When I was just a padawan Salesforce developer, ant was something I heard about a lot, but didn't really understand. And for a long time, I didn't really need to. Eclipse (and then later Mavensmate) handled all of my interaction with the metadata, I ran tests in the Salesforce UI, and I used change sets to deploy code between sandboxes. As far as I knew, ant was just another way to do the things I was already doing that just seemed overly complicated for no good reason.

Fast forward a few years later and I start working on a managed package at a new company. My typical MO for starting a new project was as follows:

  • Pull down the metadata from version control
  • Open up the folder in Sublime Text/Mavensmate
  • Add the sandbox credentials to create the connection to the org.

That last step, however, proved problematic: there are no sandboxes for managed packages, just the managed package org itself. And I couldn't work directly in there; that would be tantamount to working directly in production, a huge no no. When I asked my supervisor where I should work on the feature:

"Oh, just use ant to deploy it to a new developer org"
"Sure... ant. That's a thing that I know."

In retrospect, I should have just asked, but I was so nervous about starting this new job and didn't want to ask what I thought was a dumb question.

Finding a straightforward answer turned out to be surprisingly difficulty, so hopefully this will help someone in the future.

A Beginner's Guide to the Salesforce Ant Migration Tool

Following these steps will help you get started with using ant from the command line. I am primarily a Mac/Linux user, so I'm not sure how much of this will translate to Windows.

Step 1: Install Ant

First you want to check if you even have ant on your computer. I think Ubuntu and Mac OSX both have this pre-installed because I don't remember ever installing it myself. Either way, you'll want to check to make you sure you have the latest version:

Linux Users:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ant

Mac Users:

brew update
brew install ant

The first command updates your package list so that the latest versions of software are retrieved. The second command installs or updates ant itself.

Step 2: Install the Force.com Migration Tool

These are the directions copied from Salesforce's documentation :

  • Log into a Salesforce organization on your deployment machine.
  • From Setup, click Develop | Tools, and then click Force.com Migration Tool.
  • Save the .zip file locally and extract the contents to the directory of your choice.
  • Copy ant-salesforce.jar and paste into your Ant installation's lib directory. The lib directory is located in the root folder of your Ant installation.

I usually gave up at the last step because I didn't know how to find my ant installation. Run this command to find it:

yourUsername@YourComputer:~$ whereis ant
ant: /usr/bin/ant /usr/bin/X11/ant /usr/share/ant /usr/share/man/man1/ant.1.gz

After checking through each of those directories, I found my lib folder in /usr/share/ant/lib . I use Codeship to automate testing so I actually put ant-salesforce.jar in a folder named lib in the base of my project, i.e. the same folder where the src folder sits for my Salesforce project. Either is fine. In fact, I typically just put it in the same folder as my project so that whoever pulls down the project from version control can quickly starting using the ant commands.

As for what's actually in the .jar file, don't worry. Just know that this is the file that allows you to use the ant commands created by Salesforce.

Step 3: Create your build.xml file

Create a file called build.xml at the base of your project. Here's a copy of a simple build.xml file:

<project basedir="." xmlns:sf="antlib:com.salesforce">
<taskdef resource="com/salesforce/antlib.xml"
<property file="build.properties"/>

<target name="deploy" description="Deploys the code to salesforce.com">
<echo message="Deploying to Salesforce..."/>
<sf:deploy username="${username}"

<target name="test" description="Deploys the code to salesforce.com">
<echo message="Running all tests in Salesforce..."/>
<sf:deploy username="${username}"

<target name="retrieveCode">
<sf:retrieve username="${username}"

Here are some definitions for the xml tags to describe what is going on in here:

  • taskdef : defines where your ant-salesforce.jar file is located
  • target : defines a command
    • name : the name of the command. These can be named anything you want, I could have put name="doTheThing" and it would wouldn't matter.
  • echo : Text that is displayed on the command line when starting the command. This is useful for letting the user know what is going on.
  • sf:deploy : This command is defined by that .jar file. As you can probably guess, this will deploy code to Salesforce. The attributes for this tag defines the user credentials to log into Salesforce as well as directions on what to deploy.
    • deployRoot : Defines where to deploy from. Above, it is set to src , so all the metadata under the src folder will be deployed.
    • checkOnly : When set to true , the command will only validate that the metadata included in src can successfully be deployed (compiled) without actually changing anything on the server.
    • runAllTests : This runs ALL of the tests in the org, including the tests in managed packages. Currently there's no way to only run non namespaced tests, which can be very annoying.
  • sf:retrieve : This is another command defined by that .jar file. This pulls metatdata down from an org.
    • retrieveTarget : where to store the retrieved metadata
    • unpackaged : where you package.xml file is located. More on the package.xml file later

Step 4: Set up your properties file.

You'll notice that for username and password that actual credentials are not provided, but instead have merge fields. If you're not planning to version control this file, then you can replace {$username} with your actual username. However, if you are putting this in version control, and your version control is hosted online (like with GitHub) then you'll want to put that information in a file that is included in your .gitignore file. The property tag defines where your merge fields are defined. I called the file build.properties, though I'm pretty sure you can call it whatever you want.

Add a file called build.properties at the same level as your build.xml file. It'll look like this:

username  = [email protected]
password = passwordAndSecurityToken

IMPORTANT: Do NOT add this file to version control or push it online. That can be a very costly mistake . If you do accidentally commit the file, immediately change your password.

Step 5: Setup your package.xml file

Your package.xml file defines what is being pulled down from and being to deployed to Salesforce. You've probably seen this while working with Eclipse or Mavensmate.

Here's a really basic file that Eclipse builds by default

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Package xmlns="http://soap.sforce.com/2006/04/metadata">

The types tag define the kinds of metadata you can pull down. The members tag define which files to pull down. In this case I used a wildcard to pull down everything of each type. For more information, checkout Salesforce's documentation on Metadata types

After all that, you should be done! Now open up your project's base folder and try some ant commands. I suggest running one that has checkOnly = "true" so that you don't accidentally push something you didn't want to.

ant test
[echo] Running all tests in Salesforce...
[sf:deploy] Request for a deploy submitted successfully.
[sf:deploy] Request ID for the current deploy task: 0Afo000000E4G8VCAV
[sf:deploy] Waiting for server to finish processing the request...
[sf:deploy] Request Status: Pending

Why bother?

If you are working with managed packages, ant is absolutely necessary for merging and deploying code between dev orgs and managed package orgs (Because you're not working directly on the package org, right?). It's also extremely useful when working with teams. You can easily deploy changes made by other teammates by pulling down their branches from version control and using ant to update your org.

If you are working in sandboxes for one org, ant can make deployments between sandboxes and to production easier as well. If you need to deploy profile changes, I recommend sticking to change sets, but for everything else ant can be much more efficient. Building change sets can be extremely tedious, clicking on EVERY file you need deployed. You can more quickly create a src folder and a package.xml file with all of the changes you want to deploy, all locally on your computer.

This should be enough to get your started with ant, but as you get more comfortable with the tool I suggest checking out the Force.com Migration Tool Guide for more functionality.