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App Development
9 minutes read

Ruby Vs Ruby on Rails: What’s the Difference?

By Alvaro Insignares
Ruby vs Ruby on Rails
By Alvaro Insignares
App Development
9 minutes read

What is the difference between Ruby vs. Ruby on Rails? Are these two things really just different names for the same thing? If you have heard people talking about Ruby or Ruby on Rails, you may think that these two things are the same. Their similarities and differences often get conflated, but they are two separate things with clear differences. 

For the sake of clarity, I will note that Ruby on Rails will never be referred to simply as Ruby in this piece. Commonly, Ruby on Rails is called Rails for the sake of simplicity, but in some places, you may hear Rails erroneously called Ruby. Moving forward, all mentions of Ruby refer to Ruby, and Ruby on Rails or Rails will refer to the other. 

Ruby Vs. Ruby on Rails

Both Ruby and Ruby on Rails have quality attributes that make them popular choices in the web development sector. Let’s take a closer look at Ruby and Rails and see how they differ from one another. 

What is Ruby?

Ruby is an open-source, object-oriented, interpreted scripting language. It was created by Yukihiro Matsumoto and released to the public in 1995. Ruby was written in C language and is able to support multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix. This interpreted scripting language was created with simplicity in mind. Yukihiro Matsumoto’s ultimate goal with the Ruby language was to create a sensible buffer between human programmers and the machines they were using. 

Ruby is a popular choice amongst professionals in application development, data science, and memory management, but it is used in a wide variety of other applications too. Ruby developers enjoy using Ruby on web application projects for several reasons. The main benefits of using Ruby include:

  • Dynamic programming language that is more similar to spoken language than other programming languages 
  • Simple and powerful script that allows for fast creation of web applications
  • Easy to maintain and scale 
  • Open-source language that’s free to use and is constantly being improved by developers around the world 
  • Additional libraries that help extend its original capabilities

If you are familiar with other scripting languages like Perl, Smalltalk, or Python, the syntax Ruby uses is similar. However, many people would agree that Ruby is easier to understand and write than most other scripting languages since it includes dynamic typing. Ruby was designed to create powerful User Interfaces using simple, easy-to-understand coding syntax. 

What is Ruby on Rails?

The reason why so many people conflate Ruby and Ruby on Rails is that their names are very similar, and they are very closely related. Ruby on Rails would not exist without Ruby. Rails was programmed in Ruby and released to the public in 2005. Rails is also open-source, but it is not a scripting language. Ruby on Rails is a web development framework that is based on model view controller (MVC) architecture. MVC architecture separates data structures from the User Interface design and offers different views of data. 

Ruby on Rails is primarily used for server-side scripting and building web applications. Ruby on Rails can also be used in the development of interface scripts. There are a few aspects of the Rails framework that make it popular with developers, including:

  • HTML code can be written in Rails scripts 
  • Connects easily with databases
  • Efficient application development 

The driving concepts behind Rails are convention over configuration and don’t repeat yourself. The idea behind these concepts is to remove waste and drive efficiency. Oftentimes, developers need to write the same lines of code over and over again in order to make their projects work properly. Rails simplify the web development process by encouraging the use of default conventions over configuration files and allowing Rails developers to write code once and move on. 

Many apps use Ruby on Rails to enhance the abilities of Ruby and make an already efficient programming language even more efficient, powerful, and easy to use.

What’s the Difference Between Ruby and Ruby on Rails?

Now that we understand a little more about Ruby and Rails, we can really look at the key differences between them. The major difference that we should note immediately is dependence. Ruby on Rails is dependent on Ruby in order to exist and function. On the other hand, Ruby does not require Rails to work and is often used without the additional use of Rails. Simply put, Ruby on Rails is an enhancement or add-on to Ruby. 

Programming Language Vs. Web Development Framework

Ruby is a general-purpose programming language. Ruby has its own syntax and unique rules. The function of a programming language is to tell the computer what to do and how to do it. Rails is not a programming language. Ruby on Rails is a web framework. Web application frameworks like Rails still use scripts written by developers, but they don’t use their own language. Rails uses the Ruby programming language. 

An easy way to visualize the relationship between programming languages and web development frameworks is a house on an island. Ruby is the island, and Rails is the house that is built on top of the island. Web frameworks help enhance and improve the functionality of programming languages.

