In this tutorial we’ll learn:

  • Why you might benefit from a custom Rundeck Java plugin
  • How to set up your development environment to write, build and test Rundeck Java plugins

Why create a Rundeck plugin in Java?

Rundeck is an open source ops automation platform that comes with a lot of functionality out of the box, like running script commands on your nodes with a command step. If you can already run commands with the default functionality, why would you want to write a new plugin to do that?

Several reasons:

  • To encapsulate and reuse functionality across projects and jobs
  • To expose parameters to the UI with descriptions, types and defaults
  • To securely access secrets stored in Key Storage

These benefits apply to both script plugins and Java plugins. Additional benefits of writing a Java plugin would be:

  • Fully crossplatform
  • All code dependencies can be packaged with the plugin
  • Robust access to Rundeck context data
  • Testability
  • Use any JVM language

Fully crossplatform

Script plugins depend on a script interpreter like bash or powershell deployed on the node running your plugin. If you run a heterogeneous environment with nodes of different operating systems or different versions of the same operating system, you can avoid those inconsistencies using a Java plugin. Since Java can run on essential any platform, our plugin logic will run the same way regardless of what operating system it runs on.

All code dependencies can be packaged with the plugin

Many scripts rely on external tools like awk, jq or your cloud provider’s command line tool, requiring you to ensure that those tools are deployed everywhere your plugin will run, and are the correct version that your script expects. A Java plugin would be packaged into a single jar file that can also bundle any necessary third party library dependencies you might need alongside your plugin code so your dependencies are deployed atomically with your plugin logic.

Robust access to Rundeck context data

Java step plugins can read data from the job context that previous jobs have written or write data to the job context so that other jobs have access to it. Accessing the job context data is exposed as a Java object, which is easier and less error prone than how script plugins read context data as environment variables and write context data via log capture parsing.


Java plugins are testable in the same way any Java app is. You can use familiar libraries like JUnit and jMock to ensure that your plugin can be well-tested before being deployed. Tested code give developers who are new to the project more confidence in fixing bugs or adding features in the future.

Use any JVM language

You can write Java plugins in more languages than just Java the language. You can use any JVM language to write your plugin, like Groovy, Scala or Kotlin.

How to create a simple workflow step Java plugin

Now that we see the value in creating our own workflow step Java plugin, we can walk through a simple Hello World example. We will:

  • Set up a simple Java development environment
  • Create the plugin project structure
  • Test that we can make changes to the plugin and see them take effect in a Rundeck instance

Setting up your development environment

If you’re not a Java programmer by trade, the thought of setting up a Java development environment might seem a little daunting. I’ll try to walk you through a simple setup that may not have all the bells & whistles that a fully Java IDE might have, but will get you up and running quickly while still understanding each of the tools you’re working with.

Our ultimate goal is to build an archive file of Java bytecode-compiled files that we can easily ship off to a Rundeck server instance. The archive file is a .jar file which is just a .zip file with extra metadata. The bytecode is compiled and packaged with Gradle, a DSL for building Java applications. We need to be able to write code and run the compiler to check that it compiles. Any other IDE features are icing on the cake.

Installing the development dependencies

The easiest way to install all the dependencies on macOS is with Homebrew:

Otherwise you can install the dependencies manually:

Install Visual Studio Code’s Java Extension Pack

The editor we’ll be using in this tutorial Visual Studio Code (vscode for short) has an extensible architecture to add support for whatever language or framework you need to work with. To get Java functionality, install the Java Extension Pack by pressing cmd+p then entering ext install vscjava.vscode-java-pack in the prompt.

Bootstrapping the plugin project structure

Download the rundeck-playground environment

If you don’t already have the rundeck-playground project checked out, clone it now:

This project provides a sample Rundeck environment running in Docker on your workstation.

Build and configure the rundeck-plugin bootstrap tool

Now that you have the rundeck-playground project, you can build the rundeck-plugin-bootstrap tool and make it executable in your environment:

To confirm that you have the bootstrap tool, run:

Generate the Java plugin project structure

Now we’re ready to generate the Java plugin project structure using the rundeck-plugin-bootstrap tool.

Then we initialize the Gradle build script.

