How to use Ruby on Rails: A Complete Guide

how to use ruby on rails

For both a beginning developer and someone distantly related to programming, Ruby on Rails (ROR) will sound familiar. It’s the name you might have heard in the same context as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Yet, ROR has nothing to do with a programming language. Just as Facebook’s React Native, it’s a development framework that is meant to accelerate software development. 

What is Ruby on Rails used for? Just as React Native, Ruby on Rails is a powerhouse of multiple well-known projects. Particularly, Rails framework is a part of AirBnb platform as well as such products as Hulu, Github, and Basecamp. If you ask a geek, though, they will probably tell you Ruby on Rails is outdated. So what’s all the fuss about? In this article, we’ll tell you about how you can benefit from hiring developers with the knowledge of ROR and what are the best use cases for the framework. 

What is Ruby on Rails?

A bit more details on the development tool. Ruby on Rails is a server-side web framework used for app development. It’s based on Ruby programming language. So, basically, ROR is Ruby + a model-view-controller (MVC) framework that comprised predefined web standards — that’s what you call “Rails” when referring to the framework. 

The story of Ruby on Rails dates back to 2004, when David Heinemeier Hansson used it for developing Basecamp, a popular project management platform. In 2017, the framework has been integrated into Apple’s macOS, which attracted global interest. Later on, Ruby on Rails has been enriched with multiple enhancements like the introduction of ActiveStorage and a new DSL that allows editing security policies for apps. 

What makes Ruby on Rails special

Surely, you can name at least 20 alternatives to using some development framework based on Ruby. But we are here to tell you why Ruby on Rails is unique and might fit your needs like no other: 

  1. Making Ruby on Rails developer happier. The framework allows to run both exit and quit, thus making it possible to quit the programmer’s console anytime. This is only one of many examples how the framework caters for making the work of a software engineer more enjoyable, rather than driving performance with every single feature. 
  2. Convention over configuration. Instead of making you constantly search for the best tool for every separate job, Ruby on Rails is based on the philosophy of being the right fit for many tasks. 
  3. Value integrated systems. You can take an app that’s written in Ruby and split it into several parts — each of which can be integrated into other apps and platforms. Call it sustainable development or extensive integration, the approach will definitely help you save time and effort. 

These are the core points that make the Rails conventions. For further insights, you can read more here

The benefits of using Ruby on Rails for your project

benefits of using ruby on rails

Whether you create an app or a website, Ruby on Rails can be a simple solution to your problem in many ways. Check out the core advantages: 

Close to natural language

Domain-specific languages are tough. This is a common problem with development frameworks — it’s not always worth the effort mastering the new one, especially if there’s an alternative programming language. The huge perk of Ruby on Rails is that it’s as close to English as possible, with very little domain-specific semantics. Not only will a developer learn it fast, the others — who take up the project — will have no problem reading the Ruby code. 

Ruby on Rails is open source

First of all, it’s free. So it costs you nothing to master one of the most valuable web application frameworks in no time. Most importantly, ROR is being constantly improved by programmers from all over the world. If you check the updates, you’ll see that over 5,000 people have made their contributions since the launch. 

Crazy automation

The framework comprises a huge library of the so-called “gems” — basically, the building blocks for your projects. Almost every CRUD function can be automated. What’s more, if you use Ruby on Rails, you have access to modules that provide an easy way of organizing methods, classes, and constants across different units. 

A perfect asset for scaling a product

Ruby on Rails works with a huge number of frameworks written in Ruby. One of them is Chef, a cloud infrastructure platform that allows to manage dependencies and complex configurations across your project. ROR is also one of the best on the market in terms of managing background jobs in your product. These capabilities make the framework a good choice for those who need to scale a product, without continuously tweaking the features. 

The downsides of using Ruby on Rails

As always, it’s not all rosy. Despite the incredible ease of use and automation perks, there may be risks. Here’s our list of major downsides you need to know before embracing the framework: 

You’ll face a shortage of specialists for large projects

Ruby on Rails is open source, fast, effective, and all that. Still, it’s only a framework, which for any software development community carries less value than a programming language. Therefore, it’s way easier to hire a Java or PHP developer than a Ruby one, especially if you’re planning a big project. Nevertheless, the community is growing fast and it’s easy to enter, due to the accessibility of Ruby code. 

Some website hosts don’t support Ruby

You’ll come across a range of low-end providers focused on shared hosting that don’t support Ruby on Rails. But no worries, there are many that do, including Heroku. So this point is worth considering only if you’re limited in choice of website hosts. 

