint for your card (that might contain text and pictures), then drag and drop pictures into that blueprint, retouch them, and print your card (actually save it to /tmp/).

This is not a commercial-grade product, of course, and there are a lot of details I would have changed and improved, given some more time. For example, rotating pictures is choppy, luminosity and contrast aren’t well defined, the notification system is botched, the XML parser seems way too complicated for what it does, the user interface could be improved… And we used the MVC pattern as good as we can, but I don’t think we respect it fully.

However, it works! I’m pretty proud we managed to get it done on time. And some bits of it are really cool and pushed me to think about OO concepts in depth (anonymous classes & reflection in particular).

The project itself might be useful to someone out there, so we released it on Sourceforge under the GPL. All the comments (and the application itself) are in French, though.

Have fun!