Do you know what Airbnb, GitHub and Kickstarter have in common? Their websites are built with Ruby on Rails, a well-known and much-loved back-end framework. Though widely used for large-scale projects, Rails offers a particular advantage to startups, as it allows for rapid development and helps shorten time-to-market while maintaining high code quality. Rails is a web framework for the programming language Ruby, which has been around since the mid 1990s and is still popular among developers. Its main rivals in the world of web development are Python and PHP, and in this article, we’d like to take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of these three technologies.
Ruby is a great choice for most web projects
One of Ruby’s main advantages is a result of its long history and the robust community that sprung up around the language. There’s a trove of libraries called Ruby gems, created to make building common features easy and quick. Instead of developing something from scratch, Ruby devs can use a gem. Because the language has been around for so long, the resources available for it have been vetted and polished by the community. This means that using these ready-made solutions is safe, and it’s easy to choose the right gem for the job, as the less functional ones have been weeded out.
Because of this, Ruby with Ruby on Rails have a clear advantage over other technologies. It has been around for a while and is a stable, reliable choice. Though Python offers similar performance and has an equivalent web framework, Django, web developers are still more likely to choose Ruby - in fact, Rails has over twice as many contributors creating resources for the framework. Python’s community is more focused on areas like AI, machine learning and big data. The language offers potent solutions for heavy calculations, on top of being fast to write and easy to understand, so if you’re building a big data app, definitely consider Python.
PHP might well be the most commonly used language for web development, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. It has a few popular web frameworks (a more modern one, Laravel, has given people new hope for PHP), which are less mature than Rails. Work with them isn’t as fast, and their testing culture isn’t as developed. The most unfortunate thing about PHP is it’s reputation - many developers see it as a cheap and unambitious solution. Because of its low entry point for young and inexperienced developers, PHP is one of the most popular technologies among them. Sadly, these young devs can make unnecessary mistakes, like getting lost in the sheer number of available frameworks and accidentally choosing an obsolete one, which may result in a codebase that’s hard to maintain and expand, because adding new features, changing the code or even proper teamwork become time-consuming and difficult. Not every PHP team lacks the necessary experience, but enough of them do that this negative image of the language has become pervasive.
Finding talented developers for your team
PHP is popular and so it’s easy to find PHP devs, but more advanced programmers usually switch to other languages, like Ruby or Java, as their skills and experience grow. If you try to force your team to use the language, morale might suffer, and trying to limit costs by hiring less experienced developers can lead to huge costs down the line as technical debt accrues and forces you to spend resources on reworking your solutions. This doesn’t mean that PHP has no potential! Again, Laravel and other modern frameworks have turned it into a much friendlier language, but opinions are slow to change and it might take a while for the PHP community to fully recover.
In contrast, Ruby developers are usually passionate people eager to test their skill and gain new experience. This goes back to Ruby’s history as a niche technology, created for the purpose of allowing programmers to write truly beautiful code and enjoy their work. Additionally, Ruby developers tend to be highly sought after, as they are likely to be true experts of their craft who may ultimately lower your costs through fast and responsible development.
Python developers, while also usually passionate about their work, tend to focus on fields such as big data, machine learning or artificial intelligence. Python is most commonly used for projects involving high-level mathematics. As such, finding experienced Python web developers presents a bit of a challenge. While it might be easy to hire junior-level devs, it’s a risky approach. Projects change, businesses face unforeseen circumstances. In a situation like that, you’ll want a team of experts to have your back - experts who will follow best practices and make the right decisions for your project.
When you need to push your app out as soon as possible, go with Ruby and Ruby on Rails. It supports rapid development thanks to the vast array of mature libraries (called gems) that offer ready-made solutions and modules. Python’s Django can be fast, as well, but it doesn’t quite match RoR’s development speed in most scenarios. The same can be said about Laravel. A lot depends on project complexity, of course, but there’s a reason why web developers love Ruby so much.
Ruby tends to be the preferred language of quality assurance specialists. It has many great tools like browser scraping (which gathers website data) and browser interactions (which can help with testing interactive website elements, e.g. contact forms). Testers use Ruby for scripting and take advantage of the language’s fantastic testing support. Python can be used for the same purpose, but Ruby’s testing culture and resources are more mature and robust.
Both Ruby and Python can be used as scripting languages by administrators and DevOps specialists. Powerful automation tools for administrators, like Chef, Puppet or Ansible, can be extremely helpful when managing larger infrastructures.
Ruby is a stable, reliable language that will get your project running. It’s not perfect for an app that will be doing a lot of heavy computation, but it is the best solution out there for building web applications quickly and efficiently.
If you need your web app to be developed on time and within budget, pick Ruby for your stack. With easy testing, ready-made solutions and rapid development, RoR will help you launch your project fast.