Love runtime and boot speed

If a developer is working with a large number of gems, they’ll have to wait at the startup. Sometimes, it takes too much time and decreases a programmer’s performance. The same concern relates the runtime speed of ROR — if you compare to NodeJS, the former is clearly lagging behind. Consider these factors while planning the time to spend on web development, but don’t worry too much — with an average number of dependencies, the framework will work perfectly fine. 

Multi-threading hinders performance

Unless you use a Ruby library that relies on Global Interpreter Lock (GLI), you might face problems with multi-threading. This is about requests put into a queue behind an active request, which might happen if you don’t pay enough attention to the setup. For sure, multi-threading will slow you down, so we recommend to focus on multi-process setups if possible. 

Popular Ruby on Rails projects

There are quite many company names you know that utilized ROR at some point. Generally, the framework is a good place to start if you’re starting a new project and don’t have long-term plans on how to expand it. While allowing incredible flexibility, ROR will help you launch fast. And in the end, you can always rely on rewriting parts of your code with a different framework in case ROR lacks some functionality.

popular ruby on rails projects

Check out the list of popular ROR projects: 

  1. Twitter. This social media mammoth started building its platform on Ruby on Rails and switched to Scala some time after. The reason this framework was chosen was very simple — the founders needed to write and edit the code very quickly. There were literally only two people working on the initial version, so the process would have been extremely labor-intensive if they had chosen a programming language instead of an automated framework. Today, Twitter is in a different place and it naturally needs a more solid tech base. But who knows if you would ever make a twit if Ruby on Rails didn’t exist. 
  2. Ask.fm. In contrast to Twitter, Ask.fm is a big social media platform that has been sticking to the framework until this day. Apart from ROR, the tech stack also covers AJAX and jQuery. Even though it doesn’t attract that many users as Twitter, the Ask.fm portal used to have over 300 million daily visits — which is a nice testament to ROR’s stability. 
  3. Airbnb. A globally known booking platform for travelers has been built on Ruby on Rails and PHP. They used a number of libraries to accelerate development at the stage of a startup and had been enriching the stack as they grew. As of today, ROR continues being a significant part of the platform’s code. 
  4. Github. The backend of the most famous software hosting service is entirely based on Ruby. Alongside some popular Javascript libraries, Ruby on Rails remains a huge part of the service code. Just in case you haven’t heard about Github, it’s suffice to say that the platform is a go-to place for over 30 million software developers — the number that equals a population of a few countries. 

These and many more examples demonstrate that Ruby on Rails remains powerful — with developers from all over the world refining the framework every day. You can use it to launch your project without significant time and cost effort, and — if you’re lucky —to grow the next Twitter or Airbnb out of it. 

You should consider using Ruby on Rails if

  • You’re launching a social media website. And not because that’s the experience of Twitter and Ask.fm. ROR supports many plugins that you can use to realize social media features such as messaging, tagging, and media upload. Be ready to extend the stack, though. 
  • You want to run several parallel projects. Ruby allows to easily switch and apply the same structure to different projects. So it might be a good choice to include it into your stack if your team is working on several web development projects at the same time. 
  • You prefer working with open source frameworks. Ruby on Rails is very appealing, because of its accessibility. If you want to use a constantly updated framework, that’s one of the best choices out there. 
  • You’re launching a CMS or an e-commerce project. Thanks to the modular system, ROR is a perfect choice for building content management systems and online stores. It has extensive support for batch upload of files — including large media files. So you won’t have a problem managing a big number of similar content blocks. 
  • You need a solution for rapid application development (RAD). The notion of RAD originated from the process of quick prototype testing and implementation. Basically, it’s a type of agile software development methodology that places a huge focus on adaptive development. While Ruby on Rails allows quick changes and covers lots of testing frameworks, it’s one of the best tools for RAD. 

Summing it up, Ruby on Rails will work for the backend of virtually any backend projects — unless you’re starting with a very complex functionality, which almost never happens with startups. The framework helped create platforms that generate millions of daily visits, remaining pretty stable on the backend. Plus, the ROR stack can always be expanded with other kinds of programming languages/frameworks that add complexity. We expect to see Ruby on Rails improved in future, with an enriched library and new capabilities. Thanks to open source technology, the changes are constantly being implemented by developers from all over the world. 

If you think the framework can be the right addition to your project, you’ll have to start with finding the right specialists. Quite honestly, that might be a problem. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s a shortage of developers with the knowledge of Ruby. So you might consider hiring a professional outsource service that gets you the right team. Not only will you avoid complicated employment procedures, you’ll also have help with post-release maintenance of the project.

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