Verify that we can deploy the plugin

Running the example tests

To verify that our environment is set up correctly, we can run the plugin tests that the bootstrap tool generated:

Gradle knows to download the plugin dependencies and compile the plugin code before trying to run the tests. We can check that the plugin was compiled by looking in the build where Gradle puts the compiled bytecode files:

To package up the compiled files into a single .jar file that we can easily deploy, run:

Now the build directory should have a .jar file:

We can view the contents of the .jar file to verify that our bytecode files got packaged correctly:

You can even extract the files from .jar to inspect them manually:

Deploying the plugin to a local environment

Now we can deploy the new plugin to the rundeck-playground Rundeck server to see it in action.

First, ensure that the rundeck-playground is up and running. This step may take a while to download if it’s the first time you’ve run it.

Then once the Rundeck server is up, in a separate terminal, push all the relevant Rundeck configuration, including your new plugin, by running:

The rd-config Make task will see your new Java plugin and run the Gradle build and upload the plugin jar to the Rundeck server. It’s smart enough to only do this if the plugin’s source files have changed.

Creating a job to use our plugin

Now that we’ve deployed our plugin, we want to make sure that we can use it in a job. Log into the local Rundeck at with the default user admin and password admin. Then create a new job in the hello-project project:

Create a new job
Create a new job

In the job creation screen, fill in some name like “My Java Plugin job” in Job Name. Then scroll to the “Add a Step” section, type “hellojava” in the search box and click the “Workflow Steps” tab to find the hellojava plugin.

Add hellojava step
Add hellojava step

Click the hellojava plugin, fill in some text in the Example string parameter field, then click Save to add the step to the job. Then scroll to the very bottom and click Create to finish creating the job. On the next screen, click Run Job Now to trigger the job. Clicking the Log Output tab should show some sample log output from the plugin.

Plugin log output
Plugin log output

If the job succeeded with some output similar to the screenshot, then your Java plugin is working correctly!

Verify that we can modify the plugin

Now we want to make changes to the plugin and see them take effect so we know how to iterate on the plugin. Open up in vscode by pressing cmd+p and entering in the prompt. This is the plugin class that the plugin bootstrap script generated. Some things to note:

  • The @PluginDescription annotation sets the title and description of the plugin as it should appear in Rundeck.
  • The getDescription() method describes the parameters to the plugin that Rundeck will render as Rundeck GUI elements.
  • The executeStep() method is where the plugin logic happens.

Let’s update executeStep() to list the files in the current directory. Update to the following:

We’ve replaced the sample code with some code to log the files in the current directory. Note that since we’re using Java libraries to list the files, the plugin is platform-independent, unlike a script plugin that would rely on OS-specific tools like ls.

Then we can compile and deploy our plugin:

Whoops! Looks like the plugin bootstrap generated some sample tests, and we deleted the sample code that was making them pass. Lets find the tests and remove them. The fastest way to navigate to them is with cmd+p and entering HellojavaSpec.groovy, the file referenced in the errors above.

This test file is written in Groovy, a JVM-based dynamic language that’s a little more lightweight than Java making it ideal for writing tests. For now, since the tests don’t apply anymore, let’s remove them by deleting the def "check Boolean parameter"() and def "run OK"() code blocks. HellojavaSpec.groovy should look like:

package com.plugin.hellojava

import com.dtolabs.rundeck.plugins.step.PluginStepContext
import com.dtolabs.rundeck.core.execution.workflow.steps.StepException
import com.dtolabs.rundeck.plugins.PluginLogger
import spock.lang.Specification

class HellojavaSpec extends Specification {
    def getContext(PluginLogger logger){

We’ll leave the getContext() helper method there so we can mock the context when writing tests later. But for now, we’re ready to compile and deploy:

Oops, there’s one last step to remember: incrementing the plugin version number. The Rundeck server considers plugin versions to be immutable, so we need to increment the version number to be able to upload a new version of the plugin. The plugin version is in the rundeck-plugins/hellojava/build.gradle file referenced in the error message.

The build.gradle is also written in Groovy and describes how the plugin should get compiled. There’s a lot going on here, but for now all you need to do is increment the version variable on the first line from 0.1.0 to 0.1.1.

At last, we can deploy without an error:

Then re-run the job from the Rundeck GUI and you should see it print out a list of files.

Updated plugin log output
Updated plugin log output


If you want to try your plugin on your live Rundeck server instead of on your workstation, see Installing plugins