What is Ruby on Rails?

Kasia Pryczek
27 January 2020
5 min read

Ruby on Rails is an open-source web framework written in the Ruby programming language. The so-called ‘RoR’ aims to simplify the creation of web applications by generating default structures for code, the application’s database, and the web pages that will be served up to the client. Developers love it for its readability, flexibility, and continuously growing community support.

A brief history of Ruby on Rails

David Heinemeier Hansson created Ruby on Rails in 2003 during his work on a management tool for the company called Basecamp. The complexity of the project led him to invent a custom framework for his Ruby code. He decided not to keep it to himself, releasing it to the public instead. RoR was open-sourced in 2004, but the real boost happened after Apple announced their support for it in 2006. It gave RoR enough recognition to increase the number of interested developers quickly, and it's been growing and evolving ever since, providing significant support and free-of-charge third-party components.

Why is Ruby on Rails so popular?

When everything happens at a fast pace, we are more often looking for quick solutions to meet the needs of the growing tech industry and to satisfy our clients. And so the development process speeds up, with great inventions like Ruby on Rails. 

Standardized formats provided by the framework, together with the rich collection of open-source code available within a vast Rails community, make developers' jobs faster and more efficient. Hundreds of available libraries give many ready solutions for time-consuming, repetitive tasks, e.g., registration, login, or third-party authentication, allowing developers to focus on more advanced application logic. 

The benefits of Using Ruby on Rails 

The Model-View-Controller

What makes Ruby on Rails so readable, flexible and time-saving? First of all, the Model-View-Controller pattern. The MVC architecture separates the logic of the application into three connected layers. The Model is responsible for the logic, the View represents the actual visual part of the application, and the Controller creates a connection between the other two. This pattern makes the Rails application code clean and easy to maintain.

Don't Repeat Yourself

Another concept worth mentioning that helps keep the code clean is DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself). It is commonly used in software development, and it also sets the principles of Rails apps. Its goal is to reduce code repetitions and extract functionalities into smaller, reusable methods or files to make it easier to understand, to maintain, and to debug.

Automated testing

Ruby on Rails provides many built-in functionalities, like automated testing tools. It produces test schemas while creating models, provides testing frameworks (e.g., RSpec, MiniTest) and many making-life-easier libraries for generating test data. It all works together within a ready to use test environment. It makes test cases easier to write and execute and by holding test files in a readable schema, and it helps to keep track of the growing application.

Default environments

Ruby on Rails eliminates the need for developers to write configurations from scratch. It comes with a bunch of default, adjustable config files, among which we find configurations for the three most common environments: development, testing, and production. In addition to these development stages, there is a possibility to define custom environments, like staging or beta, to reflect the application's life cycle better and allow for the assignment of environment-specific variables.

Convention over configuration

Ruby on Rails consists of many useful conventions. Their purpose is simply to reduce the number of decisions a developer needs to make to speed up his work. David Heinemeier Hansson said in one of his interviews:

"Convention over configuration is the cornerstone of Rails and a principle I hold dear. Stop wasting time configuring things where the differences do not matter."

One of the conventions that unify all RoR projects is the naming convention - pluralization, capitalization, and casing. It defines the differences in naming Models, Controllers, database tables and files, allowing Rails to handle mapping between models and database tables. 

In a simple example, a Comment object would be represented in a model named Comment (singular and capitalized), while its database table would be named comments (plural and lowercase). The Controller would be called CommentsController (plural with each first letter capitalized), and the file holding its content would be separated with underscores, like so: comments_controller.rb. Rails allow developers to override these conventions, maintaining a flexible framework if needed.

Ruby gems

A variety of third-party code libraries are available for developers to include in their applications free of charge. Ruby gems are open-sourced by the Rails community and are continually evolving and growing in number. 

Ruby Gems cover many useful, often repetitive functionalities, which can be easily included with a single line of code. Among them, you may find Devise, allowing for fast integration of authentication functionality. ActiveAdmin, which implements a full-on admin panel, often a hidden functionality that consumes unnecessarily hours of coding or Rubocop, keeping your syntax clean and up-to-date, preventing small bugs and typos.

What is Ruby on Rails used for?

If you know Ruby on Rails, you can do both front-end and back-end. A single developer can deliver an end-to-end application. A vast number of available solutions allow us to develop various types of applications, including e-commerce apps, social-media-like applications, fin-tech, and live-streaming apps or data analytics platforms. 

The world's most prominent start-ups base their development on RoR, and among them, you may find Airbnb, Shopify, Couchsurfing, Kickstarter, Dribble, and even the most popular version control service — GitHub. The number of businesses using Ruby on Rails is continuously increasing at a rapid pace.

Last words

Due to the massive impact on the framework from the expanding community, it seems evident that Ruby on Rails will keep growing. After over 15 years of being in use, we can currently call it a mature framework and consider it stable, which means that it is well-tested and safe to use. It seems like an excellent solution for businesses focused on fast product delivery, and it promises successful, hassle-free maintenance for years. 

Would you like to know more about Ruby on Rails? Or perhaps, you have a project you wish to discuss? We’ll be happy to hear from you. Please contact us or write to us at hello@start-up.house

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