Technology

Is Ruby on Rails Dead in 2021? Is it Still a Good Choice?

Marlena Walburg

When Ruby on Rails came out with its first stable version in 2005, it immediately became an influencer. It has since significantly impacted other web frameworks with its innovative features such as smooth database table creation, migrations, and view scaffolding to enable rapid application development. Many frameworks in other languages are still borrowing patterns from Rails. The number of companies that have implemented this framework in their projects is really impressive, of course, it also includes market giants such as Airbnb, GitHub, and Shopify.

So, since it is widely used to create web applications quickly and many companies are not shy about using this technology in their projects, why appears the unfair cliche: Ruby on Rails is dead? There seems to be a few issues that need clarification to stop questioning Ruby’s relevance in the web development market. Let’s find out where all this fuss is coming from.

When was Ruby on Rails created?

RoR is an open-source platform for rapid web application development, mainly created by Danish developer David Heinemeier Hansson as part of his work on Basecamp. The developer first released Rails in July 2004 but did not share the rights to the project until February 2005. RoR was written in Ruby using the Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture. Over the years, additional functionalities have been gradually added to it, and the popularity did not seem to decline. RoR is based on several main principles such as speed, ease and fun of writing code and “don’t repeat yourself” rule. It also introduces the Convention Over Configuration approach, which is to minimize the necessary configuration by replacing it with ready-made default, recommended patterns. This means the possibility of using plugins that quickly expand the application with various functions, such as logging in or sending photos.

Ruby on Rails popularity

While many frameworks and programming languages are now more widely used than Ruby, many have a much smaller community around them. More contributors mean the technology will continue to evolve and its libraries will continue to improve in quality. Ruby on Rails is often praised for the community’s efforts to create reusable libraries that address common problems. Moreover, Rails is still comfortable, functional, and useful, which is important for developers. Due to the fast development, convenient and readable syntax and countless built-in solutions, it is a practical option. Not all new technologies have such advantages and features, which may result in some developers turning to RoR again after many years.

Is Ruby on Rails dead? 

Ruby on Rails is safe and sound. The myth of the fall of RoR is caused by misunderstandings and errors in its implementation, as well as a fascination with newer technologies. This question is also often brought back to life by competing companies that do not use RoR. Hence, it is worth paying attention to whether the cases actually confirm this. We can say right away that this is not true. When it comes to slow RoR performance, it is often caused by inexperienced use of the framework and not being adapted to the scale of the project. While RoR-based applications run slower than, for example, Node.js ones, this only becomes noticeable with large, complex projects. The notoriety and constant recurrence of the theme of Rails’ dying are also due to his maturity, which some find boring. However, it is not always worth following new, unproven trends. The maturity of Ruby on Rails is stable, polished code and easy-to-maintain web applications. Even if RoR applications are not written based on a fashionable framework, it does not mean lower quality.

What can you do with Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is a general-purpose, dynamic programming language that is comprehensive and mature. It is a framework for creating web applications, hence its use cases include all kinds of websites or web-based platforms. The list of digital products that can be built with RoR is long due to the huge, ever-growing number of libraries and gems that serve as building blocks for different types of applications.

MVP

Ruby is often chosen for building MVPs due to its cost-effective and fast development using this framework. For the same reasons, it is also often used for prototyping, updating and testing different versions of an application before building a fully functional product. Therefore, Ruby on Rails will be an excellent choice for startups or businesses wanting to quickly develop a prototype of their application, with a smaller budget.

E-commerce sites

The speed of development, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Ruby on Rails is great for e-commerce platforms. Its advantages allow, for example, the efficient management of many transactions at once. It also gives access to a wide ecosystem of gems, which allow the introduction of numerous functionalities useful on this type of platform. Ruby is the choice of many e-commerce platforms like Shopify, and the number of online stores built on them is close to one million.

Social platforms

RoR is great at handling applications with high traffic. Therefore, it is ideal for social networking applications, reservation systems and property search engines. It is used by services such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing because it manages a large number of daily transactions and property reservations quickly and efficiently.

Platforms supporting complex databases

Rails can work with different varieties of relational databases. The only condition is that there is a library for Ruby that is responsible for it and that ActiveRecord supports the database. One of the best examples of such platforms is GitHub, the largest Git repository hosting platform for developers.

What is Ruby on Rails good for – advantages/disadvantages

The advantages of Ruby on Rails are:

  • Fast development – coding applications, especially smaller ones, thanks to Ruby on Rails, is straightforward. This is done mainly by relying on the code generation and components that RoR provides. RoR component structure, based on plugs and gems, allows experienced RoR developers to quickly combine efficient applications with less coding;
  • Good test environment – RoR developers can make sure that their applications are working as expected by using built-in testing and debugging tools. RoR makes it easy to create automated tests and validate all aspects of the product, providing a truly powerful testing tool within the framework;
  • Flexible and easy to manage – modifying existing code or adding new features to the RoR web app is much easier. Once launched, future modifications to the app are quick and hassle-free. Due to its stability and predictability, Rails is most effective for long-term projects;
  • Huge community – RoR is one of the most popular frameworks on GitHub. The community is full of developers who constantly improve the code and serve others in their projects, so if someone needs some functionality, chances are someone else has already built something similar or would be willing to help with any problem.

Ruby on Rails Cons:

  • Slower performance – RoR is not as fast as other frameworks. Ruby on Rails takes slightly longer to execute code, unlike compiled programming technologies. On the other hand, RoR-based applications are growing faster, so many projects will gain a lot from it anyway;
  • Too flexible – RoR lets you build a single function in many different ways, so it may take longer to understand how the code works. Besides, accelerating projects and handing them over to new teams can also be time-consuming;
  • API is more difficult to create – building an API in Ruby on Rails can be very complex. The main reason is that there is no RoR equivalent for the Django REST framework;
  • Problematic documentation and redundant code – RoR is full of redundant code, less experienced programmers may not understand what they are for. Good documentation is hard to find, especially for less common gems. Therefore, developers usually need to study all of the code, rather than simply reading the official documentation.

What is the future of Ruby on Rails in 2021?

New technologies appear really often these days. Even so, Ruby on Rails remains a strong and qualitative choice for web-based projects. It is constantly supported and updated with new enhancements. On the other hand, the Rails’ community, although it has decreased a bit recently, is still large and reliable. Many developers still love working with Rails as the underlying technology for their projects. The outlook for Rails is mixed. The strong competition from Django and Laravel does not let Ruby forget about itself, and certainly, RoR does not always win in duels with them. Ruby, however, is still a great choice for startups and businesses looking to run MVPs or even more complex websites with a smaller budget. It is robust and scalable, can be implemented with any JS library, and provides many ready-made solutions to facilitate and accelerate development. At the end of 2020, Rails 6.1 was also released, which introduced many improvements, which is proof that the developers are still trying to make RoR an attractive framework. Going further into the future, the insufficient RoR capabilities of Machine Learning and AI may be worrying. However, there are other areas where Ruby will still be the best choice of all technologies.

Summary – are there any dead programming languages?

Again, Ruby on Rails is not dead. You could say it slowed down a bit, but it certainly is still relevant. Reflecting on other examples of languages suspected of extinction, given their low or no popularity in software projects, this can only be said about the truly archaic technologies ALGOL, APL, or others at the beginning of the computer revolution. There will always be applying for Ruby on Rails type technologies that may not be cool kids anymore but have many possibilities. Let the age of stability that has come for Rails be only a confirmation of its high quality.

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