If you’ve spent some time researching web development technologies, you may have come across one called Ruby on Rails. This technology is often discussed in the same category as languages like HTML and CSS, but interestingly Ruby on Rails is not a programming language—it is a web development framework.
You may be wondering what Ruby on Rails is and how it works. In this article, we break down the basics of Ruby and Ruby on Rails. Then, we explore why this programming technology has grown to such prominence over the last few years.
What is Ruby on Rails?
Ruby on Rails is a web development framework built upon the Ruby programming language.
Ruby is a dynamic, general-purpose programming language designed by Yukihiro Matsumoto in the mid-1990s with simplicity and efficiency in mind. Although it is immensely effective, it cannot be used for advanced web development applications by itself.
That’s where Ruby on Rails comes in. Ruby on Rails is a framework for Ruby, an extension onto the Ruby language. Also known simply as “Rails,” Ruby on Rails allows you to simplify the process of creating web applications.
The Ruby on Rails language allows you to create default structures for your code, and seamlessly integrate the back end of a website—the part the user does not see or the “behind the scenes” logic—and the front end.
Ruby on Rails was created by David Heinemeir Hanson, who chose to build the framework on top of Ruby because the language was concise and easy to use. Hanson is still working on Rails today, alongside a community of active contributors dedicated to making the language faster.
Hanson’s motivation for Rails could not be more humble: “I created Rails because I want to enjoy what I work with.”
What is Ruby on Rails Used For?
The Ruby on Rails framework is primarily used for web development—the language was written as an alternative to writing PHP code to build web apps.
Ruby on Rails can power both the front end and the back end of a web application, which means it can be used to do everything from creating sign up pages to powering the back end of payments on a website.
The Rails framework is commonly used with Active Record, which allows you to store records in a database without having to know a database query language. You can also use Rails’ routing features to add URLs to your website.
Due to its versatility and power, Ruby on Rails has been adopted by a wide range of different organizations.
Airbnb, the home-sharing service, uses Ruby on Rails to power its web application. Crunchbase, the so-called “Wikipedia for startups,” also uses Ruby on Rails. Bloomberg, Dribbble, GitHub, Fiverr, the Yellow Pages, and Etsy also use Ruby on Rails. Many organizations from many different backgrounds use the Ruby on Rails framework.
The Benefits of Ruby on Rails
So far, we’ve discussed the background of the Ruby on Rails framework and its intended uses. But, you may still be wondering why companies and developers use Ruby on Rails so much.
To answer this question, let’s break down a few of the main benefits of using the Ruby on Rails framework.
#1: Ruby on Rails has a strong design philosophy
The Ruby on Rails framework is well known for having a simple yet down-to-earth design philosophy that resonates with many web developers.
The two main principles upon which Ruby on Rails is built are: Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) and convention over configuration.
The DRY principle refers to the idea that, in your code, you should try to avoid repetition as much as possible. By making use of features like functions and modules, you can reduce the size of your codebase and enhance the readability of your code. This, in turn, makes code more modular and easier to read, especially as an application scales.
Convention over configuration, on the other hand, is the idea that Ruby on Rails should set “sensible defaults” around how the language is used. While developers have a lot of control over how they use the framework, there should be—and there are—safeguards in place to force developers to adopt certain best practices in their code.
For instance, the name for a model generated by Ruby on Rails will always be the singular proper noun of the object they represent; database tables use plural forms. This feature of Ruby on Rails means programmers don’t need to spend too much time learning naming conventions—they can just write their code and let Rails take care of the rest.
#2: Ruby on Rails is an expressive language
The Ruby programming language, as we mentioned earlier, was written with simplicity in mind. The same principle applies to the Rails framework—it was written to resemble English as much as possible.
As a result, the Ruby on Rails framework is often perceived as being very similar to English. This means that reading Ruby on Rails code and understanding the purpose behind what is being done by a particular program is easy. This facilitates the development of applications and reduces confusion as they get larger.
#3: Ruby on Rails has a supportive community
Unlike many web frameworks, Ruby on Rails has an army of loyal followers who continue to maintain the framework, and make sure it continues to use the design principles upon which the framework was built.
The Rails community consists of many people who update the codebase. To this day, there are new releases of the language.
In addition, the fact that the developer community is still so large indicates that people are using the framework because it is the best tool for the job.
These are just three of the many reasons Ruby on Rails is such a popular framework. We’d be here all day if we were to discuss all the reasons, so here is a brief list of the others:
- Ruby on Rails has a shallow learning curve. This makes it a great framework for beginners. They can use it to build real and scalable web applications.
- Ruby on Rails is full stack. Because Rails can be used for both front end and back end development, it’s a convenient framework—you don’t need to choose a different tool for each side of the stack.
- Iteration is easy using Ruby on Rails. Building powerful web applications using Rails is easy because the speed of iteration is fast. Making changes to your app using Rails is simple. A big part of this is down to the simplicity of the language and its design philosophy.
How Popular is Ruby on Rails?
From GitHub to Crunchbase, many companies use Ruby on Rails. The sheer number of companies around the world that use it only tells half the story—to get a better understanding of the popularity of Rails, we need to look at developer adoption.
On Stack Overflow’s 2019 Developer Survey, which questioned over 90,000 developers on their programming stacks and routines, Ruby on Rails was ranked as the tenth most-loved web framework. It was ranked as the twelfth most-popular web development framework.
This shows that Ruby on Rails is an immensely popular web framework. But that’s not all: Ruby, the language upon which Rails is built, is ranked as the thirteenth most-popular coding language on the TIOBE Index, which tracks the popularity of programming languages based on their search demand.
The Bottom Line
Ruby on Rails is a vastly powerful web development framework that allows you to develop efficient front end and back end web applications.
Before learning Rails, you first need to learn how to code in Ruby. Fortunately, Ruby’s learning curve is relatively shallow—you should have no trouble learning the basics. Then you can move on to Rails.
Rails has found a massive community of developers who think it is the right tool for many different uses. Today, many companies—from Basecamp to Dribbble—use Rails because it is simple and easy to use, and provides all the features companies need in a programming framework.
Learning Rails is a good investment. Whether you’re looking to build a website or pursue a career in tech, knowing how to code in Ruby and using Rails can open up many doors. Rails is a powerful web technology and could be your entry-point to a career in tech.