What is the difference between Ruby and Ruby on Rails?

Marlena Walburg
What is the difference between Ruby and Ruby on Rails

Although Ruby on Rails is commonly referred to as just Ruby, it is not hard to guess that they are not the same entities. Probably this colloquial nomenclature gives rise to doubts as to whether and how the two technologies differ. As the name suggests, Ruby on Rails is based on Ruby, so they are very close to each other. How else are they different from each other? Dive in to find out.


Due to the creation of Node.js, the popularity of the Ruby on Rails platform has slightly decreased, and Ruby itself is also less and less heard, which can be seen in the popularity rankings. Even so, Ruby is still doing quite well. It is still used by a lot of people and is constantly being developed, the developers often release updates that solve many previous problems. Its last version was released on December 25, 2020. However, let’s look at some statistics on Ruby on Rails:

  • There are over 4,100 GitHub contributors to the Ruby on Rails source code (as of January 2021);
  • According to Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2020, Ruby, once in the top 10 of this list, has declined, being surpassed by newer, trendier technologies such as Go and Kotlin;
  • In the same survey, RoR is 11th in the Most Loved and Most Wanted Web Frameworks categories, and 6th in Most Dreaded;
  • According to, there are currently about 1,480,867 live websites using Ruby on Rails and an additional 2,376,886 sites that used Ruby on Rails historically.

What is Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails (also RoR or Rails) is a server-side web application framework, written, as already mentioned, in Ruby. This framework is based on the model-view-controller (MVC) design pattern, providing default database, web service, and website structures. 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. In addition to MVC, RoR emphasizes the use of other well-known software engineering patterns and paradigms, including the convention over configuration (CoC), do not repeat yourself (DRY), and the active record pattern. 

What is Ruby on Rails used for?

Ruby on Rails is a framework for creating web applications, hence its use cases include all kinds of websites or web-based platforms. The list of examples of what can be developed with Rails is quite long. It is mostly due to the huge, ever-growing number of libraries and gems that serve as building blocks for different types of applications.


Due to its cost-effective and fast development, Ruby on Rails is often chosen for building MVPs. It is also often used for prototyping, updating and testing different versions of an application before building a fully functional product, for the same reasons as above. Consequently, Ruby on Rails will be an attractive choice for startups or businesses with a smaller budget wanting to swiftly develop a prototype of their application.

Social networks

RoR is excellent at approaching applications with high traffic. Hence, it is perfect for social applications, reservation systems, and property search engines. It is used by platforms such as Airbnb and Couchsurfing as it manages a large number of daily transactions and property reservations speedily and efficiently.

E-commerce platforms

For e-commerce platforms, the speed of development, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of Ruby on Rails is ideal. Its benefits allow 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. RoR is the choice of many e-commerce platforms like Shopify, and the number of online stores built on them is close to one million.

Platforms maintaining complex databases

Rails can work with different varieties of relational databases. The only condition is that there is a library for RoR 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.

Advantages/disadvantages of Ruby on Rails

Let’s start with the pros of Ruby on Rails.

Fast development

Thanks to Ruby on Rails, coding, especially smaller applications, is straightforward and rapid. This is achieved largely by relying on the code generation and components that RoR provides. RoR component structure, based on plugs and gems, lets experienced RoR developers to quickly combine efficient applications with less coding.

Fine 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

Adding new features to the RoR web app or modifying existing code is much simpler. Once launched, future modifications to the app are fast and hassle-free. Due to its stability and predictability, Ruby on Rails is most effective for long-term projects.

Huge community

RoR is one of the most popular frameworks in 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 has also some drawbacks.

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;

Might be 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;

Redundant code and problematic documentation

RoR is packed with redundant code, and so, less experienced developers may not understand what it is for. Besides, in the case of RoR, 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.

Why Do So Many Think Ruby on Rails Is Dead?

Perhaps you have heard this cliché, Ruby on Rails is dead, more than once. Yes, RoR is behind its heyday, and its popularity has declined in recent years. However, it is unfair to say the RoR is dead. So where did this myth come from?


Ruby on Rails has been in use since 2005 when the first stable version of the framework was released. Since then, it has been incredibly popular and willingly used over the years, and other new frameworks have been modelled on it. His long presence in the IT world and frequent updates, adding new functionalities and taking care of the framework by the developers made it not only very mature but also stable and polished. Due to its maturity, RoR is often wrongly perceived as obsolete, like it is a defect. However, this is just a misconception.   

