I’ve been learning more about continuous integration practices, and when working on an echo server in Java recently, my mentors tasked me with configuring Travis CI to build and deploy a Java jar file as a GitHub Release. A key wrinkle: the filename for the jar file had to include the SHA of the Git commit used to build the jar file.

I hit some roadblocks trying to implement this, so I thought I would share what I learned here. Interestingly, a critical aspect turned out to be configuring the build tool I was using locally, which in this case, was Gradle.

Before we dive into the specific implementation of getting Travis to deploy a file whose name contains the Git commit SHA, I think it’s worth diving into a high level summary of what Travis does, how it knows what to do, and how it knows when to do it.

As for what Travis does, Travis is a third party application that performs a build of your own app. But what does it mean to “build” an app? It took me a while to get my head around this, but basically, with help from responses posted here, I’ve settled on the notion that “to do a build” means telling another program or app to do a series of tasks that programmers want done with respect to their code. That’s all. These tasks might include running tests, creating a compressed file that users can download and run (such as a Java jar file), deploying the code to a server so that web browsers can access it, issuing reports to certain stakeholders about what happened during the build, and/or simply letting certain people know that the build has occurred. “Doing the build” can thus encompass different tasks depending on the app and team behind it, and some of the tasks can be conditional. For example, if the app’s tests don’t pass during the build, then the builder will likely be instructed not to deploy the code for users to access.

So, at the end of the day, Travis is a third-party builder, an application that will run certain tasks with respect to your code. Travis performs this build in the cloud on its own virtual machine. But how does Travis know what is involved in the build and when to do it?

The first thing Travis CI needs is your source code. Travis CI gets this through integration with GitHub. Through your GitHub account settings, you give Travis CI permission to access a repository (or repositories) that you have pushed to GitHub. As of right now, I believe that GitHub is the only repository service with which Travis CI can integrate (see here).

The second thing Travis CI needs is instructions on how to perform its build. Travis CI looks to two places for these instructions. The first is a file named .travis.yml in your source code’s root directory. The second is the instructions for build tool that you use locally for this particular project.

How does Travis CI know where these local instructions are? Through the .travis.yml file, but (by default), in a slightly roundabout way. One of the most important things you tell Travis CI in the .travis.yml file is the programming language behind your app. Absent instructions to the contrary, Travis CI will make assumptions about where to find your local build instructions based on the programming language. For example, if your .travis.yml file specifies that your app is written with Ruby, like so…

language: ruby

…then Travis CI will assume you are using rake as your local build tool and will default to looking for build instructions in a Rakefile located in your GitHub repository’s root directory. Alternatively, if your .travis.yml file specifies that your app is written in Java, like so…

language: java

…then Travis will assume you are using Gradle as your local build tool and will default to looking for build instructions in a build.gradle file in your repository’s root directory. (Gradle is not the only Java build tool that Travis CI supports, but if Travis CI finds a build.gradle file, that file will trump all other local build instructions. See here, for example.)

So Travis will perform a build of your project, following instructions from the .travis.yml file and the instructions for your local build tool. From now on, we’ll assume that local build tool is Gradle, meaning Travis looks to instructions in the build.gradle file of your project’s root directory.

The last piece of the puzzle is, when does Travis perform a build? The answer depends, in part, on the instructions given in the .travis.yml file. But, in general, because Travis is so integrated with GitHub, builds generally occur around events that happen with respect to GitHub, particularly pushing a branch or making a pull request. Travis also takes note of, and distinguishes, pushing a git tag to GitHub, instead of pushing a branch. Pushing a tag can play a particularly important role in getting Travis CI to post a file as a GitHub Release, as we’ll see later.

With that background knowledge in mind, let’s tackle the task at hand: getting Travis CI to deploy a Java jar file as a GitHub Release, with the jar file containing the SHA of the Git commit from which the jar file was built. Please note, the discussion below assumes:

  • the repository in question is already integrated with Travis CI as described here,
  • you have some basic knowledge of Gradle, and
  • every time you see a terminal command that starts with gradle, such as gradle build, you understand that the best practice is to instead run the command with the gradle wrapper script, like so: ./gradlew build.

We’ll start with the instructions we give to our local build tool, Gradle, in the gradle.build file. Comments attempt to explain what the relevant parts do, but you can find an un-commented versions of the code that follows here.

// gradle.build

plugins {
    id 'java'
    id 'application'
      // The 'java' and 'application' plugins above make certain
      // Gradle tasks available, and cause certain tasks to be run by default
      // whenever you run `gradle build`.  This is important because Travis CI
      // basically gives the `gradle build` command when it builds the program
      // on its own virtual machine.  Importantly, the 'java' plugin adds a
      // 'jar' task to your build, creating a Java jar file every time you or
      // Travis CI runs `gradle build`. Manipulating that jar's filename is
      // the subject of the comments below.
    id 'com.palantir.git-version' version '0.12.2'
      // The plug in above allows gradle.build to access the SHA of your Git
      // commit. See 'jar' in the code below.

mainClassName = 'App'
  // Don't forget to specify a `mainClassName` like above, or the `application`
  // plugin will not be happy.

sourceCompatibility = 1.8

repositories {

dependencies {
    testImplementation group: 'junit', name: 'junit', version: '4.12'

distZip.enabled = false
distTar.enabled = false
  // An aside: the 'application' plug in automatically builds zip and tar files
  // for you when you run `gradle build`.  It took me a while to figure out how
  // to disable these tasks.  The two lines above show how to   disable them.  

