Understanding Apache Maven – Part 8 – Maven Plugins

java, maven

Published: 2020-07 (July 2020)
Verified with: Apache Maven 3.6.3

Link to an index, to find other blogs in this series.

In Part 8 of the series, a deeper dive in Maven Plugins is covered.

In Part 4, Maven Lifecycles and Phases were introduced. A brief overview of Plugins and Goals were also included. A quick recap:

  • Apache Maven provides standard lifecycles.
  • Lifecycles have phases that execute sequentially.
  • Execution of maven is done via plugins which define goals.
  • Goals can be associated with phases (or may simply be run independent of phases).

What are plugins?

Maven is a plugin-execution framework. Plugins are an assembly of goals, code written as MOJOs (Maven’s plain Old Java Objects, Modern MOJOs are not restricted to being written in Java). Goals have names and can be bound to phases. A MOJO declares its goal name and optionally, a phase association, which binds the class to a part of a lifecycle.

Image displays a plugin-lifecycle relationship. Plugins define goals. Goals can be bound to phases. Goals from multiple plugins can be bound to a single phase.
Plugins define goals. Goals can be bound to phases. Goals from multiple plugins can be bound to a single phase.

A plugin is typically a .jar file which contains the MOJO classes and a META-INF/maven/plugins.xml. This plugins.xml is generated as a part of the maven execution of the plugin code.

Types of plugins

Broadly, plugins are of two types:

build plugins – configured in a project POM under the <build> element. Such plugins are executed as a part of the default (build) lifecycle.

reporting plugins – configured in a project POM under the <reporting> element. Such plugins are executed as a part of site lifecycle.

Furthermore, plugins can be classified as:

core plugins – Plugins where goals are bound to core phases (clean, compile, install, resources etc.)

packaging plugins – Plugins related to output artifact packaging. Examples include plugins for ear, jar, war etc.

reporting plugins – Plugins related to the site lifecycle and used to generate reports. Examples include checkstyle, javadoc, project-info-reports etc.

tooling plugins – Plugins related to general tooling during the maven execution. Examples include assembly, help, enforcer toolchains etc.

Plugins from Maven – versus – custom plugins

Official Maven plugins developed as a part of Apache Maven have a standard naming convention: maven-<plugin shortName>-plugin. This naming convention is reserved and SHOULD NOT be used by plugins which do not have a groupId of org.apache.maven.plugins and are not found on a maven repository under ord/apache/maven/plugins directory.

Plugins developed with other groupIds typically have a name of <plugin shortName>-maven-plugin.

How to learn about a plugin

Standard plugins from Apache Maven have a consistent site structure under a common site: https://maven.apache.org/plugins/index.html.

Each plugin landing page has a few menu items under its navigation panel. An Introduction page, which provides an overview of the plugin. A Goals page which lists all goals defined by the plugin and a deeper explanation of goal’s intent. A Usage page that provides configuration options and any relevant information regarding constraints for the plugin. An FAQ page for responses to frequently asked questions. There are additional pages for License and Download of the plugin as well.

In addition to the standard menu items, a plugin landing page can provide links to Examples and Project Documentation.

The plugin site is the best way to start understanding a plugin provided by Apache Maven. Plugins developed external to Apache Maven should attempt to follow similar conventions to ensure easier comprehension by the users.

How to use plugins in a project POM

Plugins are configured in a POM under either the <build> or the <reporting> or the <profiles> -> <profile> element. A plugin can be located using the standard maven G-A-V (GroupId-ArtifactId-Version) coordinates. In addition to the location coordinates, a plugin has a few other elements that are optional.


The extensions is a flag to determine if Maven extensions from the plugin should be loaded. The value is a true or false, however, the current datatype in the schema is a String (for some technical reasons). The default value is false and it is rarely enabled. Typical use cases for enabling this is when defining a custom lifecycle or packaging types.


Will be covered in a section below, but inherited is a boolean flag that is true by default. As with extensions the datatype in the schema is a String. Setting inherited to false prevents propagation of the configuration to any child POM of the current one.


The executions is a complex element and contains a set of execution elements. At its core, maven executes such definitions. An execution specified the set of goals to execute during the lifecycle. An execution is a complex element that has a unique id, a phase to bind one or more goals to, an inherited flag (similar to the one defined for a plugin, also set as a String datatype), a goals element which is a set of String goal elements that are bound to the phase, and a generic configuration element.


The dependencies is a complex element and contains a set of dependency elements. The dependency definitions listed here are used by the plugin and loaded by the plugin classloader.


The configuration is a complex element which allows for a free-form DOM configuration used by the plugin. The configuration specifics are typically listed (and recommended, in case of custom plugins) in the Usage page for a given plugin.

A visual of the plugin element

Plugin Inheritance

Plugins have a inheritance logic similar to dependencies. A plugin declared in a parent POM is inherited into the child POM unless the parent declares the inherited flag to false. Setting the inherited flag to false breaks the inheritance.

In addition, a pluginManagement section in a POM functions the same way a dependencyManagement works for a dependency.

There is currently no equivalent in a bill-of-materials for a plugin, although, there is an open issue for introducing such a facility. Link: https://issues.apache.org/jira/browse/MNG-5588

Mixin Maven Plugin

Not officially an Apache Maven plugin, but the mixin-maven-plugin deserves a special mention. The plugin allows for including multiple pluginManagement sections without needing to inherit the plugins from a single parent. Using this plugin allows for a build behavior to be made more modular.

More about the mixin-maven-plugin: https://github.com/odavid/maven-plugins/tree/master/mixin-maven-plugin

Links to learn more

Introduction to Plugins: https://maven.apache.org/guides/introduction/introduction-to-plugins.html

Maven Plugins: https://maven.apache.org/plugins/index.html

Guide to configuring plugins: https://maven.apache.org/guides/mini/guide-configuring-plugins.html

Guide to developing plugins: https://maven.apache.org/guides/plugin/guide-java-plugin-development.html

Maven MOJO API: https://maven.apache.org/developers/mojo-api-specification.html

Plugin descriptor (Apache Maven 3.6.3): https://maven.apache.org/ref/3.6.3/maven-plugin-api/plugin.html

That’s a wrap on this blog. Have fun !

Part 7
Configuring Apache Maven
IndexPart 9
Versions in Maven

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