Aether is a library for interacting with artifact repositories. This involves the specification of local repository formats, remote repository formats, workspaces, transports, and artifact resolution. People are generally familiar with repositories whether they be local or remote. Workspaces are additional sources of artifacts that can be resolved from. Workspaces can be used in IDEs to provide resolution of projects you are working on, in shells like the Maven Shell or Roo, or any other long-lived process where a developer needs to resolve against in-development projects. I think people are familiar with various transports but HTTP is by far the dominant transport used with artifact repositories, but Aether lets you different ones if you need to. Along with all the rules to resolve artifacts taking into consideration any transformations, relocations, and conflict resolution strategies you will employ. We also plan to allow Aether to define version schemes, but the first work was just started on this by Alin Dreghiciu.
It is very important to note that Aether has no dependencies on Maven. When I said Aether is a library for interacting with artifact repositories, I didn’t mean Maven artifact repositories. Aether is a general purpose library for interacting with artifact repositories. If you wanted to specify your dependency metadata in a properties files Aether will let you do that. If you want to store your artifacts in a database Aether will let you do that. But, of course, we needed Aether to work for Maven so we created an implementation of what we call an ArtifactDescriptorReader to process Maven POMs. That implementation lives in the Maven codebase and that’s how we make Aether work for Maven.