  // Below is the meat and potatoes of how to manipulate the jar's filename.  
  // Remember, because of the `java` plugin, the jar file is automatically
  // built whenever `gradle build` is run, which is what Travis CI does
  // on its virtual machine.
jar {
      // Below sets the base of your jar's filename.
    archiveBaseName = "testJava"
      // Below uses methods provided by the palantir plugin to append to the
      // jar filename (a) the last git tag you have added and (b) the
      // Git commit SHA (aka "gitHash").
    archiveVersion = versionDetails().lastTag + "-" + versionDetails().gitHash
      // Below is necessary metadata to assist Java in creating the jar file.
      // It essentially tells Java where the `main()` method is to kick off the
      // program.  Gradle is still leaning on Java to create the jar file
      // under the hood, and I learned the hard way that omitting this data
      // causes the jar file to be worthless.
    manifest {
                'Main-Class': 'App'

(There are some footnotes to these comments below at the end of the post.)

We can see from the comments above that Gradle is responsible for creating a jar file with the Git commit SHA. So how does Travis CI know to grab the jar file and deploy it to GitHub Releases? This is where the instructions in the .travis.yml file come into play. Before we take a look at our .travis.yml file, there are a few things worth noting:

  • Travis CI’s documentaion on how to deploy to GitHub Releases is helpful and can be found here.
  • Even though Travis CI’s builds are queued to GitHub events (like pull requests and pushes), it can deploy to many other platforms besides GitHub. The fact that this deploys to GitHub is just one of the unique circumstances here.
  • Travis CI provides a command line tool to help create your .travis.yml for deployment. To use it, you need the Travis Client Gem. This allows you to run the following command, travis setup releases --com, which, importantly, encrypts your GitHub OAuth credentials in your .travis.yml file. After running this command, your .travis.yml file will have an api_key:/secure: field with a complex hash that allows Travis CI to deploy something as a GitHub Release. As your travis.yml file will be posted on GitHub, perhaps publicly, it’s best to let this Travis Client Gem handle the security work.

Let’s take a look at our .travis.yml file that deploys the jar file to GitHub, with comments. This file is the result of running travis setup releases --com at the command line and then modifying it.

# .travis.yml

language: java
   # Thanks to the language designation above, Travis CI will look to a
   # `gradle.build` file for instructions on how Travis CI should perform
   # the build on its virtual machine, absent other instructions to the
   # contrary.

- rm -f  $HOME/.gradle/caches/modules-2/modules-2.lock
- rm -fr $HOME/.gradle/caches/*/plugin-resolution/

  - "$HOME/.gradle/caches/"
  - "$HOME/.gradle/wrapper/"
  # The lines above about caching help Travis CI's build faster, according
  # to the Travis CI documentation.

  # Here is the meat and potatoes for deploying to GitHub Releases:
  provider: releases
    # The line above tells Travis CI to deploy something as a GitHub releases
  skip_cleanup: true
    # The line above is set to `false` by the Travis CLI tool, but the Travis CI
    # documentation for GitHub Releases advises that this value should be set to
    # true. If it remains set to false, Travis CI will automatically "clean up"
    # and delete any files created as part of the build, so deployment will
    # be impossible.
    secure: <a long crazy code here>
      # The line above represents your encrypted GitHub OAuth key created
      # by the Travis CLI tool.
  file_glob: true
    # The line above is necessary so that Travis CI knows to grab all the files
    # in a certain directory following its build.  This makes the next line
    # possible.
  file: build/libs/*
    # Travis CI wants to know which file you'd like to deploy.  Gradle builds
    # the jar file in a `build/lib` sub-folder that it creates.  Our file
    # name is dynamic, however, constantly changing because it includes
    # the SHA of a particular Git commit that will change with new builds.
    # As a result, trusting that nothing else will be in this file thanks to
    # my `gradle.build` file, the line above tells Travis CI to deploy whatever
    # is in this folder as part of the build.
    repo: <your-GitHub-username>/<your-repository>
    all_branches: true
    tags: true
      # The stuff above tells Travis CI to deploy the jar file
      # when pushing or making a pull request to the repo above from any
      # branch.  This maximum flexibility was fine for my particular project.  
      # The Travis CI documentation has instructions on how to limit this.

      # The most important field above is `tags: true`.  This keeps Travis CI
      # from deploying a GitHub Release every single time I push something to
      # GitHub for this repo or make a pull request for this repo.  It tells
      # Travis instead to only deploy a Release when I have tagged a commit
      # and pushed the tag.

        # What does it mean to tag a commit and push the tag?

        # This took me an embarrassingly long time to get right, but what this
        # means is when you want Travis to deploy a release from a
        # certain commit, first tag the commit with the Git tag command, like
        # so...
          # `git tag v1.0`
        # ...and then push that specific tag to GitHub, like so...
          # `git push origin v1.0`

      # With these settings in place, Travis CI will still perform a build
      # every time you push something to GitHub or make a pull request, BUT
      # it will only complete the deployment task when you push a tag.

With the settings above in place in my gradle.build and .travis.yml files, Travis CI deploys a jar file as a GitHub Release, with the Git commit SHA in the jar’s filename. This deployment happens when I push a tag GitHub, not when I push a branch or make a pull request. I hope the discussion above is helpful if you are facing a similar task!


  • To learn more about the Gradle ‘java’ plugin, see here.

  • To see what gradle tasks are avaiable, and which specifc tasks are run during a Gradle build, run gradle task at the command line and take a look.

  • This discussion is what tipped me off on how to disable tasks that run by default from the gradle build command.