Ant (released 2000): first among modern build tools. It uses XML while using procedural programming approach. XML build scripts tend to become unmanageably big, since all the commands needed must be defined.
Maven (released 2004): Maven was build with an idea to improve Ant. Its build scripts are still written in XML, but manageable compared to Ant. Maven introduced the ability to download dependencies over the network.
XML format is strictly structured and highly standardised, making it hard to write and even harder customise scripts. Mavens main future is its ability to process life cycles with ease.
Gradle (released 2012): combines Mavens ease of use and its life-cycle and Ants power and flexibility. It uses Groovy for build scripts, which are much shorter and clearer compared to XML scripts.
Features promoting Gradle over other build tools:
- Gradle has features like Incremental build and Compiler Daemon, which increases speed and reduced build time
- Google adopted Gradle, hence has more support