For a couple years now, web developers have been actively discussing a new programming language called Elixir and its most popular Phoenix framework. Elixir vs. Ruby and Phoenix vs. Rails are among the favorite topics because Elixir has sparked the greatest interest in the community of Ruby developers.

Being part of the Ruby community as well, we became interested in the rising popularity of Elixir. This resulted in the decision to start coding in Elixir along with Ruby. Today we would like to tell you more about both web programming languages, compare them, and explain how they should be better utilized.

Elixir and Phoenix Overview

What is Elixir and Phoenix?
What is Elixir and Phoenix?

As the Elixir programming language is younger than Ruby, let’s review it first. Additionally, we should speak about the Phoenix web framework that contributes heavily to Elixir’s popularity.

Elixir Language: Functional Approach to Programming

Elixir was introduced to the world in 2012. Its author, José Valim, is a Ruby developer and an active Ruby community member who has created many useful gems. José was looking for efficient ways to solve concurrency issues in Ruby on Rails development, and these efforts resulted in a new coding language.

Elixir is a functional language, which makes it different from the majority of languages for web development that are object-oriented. Some developers say that this is Elixir’s great advantage, as functional programming allows for shorter and more accurate code, which is also easier to test and debug. However, there exists another opinion that considers Elixir a very niche language that is difficult to get used to.

In any case, when it comes to big web apps, Elixir development is a reasonable choice because it runs on Erlang Virtual Machine. This means that it inherited all the features of the Erlang platform that has been around for years and has proven to be a reliable solution for scalable applications.

Read a more detailed Elixir language review in the following article:
Elixir Programming Language: Facts to Know for Better App Development

Meet Phoenix - Best Programming Framework for Elixir

If you have read about Elixir, that means that you have also come across the term Phoenix. Phoenix is the most popular web framework that is built with Elixir and is used for Elixir web development.

Phoenix framework was created by Chris McCord in 2014. He wanted to build a framework that could outperform Ruby on Rails. Chris used some of the Rails solutions that he liked, but his ideas about the overall approach to technical aspects were totally different.

Phoenix is based on the MVC architecture and is very fast and maintainable, which makes its popularity grow quickly.

Ruby and Ruby on Rails: Why So Popular

Introduction to the Ruby Programming Language and Ruby on Rails
Introduction to the Ruby Programming Language and Ruby on Rails

It’s time to discuss our old friends - the Ruby programming language and its top web framework, Ruby on Rails.

A Brief Overview of Ruby History

The very first version of the Ruby language appeared in 1994. The language was created by a Japanese computer scientist and programmer, Yukihiro Matsumoto. He said that programmers’ happiness was his main focus when he was working on a new coding language. Matsumoto wanted developers to enjoy programming and be very productive at the same time.

Ruby is an interpreted and object-oriented programming language. Its main purpose is to create simple and understandable web apps where fast development, clarity, and syntax simplicity are more important than the running speed of an app.

What Stands Behind Ruby on Rails’ Popularity?

The Rails framework was created by David Heinemeier Hansson while he was working on the Basecamp project. Its initial release to open source was in 2004. Ruby on Rails is written in Ruby, and this fact became crucial to Ruby’s popularity. Until that time, the Ruby coding language had not been all that successful.

In fact, Ruby on Rails framework has influenced web development globally. The framework introduced a set of features that helped to increase the speed of app development. Additionally, it contributed to Ruby’s mission to make programmers happy.

The framework continues to actively grow, but its main principles remain unchanged. The code is built in Ruby and is based on MVC programming architecture.

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Elixir vs. Ruby: Time to Choose

Now that we have reviewed the backgrounds of the programming languages and web frameworks, let’s get down to the main point we need to agree on: Elixir vs. Ruby and Phoenix vs. Rails, which is better. To come to reasonable conclusions, we will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of these technologies.

Ruby Advantages and Disadvantages

Pros and Cons of the Ruby Language
Pros and Cons of the Ruby Language

To find out what Ruby can be used for, we need to expand on its positives and negatives.

