A Comprehensive Guide to Ruby on Rails: Everything You Need to Know

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Ruby on Rails (RoR) remains a hot topic in the software development community. Web developers can hardly have a conversation without the mention of Ruby on Rails at least once. 

No doubt, the fact that Ruby on Rails is within the top ten most used frameworks in the United States contributes to its popularity. Or otherwise, the popularity of Ruby on Rails fuels its use.

At any rate, this should come as no surprise as RoR has many features making it a powerful tool to use for your next software development project. 

To find out how you can use Ruby on Rails for your business, stick around. This piece will tell you how an open-source framework built on top of Ruby helps the web thrive time and time again. 

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What Is Ruby?

Before diving into Ruby on Rails, you should be familiar with its roots — Ruby. Ruby is an open-source, interpreted, general-purpose programming language.  

Ruby is the brainchild of Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto, a Japanese computer scientist who became disheartened by the object-oriented scripting languages that were notable at the time.

Though Matz was familiar with Perl4 and Python in the mid-1990s, he didn’t think these languages were particularly promising nor did he consider them to be “true object-oriented languages”. 

Taking matters into his own hands, Matsumoto conceived Ruby in 1993 and officially released the language in 1995. 

In addition to being an interpreted language, Ruby is dynamically typed with garbage collection and just-in-time (JIT) compilation.

With dynamic typing, the interpreter performs type checking only at runtime, and type declarations do not have to be set in stone. 

The same flexibility can be the benefit of interpreted languages in general. Interpreted languages do not translate source code before runtime, instead choosing to interpret code line by line as it executes. 

The result is more transparency in the development process, from writing code to debugging. 

Interpreted languages typically run slower than compiled languages. But JIT compilers are changing this reality. 

These compilers allow for the best of both worlds. While a program interprets the code, the JIT compiler converts what it determines is the most frequently used code into machine code. 

In this way, a language like Ruby can gain the ease of use of an interpreted language without sacrificing access to dynamic runtime information or speed. 

Garbage collection is similarly useful to Ruby’s design. Through this form of memory management, unused objects are automatically removed to free up memory.  

These particulars make up the architecture of the Ruby programming language, but Ruby’s core features are much more enticing. 

Ruby Features

Before deploying Ruby on Rails in your tech stack, you and/or your developers should have an in-depth understanding of the Ruby programming language itself. Here are some important features defining the language’s potential. 

  • Object-Oriented

Ruby is inspired by other object-oriented languages such as Python and Perl. Except, Ruby aims to be more powerful by perceiving everything as an object. 

Any information or code in your Ruby program is able to make use of its own properties and actions, even numbers. This modularity makes for more intuitive programming. 

  • Flexible

Ruby developers are given the privilege of being able to manipulate its parts. With a little bit of tweaking, you can remove or redefine critical components of the language. 
To illustrate, instead of using the plus operator “+”, you can opt to edit the Numeric class to the effect that the word “plus” works just as well. 

  • Expressive

One of the features empowering Ruby’s expressive nature is blocks. Blocks are anonymous functions encapsulated within do-end structures. 

They work as closures that group statements together. Block methods permit code to be extra pliable for developers. 

  • Modular

Similarly, modules in Ruby are a means of grouping together methods. Mixins are an important concept of Ruby that permit modules to access instance methods using the include method. In this way, Ruby developers can avoid the work of multiple inheritance.

  • Simple

The visual appearance of Ruby is a great asset too. Its syntax is not too far off from English with minimal punctuation. Naming conventions, for example, are simple. And Ruby does not require variable declarations. 

What Is Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails, also called Rails, is an open-source, server-side web application framework. Rails employs a model-view-controller (MVC) framework and is equipped with default structures for a database, web service, and web pages.

A vector graphic of a computer monitor with a red speedometer on the screen, alongside database, gear, and coin icons, suggesting performance monitoring or optimization in software development.

