Using Gradle to Debug Tomcat

If you want to use Tomcat in Gradle to run your web application, you might already be using the gradle-tomcat-plugin by Benjamin Muschko. You can simply run your web application (with code hot swap) by running the tomcatRun task.

But unfortunately there is no task to run Tomcat in Debug mode, being able to debug from your IDE.

UPDATE: I recommend using the gretty plugin for Gradle instead of the gradle-tomcat-plugin. It offers tasks for debugging and more flexibility. You won’t need any of the solutions below anymore.

Possible Solution #1

The first solution you can find in the internet is adding the debug parameters to your file (e.g. in the project directory):


This solution has a pretty large problem: it will break your code hot swap possibilities, because now ALL your builds for this project will have these parameters, meaning while tomcatRun is still running, you won’t be able to run e.g. compileJava so Tomcat will refresh the newly build code. Why – because your tomcatRun task is already using the port 5006 and your next call to gradle will lead to a "port already in use" error.

Solution #2

To avoid the above problem, I thought it will be nice if you could build the stuff with the parameters into the build script. I came up with an own task using the great Tooling API of Gradle (meant for usage in IDEs). The new task you can just place in your build.gradle file:

task tomcatDebug {
   // Create a new task tomcatDebug, add a description and add it to the same group as tomcatRun
   description "Starting Tomcat with debugger enabled on port 5008."
   group "web application"
} << {

   org.gradle.tooling.ProjectConnection conn = org.gradle.tooling.GradleConnector.newConnector()
      .forProjectDirectory(new File("."))

   try { env = conn.getModel(
      org.gradle.tooling.BuildLauncher build = conn.newBuild();

      // Enable debug via jvm arguments and append JVM arguments of the currently running vm (except -D).
      build.setJvmArguments("-agentlib:jdwp=transport=dt_socket,server=y,suspend=n,address=5008", *

      // Run tomcatRun in the new JVM with debug parameters

   } finally {

This task basically forks a new JVM with debug parameters to run tomcatRun in that JVM. You can use this snippet for every task you would like to start in debug mode, but which implementation runs in the Gradle task.

If you now run tomcatDebug you can attach your IDE to port 5008 for debugging and code hot swap (by running compileJava in your IDE) will still work.

One small problem remains: Though we pass the original JVM parameters to the new process, variables set via -Dfoo=bar won’t be passed to the debug JVM. If you need this, you would need to enhance the above snippet to read them and pass them also to the new JVM (but I haven’t needed it so far).

Tim Roes
is an Android & web enthusiast from Karlsruhe with a passion for usability.