Pros of Ruby

  • Productivity

Rubyists love that it is possible to implement a feature with a few lines of clean Ruby code rather than with a big code snippet in some other coding language.

  • Developers’ happiness

Ruby was designed to make developers happy and it still does its job.

  • Large ecosystem

Ruby is a longtime player in the market of programming languages, which is why it has many libraries and tools that help developers code faster and better.

  • Clean syntax

Ruby syntax makes it possible to write clean human-friendly code. Due to this fact, learning Ruby is quite easy for newbies.

  • Ruby on Rails

The Ruby on Rails framework is definitely one of the great Ruby advantages. It dominates among other frameworks for Ruby, which makes the coding style quite unified. Rails’ popularity has made Ruby one of the top programming languages.

Ruby Cons

  • Maintainability

To keep their code clean and accurate, Ruby developers use various libraries and tools. They are really helpful, but the more of them you use, the more issues this may potentially cause. If you change something in the original implementation of a library, there is a chance it will not work as you want it to.

  • Performance

Ruby performance was not the key priority for its creators; its response and compilation times are fine, but Elixir is faster.

  • Concurrency

Ruby is not a good choice for establishing concurrent connections. When you build a web app with Ruby, remember that it will have only one busy core at a time.

  • Scaling

Scaling applications with the help of Ruby is possible, but it will require more resources and effort. Elixir does a better job in this regard.

  • Lack of developers

Though the Ruby coding language has been around for quite some time, the number of Ruby developers worldwide is not as high as desired. Sometimes companies continue to experience difficulties in trying to find professionals.

Elixir Pros and Cons

Advantages and Disadvantages of Elixir Programming
Advantages and Disadvantages of Elixir Programming

Elixir is not yet considered one of the most popular programming languages, but it is gaining traction from year to year. Its strong and weak aspects will help explain its growing popularity.

Advantages of Elixir

  • Elixir belongs to the Erlang VM languages

Elixir is created on top of the Erlang Virtual Machine, which is one of the oldest around. Erlang first appeared in 1986, and has proven to be very reliable ever since. Elixir has access to all Erlang features, which automatically contributes to its level of reliability and quality.

  • Elixir is a functional programming language

As mentioned above, functional programming means that it is possible to write accurate, but shorter code.

  • Performance

Elixir’s performance is great. Elixir is faster than Ruby because it is a compiled programming language.

  • Open Telecom Platform (OTP)

In this case, OTP is not referred to telecom, but is used to build software that has some of the features of telecom applications (concurrency and fault tolerance). OTP is written in the Erlang programming language, which means that Elixir can also make use of its capabilities.

  • Fault tolerance

The Elixir language allows for the building of web applications with many stable connections. With this architecture, nodes are independent of one another and if an error occurs, there is no single point of failure.

  • Scalability

Elixir is used to create web applications that receive a lot of traffic and thus have to be scalable in order to maintain the heavy load.

  • Concurrency

Backed by Erlang and OTP, Elixir is great for building apps with concurrent connections.

  • Exhaustive documentation

The documentation for Elixir programming is very informative and answers any question a developer might have. Additionally, there is Elixir Forum that is also useful to read in order to stay updated.

Disadvantages of Elixir

  • Elixir functional programming

One fact can be both a benefit and a drawback - belonging to a functional programming language also means that Elixir can be difficult for experienced developers to switch to, since most of them code in object-oriented languages.

  • Small talent pool

As Elixir is one of the newest programming languages, there is little talent in the market yet. Though companies have become interested in the opportunities this opens up and have already started to offer Elixir programming jobs, they face issues with finding professionals to fill said jobs.

  • Immature ecosystem

Elixir is not one of the most used programming languages yet, which means that there is not enough community to actively develop it further. The number of libraries for Elixir is still limited.

Rails vs. Phoenix: Comparison

Phoenix vs. Rails
Phoenix vs. Rails

Both Elixir and Ruby have at least one nice thing in common - they leverage great and modern web frameworks for their popularity and growth. This means that the final word about Elixir vs. Ruby will depend much on which of the web development frameworks is better and why.

