Technology

PHP vs Ruby on Rails – What’s the Difference? Which One is Better?

Marlena Walburg
PHP vs RUBY - What's the Difference? Which One is Better?

Do you think about building your own web application from scratch? Then you probably know that choosing the right technology stack is essential, and it will define the whole project. How to make this decision well? Let’s start with narrowing your options. We will focus on the two very popular and widely used web technologies – Ruby on Rails and PHP. Both of them are mature, battle-tested and used by the biggest companies. However, there are some aspects in which RoR and PHP differ from each other. Understanding their pros and cons, as well as differences and use cases, will help you clear the confusion. First, get to know them both better.  

What is Ruby on Rails?

After officially emerging in 2005, Ruby on Rails literally conquered the web application development market. The framework was created by David Heinemeier Hansson, who extracted it from his work on the Basecamp project management tool. Ruby on Rails is written in the Ruby language. It is a framework for server-side web applications with a model-view-controller structure. MVC provides default structures for the database, web service, and websites. It encourages and facilitates the use of web standards, such as JSON or XML for data transfer, and HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for user interface support. Besides, Ruby on Rails supports the use of other well-known patterns and software engineering paradigms like convention over configuration or don’t repeat yourself. The release of Ruby on Rails had a big impact on the development of web applications and the way they perform. RoR introduced new, innovative features that enable rapid application development. The influence of Ruby on Rails on other web frameworks remains visible today, and perhaps, without it as many of them would not have arisen or would have appeared much later.

What is PHP?

PHP is a much older player compared to Ruby on Rails – it appeared in 1995. It is an interpreted, scripting programming language designed to generate web pages and build web applications in real-time. The first version of PHP, distributed as PHP / FI (Personal Home Page / Forms Interpreter), was developed by Rasmus Lerdorf as a set of Perl scripts for monitoring visitors to his site. It gradually gained popularity, and the author rewrote it in C, added new options so that over time the project became what we now know as PHP. PHP is a general-purpose scripting language that is particularly suitable for server-side web development. Each PHP code in the requested file is executed by the PHP runtime, usually to create dynamic web page content or dynamic images for use in web pages or applications. PHP currently focuses primarily on server-side scripting and is similar to other scripting languages of this type that deliver dynamic content from the webserver to the client, such as ASP.NET.

Ruby on Rails vs PHP – What’s the difference?

You probably noticed so far that the main difference between these two technologies is that PHP is a programming language, and Ruby on Rails is a framework. Although it seems to be just a small thing, it implies some architectural differences. 

Popularity 
Both PHP and Ruby on Rails conquered the web app development market shortly after they were released. According to W3Techs, over 79% of the websites use PHP. Moreover, in Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developer Survey, PHP is the 8th most popular technology. The study also shows how Ruby on Rails popularity decreased through the years – only 7 % of the respondents use RoR. And this is probably the reason why so many people say that Ruby on Rails is dead. However, even though RoR is not the hottest pick today, it is still a reliable and efficient choice, as well as PHP. 

Learning curve
When it comes to the learning curve, both PHP and Ruby on Rails are backed by a supportive community, and you can find many tutorials and good documentation online. PHP has simple code syntax and so is much easier for beginners and allows you to quickly master it.


Performance and development speed
Ruby on Rails is a framework. Hence, RoR was created to boost productivity and enhance performance. It is equipped with helpful plug-ins and gems that make the code shorter and speed up the development process. It has reliable architecture, and it at some point forces good programming practices. PHP, on the other hand, is relatively easy to implement. However, it does not have any tools to make coding faster, and the code is generally much longer than in Ruby on Rails apps. To make the most out of PHP, you need good, experienced developers that will use it really well. Both technologies are constantly updated and getting new functions and facilitations. If skillfully used, they both will be powerful choices. 

Ruby on Rails vs PHP: the Pros and Cons

Take a look at the pros and cons of both technologies. As you can see, they are quite diverse. This clearly indicates that, depending on the needs of your project, you will be able to choose between the two accordingly.

