When we start our Android programming journey we just want to build new and awesome stuffs, beautiful and robust apps. We get to a point where we start to learn about design patterns, architecture and best practices, but often we dedicate less time to learn about Gradle. For me, this was one of my duty points in my career as an Android Developer. Well… not anymore, and if you’re in the same situation, I hope this starts to change now.

Each time I started a new project or had to make some changes to a current one related to gradle, what I did was open an old project or go to StackOverflow and copy-paste small code snippets without fully understanding what that piece of code was doing. Some times this was a matter of trial and error. Also, the fact that Groovy was needed (which I don’t like so much) made it more complicated.

In this article I’ll show you that Gradle is not so terrible as you may think. You don’t need to know Groovy and there’s a simpler way to work with it and finally Tame the Beast.


The first thing you should know is that every time we start a build, gradle goes through three phases of its lifecycle, and in each of those phases several things happen.


This is the first lifecycle phase that gets executed. What it does is basically “prepare” the project for the build. For this, it takes the so-called init scripts located in the .gradle/init.d folder (if present), going through them in alphabetical order. In these scripts, we could add custom initial configurations like setting properties or a specific ambient where we are going to run our build, like our Dev or CI server. It also uses the settings.gradle file to determine the projects that will be part of the build, creating an instance of each project.


During this phase, the build script of all the project that were created before are executed. For that reason, each project needs a build.gradle file, where we can configure the project itself, add tasks, dependencies, and so on.


Gradle determines the subset of the tasks, created and configured during the configuration phase, to be executed. The subset is determined by the task name arguments passed to the gradle command and the current directory. Gradle then executes each of the selected tasks.


Now that we are familiar with the build lifecycle, let’s see where all those methods and properties that we have in our scripts come from and where can we find what we need.

If you’ve used Gradle in a Java or Android project you may have noticed that there are a few files with .gradle extension. We previously mentioned two of them, settings.gradle and build.gradle. As part of the init scripts we also have init.gradle or any other that’s inside the same folder.

Each of these scripts extends from an Interface. In some cases more than one. That’s why we can access its methods and properties, which before you knew they were interfaces, it could have looked like magic 😄. Fear no more!

What you should know is that all scripts that we have in our project implement the Script interface. If we go through its definition we can see that it has a public method called getBuildscript(). Wondering where have you seen this? Correct, we find this in the top-level build.gradle file.

buildscript { 
    repositories {
    dependencies {

You see, this method returns a ScriptHandler which also exposes getRepositories() and getDependencies(). Note that in Groovy, similar to Kotlin, we don’t need to use the full getter method, instead we can use the “property syntax” as shown above. This doesn’t look like magic now!

We can keep going through the docs all we want, but what we usually find in a project are the build.gradle files that implement the Project interface and the settings.gradle implementing… (you guessed) Settings! There’s also a less common case in the Android world and that’s init.gradle, which implements Gradle.


You may have noticed that we also have files with .properties extension such as gradle.properties. In this file we can define our own properties as a key-value pair.


And we can access to it from our script file like this:

println some_custom_property_key

But we can also define our own properties in a script file. In fact, many of you might be familiar with managing dependency versions in your projects in a single place using “ext”. If you’ve never seen this before, let me show you what it is.

The keen eye may have noticed that some of the interfaces mentioned before also extend from ExtensionAware that expose an [ExtraPropertiesExtension](ExtraPropertiesExtension (Gradle API 6.5)), which according to the docs “is always present in the container, with the name “ext””. This allows us to add our properties directly in the following way.

project.ext.custom_property = "some_value"

// another way of doing the same
project.ext {
    custom_property = "some_value"
    another_property = "another_value"

Note that I used project.ext. In this case project is our “delegate object” that will resolve any property or method that our current scope doesn’t know about and it also exposes all its properties to use them in our script. Having said that, in this scope, we can use ext directly.

The delegate object will be different for each type of scripts. The following table shows the delegate type for each script.

Type of ScriptDelegate


Gradle also allows us to extend its capabilities with plugins. A plugin packages functionality that can be reused in many projects, it can add new DSLs, be configured, add tasks, and more.

For example in an Android app project, in our app/build.gradle file we have some plugins applied to it with apply plugin: 'my-plugin'. One of them is 'com.android.application' which comes from Android Gradle Plugin. This is why we can add the android block and configure our project

android {
    defaultConfig {
        minSdkVersion 24
        targetSdkVersion 29
    signingConfigs { }
    buildTypes { }

There are many plugins out there that we can apply to our project, and we can also create our own! But we will leave that for another article 😉.


What I find very powerful and is something that took me some time to understand is the use of Tasks. By default, gradle registers a series of tasks like build, assemble, dependencies, test, and many others. In the configuration phase, gradle goes through each script and creates a task list and then determines the execution order generating a taskGraph. We can query this taskGraph and print it to console. For this, we will use the getTaskGraph() method.

gradle.taskGraph.whenReady { graph ->
    logger.info ">>> taskGraph: ${graph.allTasks}"

When executing a build we will see the taskGraph printed.

./gradlew build -i | grep taskGraph
>>> taskGraph: [task ':app:preBuild', task ':app:preDebugBuild', ... ]

Note that in this case the delegate object is project but we can skip it in this case and use gradle directly. If we don’t specify gradle, we will get the following error:

Could not get unknown property ’taskGraph’ for root project ‘MyProject’ of type org.gradle.api.Project.

It is also possible to get a list of all tasks and perform operations. For example, if we want to change the information that’s printed when running tests, we can get the tasks with getTasks(), filter the ones we’re interested in by type and apply new configurations.

tasks.withType(Test) {
    testLogging {
        events "skipped", "failed", "passed"

Another example would be to change the Java version we use when building our project. We can do this by checking the applied plugins. For android modules, we can change it like this.

// Application
    .configureEach { plugin ->
        plugin.extension.compileOptions {
            sourceCompatibility = "$java_version"
            targetCompatibility = "$java_version"

// Android library
    .configureEach { plugin ->
        plugin.extension.compileOptions {
            sourceCompatibility = "$java_version"
            targetCompatibility = "$java_version"

We can also create our own tasks, set the execution order and dependencies. It’s worth mentioning that gradle doesn’t allow circular dependencies, so if we define four tasks: A, B, C, D, where B depends on A, C depends on B, D depends on B and C, and A depends on C, gradle will not allow us to this and will detect that there’s a circular dependency (A and C). It is also smart to know that there are two tasks depending on one (C and D depend on B) so it will only execute B once.

task doA { }
task doB(dependsOn: 'doA') { }
task doC(dependsOn: 'doB') { }
task doD(dependsOn: ['doB', 'doC']) { } // this task depends on two tasks []

There are other ways to create Tasks, and we can even use Java or Kotlin for it. If you want to know more about it I recommend you to check this document, where you’ll find a few examples.


Thanks for reading until the end. As I mentioned at the beginning, Gradle is not so terrible and all that “magic” that we see in our scripts is not so complicated. The documentation explains it very well so we should not be afraid to create our own solutions.

Now that we now about Gradle’s lifecycle, base scripts interfaces, how can we access to methods and properties that these interfaces expose, what a plugin is, a task, and how we can create our own, we are now ready to face problems with greater confidence. Don’t hesitate to try new things. Create plugins that add value to your project and improve as a developer because from this moment, you have tamed the beast.