A Rails developer must have knowledge of Ruby in order to use Ruby on Rails to effectively develop web applications.

Project Use

Both Ruby and Rails are used in a variety of different projects, and like we previously mentioned, you can’t use Rails without Ruby. However, there are certain development projects where it will be more advantageous to use Rails in addition to Ruby. Ruby is great at creating powerful desktop and web applications. You won’t be using Rails to create desktop applications because it is a server-side script that will mainly run on the webserver. 

Many web app development projects use Rails in addition to Ruby in order to enhance their capabilities, simplify the code, and speed up development. Since Ruby on Rails is so efficient, it is also a great choice for building minimum viable products (MVP) and prototypes. 

Rails programming is also a great fit in a secure development lifecycle approach. You can write web apps solely with Ruby, but the addition of Rails makes web app development easier and faster. 

Development Speed and Script Maintenance

Ruby was designed to be more intuitive than other programming languages. These attributes make Ruby a simple and powerful scripting language. They also increase Ruby’s development speed and simplify script maintenance. While development speed using Ruby is fast, Ruby on Rails is faster.

Ruby on Rails was built on the principle of convention over configuration. Utilizing default conventions over custom configurations saves a lot of time during the development process. Relying on default conventions also gives developers more time to work on the essential parts of their web applications that can really benefit from custom configurations. The majority of your app doesn’t need custom configuration. 

Additionally, while Ruby has a simple syntax that is easy to write and maintain, Rails simplifies Ruby even further and follows the principle of don’t repeat yourself. This eliminates large amounts of repetitive code and declutters the script. This makes maintaining Rails scripts even easier than Ruby scripts. 

Additional Languages

One of the key enhancements that Rails makes to Ruby is that it allows developers to include HTML language in their scripts. Developers can also utilize CSS, Java, and XML code while using Ruby on Rails too. Ruby does not offer developers this ability, but they can utilize Rails which will. 

Ruby Vs. Ruby on Rails: The Similarities

While there are some differences between Ruby and Rails, they are more alike than they are different. After all, Ruby on Rails was built with Ruby and is an enhancement to the original Ruby programming language. We’ve spent time highlighting the major differences between the two, so now let’s take a look at the ways in which Ruby and Rails are similar. 


Rails and Ruby are both open-source technologies. That means they are free to use and distribute. Open-source languages and frameworks get a lot of use because they are free, and people can help develop and improve upon them. Ruby on Rails likely wouldn’t have been developed if Ruby wasn’t an open-source programming language, to begin with. 

Open-source languages and frameworks also benefit from the communities they create. These communities help drive development and innovation. In the case of Ruby and Rails, the community of developers and programmers who contribute to the knowledge base and development of this language and framework is very large. 

Community contributions to the open-source language and framework push innovation and is a major reason why Ruby and Rails have evolved as quickly as they have. The large community of developers engaged with these technologies from an active resource and offer active support to those using these technologies.

Underlying Philosophy

Yukihiro Matsumoto developed Ruby to make coding easy and fun. The driving principle behind his work was to create a programming language that was simple and enjoyable to use. Ruby on Rails continues to hold that original philosophy close to heart as well. The main goal is to make developers happy while they are coding. This driving philosophy is the main reason why more and more developers are getting interested in Ruby and Ruby on Rails.


Ruby’s syntax is simple and consistent. The syntax closely mirrors natural spoken language. Ruby’s syntax is one of the main ways its creator Yukihiro Matsumoto attempted to make developers happy to work with Ruby. Ruby on Rails simplified, even more, the syntax used in Ruby, making the language more efficient, avoiding any repetitive coding. 

Final Thoughts

Ruby and Ruby on Rails create a powerful tool for web developers. While this article spends most of its time highlighting the differences between Ruby and Rails, the relationship between this programming language and framework is not adversarial. Rails is a natural progression born of Ruby. You can’t utilize Ruby on Rails without using Ruby too. Rails is a great tool that greatly enhances the capabilities already present in Ruby. If you’re not sure whether or not you should be using Ruby or Ruby on Rails for your next development project, speak with a qualified development partner. Lean on the industry expertise, deep well of knowledge, and cutting-edge technologies that a development partner has at their disposal when you’re comparing Ruby vs. Ruby on Rails.

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