David Heinemeier Hansson started working on Rails while developing Basecamp, a project management tool. The first stable release of Ruby on Rails was in 2005 and Ruby has drastically changed the web development landscape since. 

Rails’s MVC architecture guides developers in separating the concerns between the user interface (UI) and business logic. In this software design, the model represents the logic; the view represents the presentation layer; and the controller handles the way users interact with the software in questions accepting input for the model or view. 

MVC is a common software design pattern for web frameworks, but other coding conventions establish the grounding foundation of Ruby on Rails. 

Convention over configuration (CoC) and don’t repeat yourself (DRY), for instance, are two major software engineering paradigms — embedded into Rails —  that developers are encouraged to abide by. 

CoC is a principle that seems to reduce decision-making. In Rails, CoC mitigates the exhaustive procedure of configuring software applications from scratch by having built-in conventions equipped with the framework. 
DRY is a similar principle in objective and intends to reduce repetition by abstracting code when possible. A Ruby block is a good example of how an abstraction would apply DRY principles.  

Active Record is another complex, but useful, Ruby on Rails feature. It is essentially a means of object-relational mapping (ORM) which simplifies the use of databases within an application. Using Active Record, Rails developers can access data in the database through the model. 

Other notable features of Ruby on Rails include database table creation, migrations, and scaffolding. 

What Is Ruby on Rails Used For?

As a web application framework, Ruby on Rails is the crux of many websites. Rails is a popular tool for back-end web development. 

The flexibility and abstraction that both the language and corresponding framework provide facilitate rapid development for eager Ruby developers and project stakeholders. 

Hence developers use RoR to simplify the web development process. The software principles Rails emphasizes in its design are integral to building scalable and efficient web applications and. 

Social networks, stock exchange platforms, dating websites, and e-commerce stores are a few examples of what you can expect to build with Ruby on Rails. 

Ruby on Rails Advantages

For a deeper dive into why you might want to use Ruby on Rails, note the following advantages and attributes of the Rails framework:

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1. Flexibility

Just like the language RoR is based on, Rails is flexible and easy to work with. One of the ways in which RoR is flexible is through its heavy use of meta programming. 

Metaprogramming is a programming technique in Ruby which authorizes programs to act as data. 

In other words, Ruby developers can write code that writes code during runtime to handle issues without recompilation. 

To illustrate, if for some reason a developer neglects to define a certain method before runtime, the Rails framework will dynamically create a new method using the database, effectively curtailing any errors. 

Monkey patch is a term describing a frequent occurrence that happens as part of RoR’s metaprogramming characteristics. This is when a program extends or modifies a class to accommodate new information. 

2. Speed

The various design elements and software principles of Rails internal structuring speed up the development process for businesses who choose to use the framework. 

Ruby on Rails is what’s called a “batteries-included” framework, meaning it comes out of the box with all the tools you need. 

With RubyGems, RoR’s official package manager, developers can access a large variety of third-party components. 

The layered structure of the framework is also a huge benefit. Aside from Rails’s MVC pattern, the RoR supplies three standard environments — development, testing, and production — optimizing the software development life cycle in effect.

To add, Rails yields scaffolding too. In computer programming, this is a code generation methodology for database access. 

By utilizing scaffolding, development teams can create the models, views, and controllers for a new resource via a single operation. This is a functional example of CoC in action. 

Fast delivery is a priority in software development. Clients are eager to see recurring updates that will result in new and improved features. 

Other advantages of a speedy time-to-market (TTM) are quick user feedback, lower development costs, and better adaptation to the changing market

3. Cost-Effectiveness

First and foremost, Ruby on Rails is open source. For you, this implies averting licensing costs. 

Plus, the modularity of the framework supplied through gems, mixins, blocks, and other utilitarian features of RoR means developers save time in development. 
The classic business truism ‘time is money’ rings true where software development is concerned.

It is estimated that Ruby on Rails can speed up development by up to 40%. Translation: Ruby on Rails will save you a lot of money. 