Advantages

Ruby on Rails PHP
Open-sourceOpen-source
Flexible and easy to manageSimple syntax
Good test environmentWide support across multiple web servers
Great communityEasy to learn 
Fast development Many frameworks available
Stable and well designedCost-efficient

Disadvantages

Ruby on Rails PHP
Can be too flexibleProblems with maintaining legacy apps
Runtime speed could be faster Stability depends on developers skills

Top frameworks Ruby

Ruby on Rails is not the only framework that is based on Ruby but certainly, the most popular amongst them. Take a look at the other Ruby frameworks that are not Rails.

Sinatra

This framework, named after a famous musician, is often called a microframework. Architecturally it is a library and a domain-specific language written in Ruby. Small and flexible, Sinatra does not follow the MVC pattern like other frameworks and instead, it focuses on rapid web application development with minimal effort. 

Padrino

Padrino, a framework based on Sinatra, was created to extend Sinatra’s possibilities and more easily support superb web apps. It is open-source, free and dependent on the Rack webserver interface. 

Grape

This web framework focuses on creating REST APIs. It can run directly on a web server or alongside other frameworks such as mentioned above Sinatra. 

Top frameworks PHP

From the numerous available PHP frameworks, the ones listed below are the most popular and notable.

Laravel
Released in 2011, Laravel can handle complex web applications development very well. Thus, there is nothing strange about its growing popularity. The framework has many features that enhance security and performance. It also simplifies the development process by reducing the complexity of common tasks. It is easy to use, developer-friendly and scalable. 

Symfony
This framework has been already available on the market for a while. Symfony is a set of reusable PHP components and fits perfectly for websites that need to be scaled in the future. It is based on MVC structure, can be installed and configured on most platforms and aims to speed up the creation and maintenance of web applications and to replace repetitive coding tasks.

CodeIgniter
Compared to other PHP frameworks, CodeIgniter often performs faster and is generally lighter. Same as Laravel and Symfony, CodeIgniter has a useful set of tools to minimize developers’ work, avoid complexity and give more freedom. It also has a rich library base, so the developers do not need to write everything from scratch. 

Is PHP faster than Ruby?

Most of the projects that are built with PHP are quite simple. Hence, such apps do not consume a lot of memory and perform well. Moreover, every new release of PHP is much faster than previous versions, and so, in terms of speed, PHP is no longer weak. Ruby on Rails is definitely faster than PHP when it comes to development. PHP has no tools that could make this process easier. 

Is PHP still relevant in 2021?

Given not only the popularity of PHP that is remaining on a very high level but also the number of available PHP frameworks, we can say that PHP is still relevant in 2021. Just look at the numbers again and see for yourself. PHP has its disadvantages for sure but is constantly improving. Many CMSs like WordPress or Drupal are built on PHP. Hence, maybe PHP is not the most versatile but does its job well. 

When to choose PHP?

If you want a simple website or a web app that will be straightforward to maintain and relatively inexpensive to host, choose PHP. What is more, it is much easier to find PHP developers than RoR’s, and quite often, their services are cheaper. PHP development is also, in many cases, faster, so if you want to release your web app to the market rapidly, it may be your way to go. 

When is Ruby on Rails better?

The apps based on Ruby on Rails require more development work at the beginning, and these apps themselves are more complex. However, Ruby on Rails gives reliability, security, cleaner code and wide scalability options. Its features may help to meet many business needs. 

Summary

Both PHP and Ruby on Rails are noteworthy web technologies. Although both have fierce competition in the form of more popular frameworks, they do well and perform well in their roles. They are mature, tested, and offer a lot. In many cases, they may turn out to be better than their modern successors. When it comes to their direct comparison, it is difficult to say which one is better. Why? Because it all depends on the project you want to implement. Sometimes a lighter, simpler PHP will win with Ruby on Rails. However, for other businesses, RoR may turn out to be more beneficial. If you want advice on which technology you should go for, contact us.

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