At Koombea, we’ve been working with the Rails framework for more than ten years. One question I get asked frequently is ‘What is Ruby on Rails used for?’. This is a tricky question to answer because there are many ways in which it could be interpreted.
However, as complicated as it is, some things always stand out for any Rails development project. In order to discuss what the primary uses of Ruby on Rails are, it is first necessary to mention some words on what it is.
In this post I will discuss the three main uses of Ruby on Rails from a non-technical perspective.
What is Ruby on Rails?
Let’s start with the beginning, and that is the Ruby programming language. Although their names are very similar, Ruby and Ruby on Rails are not the same. The former is a programming language created with the intention of focusing on developers’ productivity and fun while coding.
Ruby on Rails (RoR) is an open-source web development framework distributed under an MIT license. It uses the Ruby programming language, thus inheriting the ‘productivity’ and ‘fun’ principles. If I had to define RoR in simple words, I’d say it’s a powerful development tool. Rails is built on a set of libraries that use the Ruby language, allowing developers to make the best out of their coding experience when building web services.
A major characteristic of the RoR web development framework is that it prioritizes convention over configuration. This means that, while other web frameworks use coding languages that require developers to set specific parameters to start working, RoR allows developers to begin coding rapidly without losing time defining parameters, helping them avoid everyday repetitive tasks.
As a result, any developer only has to specify certain aspects of the Ruby code. This translates into an efficient coding workflow. Also, it translates into more efficient projects. In general, it would be fair to say that RoR optimizes the use of time and resources because it allows developers to work smarter.
The Benefits of Using Ruby on Rails
With this said, we can now go back to our initial question, ‘What is Ruby on Rails used for?’. I could easily say that RoR is used for the development of mobile and web applications, but this would be too broad of an answer. I’d rather say that there are three specific things for which RoR is used in web and mobile app development.
The benefits of using Ruby on Rails for web app development are:
- Reducing the time needed for project development
- Sharing knowledge on code development
- Building scalable apps
Let’s consider each one of these.
First, let’s consider how a Rails development project can help reduce an app’s time to market. I have already mentioned how libraries and ease of coding are two essential features embedded within RoR, thanks to Rails. For someone not familiar with coding, this might seem like a minor thing. For a developer, these two features can make a big difference. Combined, they contribute enormously to reducing the time-to-market of a project. They do this by helping developers simplify common repetitive tasks, with the help of the Ruby code, thus saving a lot of unnecessary work.
Additionally, and unlike other programming languages, RoR’s test automation feature also helps save time by testing the code as it is being written. This way, Rails developers can know if a mistake shows up at once rather than having to run the code in order to find out.
Lastly, time is saved during the coding phase of Rails projects thanks to the Ruby language and Rails conventions. Because it resembles the English language, developers can become familiarized with it in a relatively short time rather than having to spend months learning a new language from scratch. All of this is not surprising because productivity and fun are at the core of the Rails framework.
If you are not familiar with coding, you’re probably wondering why knowledge sharing is important. Using a programming language that grants access to a knowledge pool can help web developers learn from their colleagues. Not only does this help avoid making mistakes others have done; it also allows developers to use tools developed by others. In other words, having access to a community’s knowledge, like the one dedicated to RoR, can enhance an app development process.
One major benefit of having access to the Rails community is its libraries. Yes, I’ve already mentioned libraries, but there is more to them than just saving time. RoR libraries also help guarantee the quality of the code. This happens because RoR libraries require the approval of the community. This guarantees a smoother Quality Assurance process than you would have achieved by yourself. The result is improved app performance.
Besides libraries, another important advantage of using the Rails community for knowledge sharing is that it allows mobile and web developers to solve problems in a more efficient way. The RoR community guarantees that there is strength in numbers when trying to solve a coding problem. This way, the inability to solve a problem doesn’t have to lead to a bottleneck because your developers can rely on others’ help. So, even if you encounter a problem that hasn’t been solved, you can always rely on the community for assistance. This ensures developers will not get stuck.
It is good to keep in mind that the community puts a lot of effort and time into ensuring that quality is maintained. Its standards are high, so only the best code gets approved. This saves developers from a lot of potential bumps throughout the coding process.
Scalability is another of RoR’s main uses. It refers to the ability of an app to handle a growing number of customers, clients, and/or users. This is important when developing an app for the first time because, due to money and time constraints, it is normal for any app development project to focus on a short-sighted scope.
However, this can be problematic when the time to grow comes. Many apps fail to grow because they are not able to scale as a result of their code. In other words, they have an inadequate software architecture.
In most app development projects, the growth phase can be done more efficiently by using initial resources in a smarter way. RoR’s scalability potential allows apps to be developed strategically from the beginning, thanks to its powerful application programming interface (API). This helps guarantee stable app growth in the long term. Retail apps are good examples of this. The case of Shopify is a particularly good one. As its CEO stated, Shopify was able to scale thanks in part to it being built on RoR.
The Ruby on Rails Scalability Myth
For some years now, there has been a debate around the Rails framework and its potential to scale web and mobile apps. A common argument from critics is that other programming languages scale better. However, time has proven that RoR is indeed a great tool for scaling.
To do so, it is crucial to have the right software architecture. This can best be achieved with the help of an experienced app development partner. RoR attracts many startups because of its efficiency and its potential to help young businesses scale their apps. Nonetheless, it also offers advantages to consolidated companies.
Some Final Thoughts
As I said initially, answering the question of what the RoR web framework is used for is not easy. Depending on your role in the app development process, this answer may vary. However, one thing is clear: Rails is something you want to have within your technology stack if you are looking for rapid and scalable application development solutions.
I hope to have made it clear to everyone that there are quite a few important uses of Rails for web applications. The Ruby on Rails web development framework has proven time and time again to be a robust tool that will surely stay around for quite a while. I look forward to seeing how it will continue to evolve, and I recommend you do the same.
Read this article to learn why some of the world’s best web applications use Ruby on Rails and why it is one tool you surely want for your web project.