Let’s define the criteria to take into account when analyzing the issue of Phoenix vs. Rails:

  • Performance
  • Syntax
  • 3rd party software - gems vs packages

  • Development speed

  • Stability
  • Traction
  • Talent pool

Performance

Ruby on Rails’ performance is much lower. With regard to its response times, they are measured in milliseconds while, with regard to Phoenix performance, the results take only microseconds.

You won’t always need such high speeds; sometimes it is still easier and more efficient to add a server to your Ruby on Rails project. However, if you are looking to build solutions with high availability, low latency, and concurrency, Phoenix and Elixir are just what you need.

Syntax

There is no winner in the Rails vs. Phoenix battle when it comes to their syntax; both frameworks are on an equal footing here. Phoenix syntax feels a lot like the syntax of Ruby on Rails. Both are clean and understandable.

Third-party software

Ruby on Rails programming presupposes the use of gems - third-party tools that make the process quicker. We’ve already mentioned that the ecosystem of Ruby is huge and the equally large number of gems proves this. This abundance greatly optimizes app development.

There are similar units in Phoenix programming called packages. Compared to the amount of gems available to Ruby on Rails developers, Elixir and Phoenix offer far fewer packages at this point. This is again because of their lifespan on the market as of today. In any case, if there is no ready-made solution that can make your work quicker, you can just code the needed functionality.

Development speed

As both web frameworks have many things in common, web app development using either of the options will take approximately the same amount of time.

Of course, as Elixir relies on functional programming, and Ruby on object-oriented development, there may be some issues. They will mostly occur if a programmer chooses to switch from one language to another. If a Ruby on Rails developer decides to start working with Elixir Phoenix or vice versa, they will need some time to get used to a new programming paradigm. If we are talking about seasoned coders, you should expect rapid development in either case.

Stability

The fact that Elixir is based on Erlang VM (BEAM) acts in favor of Phoenix, as Elixir and Phoenix are both very stable.

There is nothing that proves the contrary about Ruby on Rails. This web application framework has never let developers down, except for some occasional issues with gems during Ruby upgrades.

Traction

Apart from official documentation published by the creators of both frameworks, we should also take into account additional sources of information like tutorials, online courses, etc. In the question of Phoenix vs. Rails visibility, Ruby on Rails is still dominating.

Educational material for learning Ruby on Rails consists of a great number of screencasts, books, tutorials, and trainings. There are many enthusiastic developers and thought leaders in the Ruby and Rails worlds who have blogs dedicated to programming. All of this has a great impact on the development of the community and of the framework in general.

Our developers recommend the following Ruby on Rails tutorial to learn web development:
Ruby on Rails Tutorial (Rails 5) by Michael Hartl

The topic of Elixir programming and Phoenix web development has not yet been extensively covered. Nevertheless, there are some very good, reliable materials to study. You can find a list of recommended books, forums, and Phoenix framework tutorials on the Phoenix official page. Pay special attention to the book called Programming Phoenix, written by the Phoenix core team members.

Also check out the resources for learning Elixir

The current discussions about Phoenix vs. Rails and Elixir vs. Ruby means that these new players on the market are gaining in popularity. Why should experienced developers compare both programming languages and frameworks with each other?

Talent pool

There are, of course, more Ruby on Rails jobs than Phoenix and Elixir programming jobs. However, this doesn’t mean that there are enough developers in both cases to cover the demand. Actually, the number of professionals is an issue for both Ruby on Rails and Elixir Phoenix.

If you have a Ruby on Rails project or need to use Phoenix to develop the next web application, be ready to spend more time finding good contractors. With Phoenix, the task will be even more challenging. All in all, this is no reason to quit these web frameworks as there are talents on the market who know their business.

Let’s now summarize all the above details in a short table to make a quick overview of the advantages of Ruby on Rails over Phoenix, and vice versa.