Slower performance in case of large projects

When it comes to slow RoR performance, it is often caused by inexperienced use of the framework and inadequacy to the scale of the project. While RoR-based applications run slower than, for example, Node.js applications, this becomes noticeable in large, complex projects. However, it is worth bearing in mind.

Strong competition

Ruby on Rails has been around for a long time in terms of technology. Over the years, many competitive frameworks have been created. However, it is not always worth following new, unproven trends but focus on the requirements of your project. It may turn out that Ruby on Rails is the best choice. Even if RoR applications are not written based on fashionable frameworks, it does not mean lower quality.

Popular applications built with Ruby on Rails


Airbnb is one of the most popular RoR-based apps among travel apps. The idea of this website is to connect travellers and people who want to rent their apartment or house. Airbnb offers over 70,000 locations in almost 200 countries around the world where you can find accommodation.


Dribbble brings together all kinds of designers, including graphic designers, web designers, illustrators and other creative people who want to present their work and projects. RoR was used to create this web application. This network was founded in 2009.

What is Ruby?

Ruby is an interpreted, high-level, general-purpose programming language. It was designed and developed in the ’90s by Yukihiro Matsumoto. The language is dynamically typed and uses garbage collection and supports many programming paradigms, including procedural, object-oriented and functional programming. Ruby syntax is similar to Perl and Python syntax. Class and method definitions are signalled with keywords, while code blocks can be defined with keywords or braces. Matsumoto said Ruby was designed with developer productivity and fun in mind, following the principles of good user interface design. The developer emphasizes that designing systems must emphasize the needs of a human, not a computer.

What can you build with Ruby?

Ruby is a fully object-oriented programming language. As a technology with a very simple syntax, it is often used for writing so-called one-lines, scripting, word processing and prototyping new applications. Its advantage is a huge number of web frameworks, such as Ruby on Rails, and applications written in this language.

Desktop applications

Ruby is an object-oriented language like Java or Python and can be used for applications built in this type of language. However, Ruby applications can run on the same machine. The Ruby on Rails framework was created for web applications.

Static websites

Ruby makes it easy to create a static website from scratch with Jekyll’s generator, written in Ruby. Jekyll’s operation is based on downloading the content of static files created in Markdown or Text File format and generating them based on previously defined Liquid templates, elements and tags into a ready-made, static page that can be published thanks to any web server. It only takes a few minutes to set up and run such a basic site. 

Advantages/disadvantages of Ruby

The advantages of Ruby are:


Compared to other languages, Ruby has a better system for distributing optimal solutions to problems. Once someone solves something optimally in Ruby, everyone can use this solution.

Ruby on Rails

Creating RoR, based on Ruby, made web development surprisingly easy, fas and approachable.

Ruby has disadvantages, too.

Rather slow 

Ruby is considered as a slow language, so if the problem you are trying to solve requires optimal use of resources then Ruby might not be good for you.

Declining popularity 

Ruby is not as willingly used as before, this may lead to fewer updates and inevitable giving up on this language.

Portability issues

Converting Ruby code into a Windows executable may not be very reliable.

Popular applications built with Ruby


Currently, Ruby is most often used for object-oriented programming in the backend for web applications. The Twitter app is a good example of using Ruby this way. Moreover, the Twitter gem and Twitter API make it easy to create a similar social application.


It is a flexible, easy, and customizable eCommerce platform. Like Twitter, it also uses Ruby. Besides, it also allows you to create Shopify-like apps after generating the API key and password for your public Shopify app. All of this using the official Shopify API gem and the Sinatra platform for Ruby apps.

Ruby vs Ruby on Rails

RubyRuby on Rails
Base technologyWritten in CBased on Ruby
TypeProgramming languageFramework for rapid web development
InfluenceRuby is based on many languages such as CLU, Eiffel, Lisp, Perl, Python and SmalltalkRuby on Rails, in turn, influenced other web frameworks, including Django, Catalyst, Laravel and Node.js
PrincipleRuby was designed with developer productivity and fun in mind, following the principles of good user interface designRoR emphasizes the use of other well-known software engineering patterns and paradigms, including convention over configuration (CoC), don’t repeat yourself (DRY), and the active record pattern
SyntaxSimilar to  Perl and PythonSimilar to Phoenix in Elixir, Python
UsageMainly desktop applicationsWeb applications
ScalabilityMay be problematicHighly achievable

So, is Ruby and Ruby on Rails the same? Summary

Obviously, these are not the same things. We hope that this matter is now clear to you. As you see, both technologies allow developing interesting digital products and have their pros and cons. What is also visible, the popularity of both decreases as many new frameworks appear. Nevertheless, Ruby on Rails is worth consideration when it comes to efficient web application development.

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