4. Testability

The Ruby on Rails framework makes the essential task of testing your software rather easy. 

For one, RoR has built-in testing. Rails supplies automated tests which you can extend as you wish. 

This takes the form of a skeleton test code which the framework produces while you’re busy creating models and controllers. 

Harnesses and fixtures, supporting code for constructing and running test cases, are similarly helpful Rails features. 

And developers can execute all their automated tests at once with the rake utility. 

What Companies Are Using Ruby on Rails?

According to StackShare, as many as 14.6 thousand companies use Rails as part of their tech stack. Surely, this is proof of the scalability of the framework, and should make you curious to know how companies are using Ruby on Rails for their gain. 

A stylized graphic showing a computer monitor with a performance dial, GitHub, Shopify, and SoundCloud logos, illustrating the integration or use of these services in web development.

Some of the major websites and web apps using RoR are:

1. GitHub

GitHub is a version control system (VCS). To review, a VCS is a software empowering developers to ‘push’ and ‘pull’ code online for collaboration purposes. 

Over 65 million developers are proud GitHub users. Although GitHub has slightly distanced itself from Ruby on Rails in recent years in favor of Go, Java, and even Haskell, Rails remains an important part of what makes GitHub great

2. Shopify

Shopify is an e-commerce company that avid online shoppers are getting more acquainted with day by day. 

Its main platform operates as a retail point-of-sale system where online stores can furnish a retail experience with payment, shipping, and customer engagement services. 

Indeed, Shopify uses Ruby on Rails for most of its projects. The engineering team cites Active Record as one of the more invaluable features of the framework, as well as various aspects of the root language that foster high performance. 

3. SoundCloud

SoundCloud is a leading music streaming service that has been the driving reason many independent artists have found fame. 

As you probably expected, SoundCloud was built with Ruby on Rails as a single, monolithic application — which SoundCloud developers affectionately call the Mothership

In the end, SoundCloud decided that a microservice architecture was better for scaling but the service still uses Rail just the same. 

4. Airbnb

Airbnb is a world-renowned vacation destination. That is, Airbnb is an online marketplace where incoming travelers can find homestays for lodging. 

Often these lodgings are in the private homes of residents who are more permanent appendages of the area. 

Given that Airbnb — a travel website with international associations and several million users — is using Rails, you can be sure the framework is worth its salt.

How to Hire Ruby on Rails Developers?

You’ve briefly glimpsed what Ruby on Rails can do for your business. But this can only be done with the expertise of Ruby on Rails developers. 

Scaffolding, mixins, Active Record, blocks, and other Rails features might look like a lot of fancy buzzwords if you’re not qualified to work with Ruby on Rails on a professional level.

Not only can professional Rails developers turn gibberish into comprehensible code, but this code has the potential to be the catalyst for your business’s success.

Of course, to hire developers in the first place, you have to ensure that your candidates have what it takes to be part of a successful software development team

Part of this assurance is familiarizing yourself or whoever manages the hiring process with the necessary softs skills that are integral to playing nice, so to speak, and working with client feedback.

Not to mention, hiring software developers also involves having an elementary if not intermediary understanding of how your software product will rely on Ruby on Rails. 
But to even have this understanding, you need some technical expertise. You can start the learning process by conducting a bit more research, like reading Trio’s blog article on hiring remote software developers. Or you can consult with professional software developers. 

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Ruby on Rails is a capable web development framework with many quality features. Ruby on its own is a versatile language with a design that advocates for true object-oriented programming and seeks to make programming fun for developers. 

Naturally, Ruby on Rails only furthers this goal. Rails has seen many companies to global recognition due to its flexibility and speed among other qualities. 

That said, Ruby on Rails developers are a critical factor in seeing the tangible benefits Rails can bestow. 

Trio is one place to look for qualified Ruby developers who have years of experience enhancing software development projects with the Rails framework.

To learn more about hiring Ruby developers, have a chat with Trio!

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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