At Koombea we’ve been working with Ruby on Rails (RoR) for more than ten years. One question I get asked frequently is ‘What is Ruby on Rails used for?’. This is a hard question to answer because there are many ways in which it could be interpreted. However, as difficult as it is, there are some things that always stand out within RoR’s functionalities. In order to discuss what RoR’s main uses are I first want to mention some words on what it is. Don’t worry, I will avoid getting technical. This post is dedicated to non-technical users; the web already has many resources on RoR’s technical aspects.
Let’s start with the beginning, and that is Ruby. Ruby (not the same as Ruby on Rails) is a coding language. It was created with the intention of focusing on the programmer’s productivity and fun while coding.
RoR is an open-source framework distributed under an MIT license. It uses the Ruby language, thus inheriting the ‘productivity’ and ‘fun’ principles. If I had to define RoR in simple words I’d say it’s a set of libraries built on Ruby that allow programmers to make the best out of their coding experience.
A major characteristic of RoR is that it prioritizes convention over configuration. While other coding languages require programmers to set certain parameters in order to start working, RoR allows programmers to start coding from the start without losing time defining those same parameters. As a result, the programmer only has to specify certain aspects of the code. This translates into an efficient coding workflow. This, in turn, 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 programmers to work smarter.
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 website and mobile app development, 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. These are: reducing the time needed for project development, sharing knowledge on code development, and building scalable apps. Let’s consider each one of these.
First, let’s consider how RoR is used to reduce an app’s development time. I have already mentioned how libraries and ease of coding are two essential features embedded within RoR. For someone not familiar with coding this might seem like a minor thing, but for a programmer these two features can make a big difference. Combined, they contribute strongly to reducing the time-to-market of a project. They do this by helping programmers simplify repetitive tasks, thus saving a lot of unnecessary work.
Additionally, RoR’s test automation feature also helps save time by testing the code as it is being written. This way, programmers can know if a mistake shows up rather than having to run the code in order to find out.
Lastly, time is saved during the coding phase of a project thanks to RoR’s language. Because it resembles the English language, programmers can become familiarized with it in a relatively easy way rather than having to spend time learning a new language from scratch. All of this is not surprising because productivity and fun are at the core of RoR.
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 programmers learn from other programmers. Not only does this help avoid making mistakes others have done; it also allows programmers 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 RoR 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 an improved app performance.
Besides libraries, another important advantage of using RoR for knowledge sharing is that it allows programmers 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. The inability to solve a problem doesn’t have to lead to a bottleneck because you 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 help. This ensures programmers will not get stuck.
It is good to keep in mind that the community puts a lot of effort and time to ensure that quality is maintained. Its standards are high, so only the best code gets approved. This saves programmers 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 to focus on a short-sighted scope. 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 most cases of app development, 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 in such a way since the beginning. 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.
There has been a debate for some years now about RoR’s scalability potential for web and mobile apps. However, time has proven that RoR is indeed a great tool for scaling. As Shopify’s CEO stated, Shopify was able to scale thanks in part to it being built on RoR.
RoR attracts many startups because of the potential it offers young businesses to scale their apps. Nonetheless, it also offers advantages to consolidated companies.
Some Final Thoughts
As I said initially, answering the question of what RoR is used for is not easy. Depending on your role in the app development process this answer may vary. I hope to have made it clear to everyone that there are quite a few important uses of RoR for web and mobile app development.
RoR has proven time and time again to be a strong framework 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.
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