If you’re looking to learn a web development technology, PHP and Ruby on Rails may be on your mind.
This mindset is rational because both of these technologies are used to build modern and efficient web applications. What’s more, both PHP and Ruby on Rails have good learning curves, which make them excellent for beginners who are new to coding.
Learning any new web technology is a time-consuming endeavor, and so you’ll want to feel confident that, when you choose a tool to learn, you have chosen the right one. That’s why, in this article, we’re going to compare PHP and Ruby on Rails like-for-like.
We’ll start by discussing the basics of these two web app programming technologies, then we’ll compare them on a few different factors so that you can better understand how they work.
What Are PHP and Ruby on Rails?
Before we start talking about how PHP and Ruby on Rails compare, it’s crucial that we understand the basics of these technologies. Then, from there, we can discuss the best use cases for both PHP and Ruby on Rails.
What is PHP?
PHP, which is short for Hypertext Preprocessor, is an open-source scripting language.
The PHP language allows you to create scripts that are run on a web server and can allow you to generate dynamic page content. In other words, by using PHP, you can create websites that update in real-time. For instance, you could use PHP to collect form data, store user cookies and session data, store and manipulate data in a database, and control user access.
What is Ruby on Rails?
Ruby on Rails, on the other hand, is the most popular open-source web application framework in the world.
Unlike PHP, which is a programming language, Ruby on Rails is a web development framework that is built upon another language: Ruby. You can use the Rails framework to build full-stack web applications—that is, both the part the user sees and the behind the scenes parts of a website—seamlessly and efficiently.
The Rails language was written to optimize developer experience using a principle called convention over configuration. This principle has resulted in Rails incorporating a number of best practices out-of-the-box, which makes it easy to get started using the Rails framework efficiently without having to remember a series of best practices.
How do PHP and Ruby on Rails Compare?
Now that we understand the basics of these two technologies, we can start to talk about the main points of comparison we are going to use to analyze them.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to compare PHP and Ruby on Rails on five factors. These are:
- Web Development: How efficient is each technology in developing scalable websites?
- Architecture: What technology uses the best architecture?
- Development Speed: Which technology allows for faster development speeds?
- Community: Which technology has the strongest community?
- Learning Curve: Which technology is the easiest to learn?
Without further ado, let’s make our comparisons!
Both of these technologies are used exclusively for web development. As a result, they were both written with developing scalable web applications in mind.
PHP allows you to connect websites with databases seamlessly. This was the core intent behind the language: to help bridge the gap between the front-end and the back-end of a website. However, the language is not so commonly known for its ability to allow developers to deliver an excellent user experience without the usage of external libraries.
Ruby on Rails, on the other hand, incorporates a number of features that allow you to offer a great user experience without having to depend on external technologies. While both these technologies can be used for web development, Rails’ power and modern development pedagogies make it a great technology for any web application.
The PHP language was written with freedom in mind. This means that there are very few in-built restrictions as to how you can use the language, and so the final output of a program will depend on the skills of a developer to a high degree.
Ruby on Rails, on the other hand, has adopted the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture, which means that in order to use Rails you need to incorporate a series of best practices into your code. This means that you are less dependent on your own skills when it comes to implementing best practices; Rails already does a lot of the heavy lifting.
Both PHP and Ruby on Rails can scale efficiently, but the speed of development when using these two technologies is vastly different.
The Rails framework has adopted two central principles that govern the language: “Don’t Repeat Yourself” (DRY) and “convention over configuration.” Both these principles have resulted in Rails becoming a technology that is known for allowing developers to focus on writing high-quality code, without having to worry much about configuration.
PHP, on the other hand, can require a high degree of configuration. In addition, unlike Rails, PHP has very few tools on which you can depend to speed up the configuration that comes out-of-the-box.
In terms of making changes to a codebase, both of these languages perform similarly, because they both have relatively readable syntaxes. With that said, some developers may prefer the Rails syntax—based on Ruby—which more closely resembles English.
Both Ruby on Rails and PHP have strong communities.
The PHP language has been going around since 1995, and as a result, there is no shortage of materials online that you can use to learn how to code in PHP. There’s also plenty of documentation out there that covers common development topics, best practices, and errors that you may encounter.
Ruby on Rails, on the other hand, was launched in 2004. While this means that the framework does not have as much history, Rails’ popularity has resulted in the framework attracting a massive community of developers who actively follow and support the tool.
Ruby on Rails also comes with a comprehensive documentation base, which gives Rails developers an authoritative source to turn to with their questions.
It’s difficult to compare these two programming languages, in terms of community, because both have such strong followings.
Before you commit to learning a new technology, you’ll want to spend some time evaluating how long it will take you to master that technology. This will give you a better sense of which skill you will be able to learn given the time that you have free.
In terms of PHP and Ruby on Rails, both of these technologies come with a shallow learning curve. PHP and Rails both offer simple syntaxes, which means that learning the basic rules you need to use the technologies is not a difficult feat.
However, because Rails is a framework, not a language, you first need to learn Ruby in order to learn Rails. As a result, it may take you longer to learn how to code using Rails for the purposes of web development, because you’ll need to learn Ruby.
The Bottom Line
PHP powers a large percentage of sites on the internet. PHP has been used widely by open source software such as WordPress over the years, which has helped boost its popularity.
Rails, on the other hand, is a newer technology. But that doesn’t mean it is not popular: sites from GitHub to Airbnb to Shopify use Ruby on Rails to power their web applications.
So, you may be asking: which technology should I learn? PHP or Ruby on Rails?
The bottom line is that comparing these technologies is somewhat unfair because one is a programming language and the other is a framework. With that said, there are a few things you should consider when deciding which one to learn.
If you already know Ruby, or are looking for a modern web development framework to learn, Rails is definitely a great investment. From its ease of use to its MVC-powered architecture, there is no doubt that you can build a powerful application using Rails.
On the other hand, if you are looking for something that has a longer history, and precedent for supporting massive applications like WordPress, PHP may be worth learning. PHP’s syntax is simple, making it a good language for beginners, and the language has one of the most active developer communities in the world.