Criteria Ruby on Rails Elixir Phoenix
Programming paradigm Object-oriented programming Functional programming
Architectural pattern MVC MVC
Performance/Speed Fast Very fast
Syntax Clean and understandable Clean and understandable
3rd party software A great number of gems Far fewer packages
Development speed Good Good
Stability Stable (used to have issues during software upgrades) Very stable (remember Erlang VM)
Traction Developed community
Many books and tutorials
Smaller community
Fewer additional materials
Talent pool More than for Phoenix, but still not enough sometimes Small talent pool

Elixir vs. Ruby: Uses of the Languages

Elixir vs. Ruby: When to Use?
Elixir vs. Ruby: When to Use?

The above comparison of Elixir vs. Ruby and Rails vs. Phoenix cannot alone define any leaders or losers. The point is that these two languages and frameworks can coexist without any competition and be actively utilized. It is possible to take advantage of both, but for different types of projects. All is simple if you have project requirements, strategy, and know the pros and cons of Rails and Phoenix. What you should do is to decide which of the frameworks is a good fit for your project based on the knowledge you already have.

Below, there are some hints to help you make your choice. Let’s start with Ruby uses.

What is Ruby Language Used For?

Many programmers believe that Ruby is the best language for web development. This title could be fair, especially if applied in the following cases:

  • Prototypes

Prototypes are built to tell the world about your idea and show investors or potential users what you are looking to create. Ruby performance is more than enough for this purpose.

  • MVP

MVP is usually created to quickly enter the market. Generally, new products usually do not receive much traction all at once, but gain users step by step. Ruby on Rails is a perfect choice to start with, as there is no need for Elixir scalability yet.

  • Small and fast apps

Small applications do not need the power of Elixir and Phoenix. Why should they require Elixir performance and scalability for a small set of features?

  • Apps with a small number of users

If you know that your application will be used by a limited number of users (e.g. by your employees only), Ruby on Rails will provide enough opportunities for you to implement desired features.

  • Websites

Ruby on Rails has been around for quite a long time and there are thousand of websites created with its help. It is still great for website development; however, there are cases when companies decide to migrate to Elixir. Bleacher Report chose this way to handle 8x more traffic and is completely satisfied with the results. Here we come to the question of scalability, which is Elixir’s domain, remember?

Time to move from Ruby language uses to Elixir use cases.

What is Elixir Used For?

The analysis of Elixir and Phoenix web development advantages shows that these technologies can be used for any project, but they are needed most for the following implementations:

  • Apps with concurrent connections

Concurrency hurts performance, but not if it is implemented in Elixir and Phoenix. If your application has chats, this means that there are already multiple connections that should work simultaneously. In this case, think of Elixir as a better solution than Ruby on Rails.

  • Apps with high user load

In Rails development, a great number of users need more server power and capacity for your app to handle the load. Elixir, on the contrary, won’t require additional servers to solve this issue, as it is scalable enough to handle the load without extra effort and expenses on servers.

  • Products that will need scaling in the future

The more scaling an app requires, the more you should think about migrating to Elixir if the application has not yet implemented its help.

  • Distributed systems

Fault tolerance makes Elixir a perfect solution for building distributed systems. One of the systems that is most discussed now is Blockchain. Elixir and Phoenix are perfect if you are looking to create a blockchain-based app.

  • IoT projects

An IoT system presupposes that there will be many concurrent connections and connected devices that should communicate with each other very quickly. This is a case where Elixir comes in handy, as it has shorter runtimes than Ruby does and copes with concurrency well.

Elixir vs. Ruby: Which is the Best Programming Language for Your Project?

Choose Between Elixir Programming and Ruby Programming
Choose Between Elixir Programming and Ruby Programming

Elixir vs. Ruby is not a complicated question if analyzed carefully. Our research shows that there is no need to contrast these languages so strictly.

Elixir with its Phoenix, and Ruby with its Rails, do have differences, but these differences are not that critical. In the past, when there was no Elixir, Ruby was the best programming language for web development. Now, we have two good back-end programming languages to choose from.

If you are facing the Elixir vs. Ruby/Phoenix vs. Rails dilemma, the best way to decide is to cater to the needs of your project. In fact, it is even possible to use both technologies in one project by choosing which of them works best for each individual feature. For example, you can implement chats with Elixir Phoenix, and the rest of the code can be written in Ruby on Rails.

We hope that our hints will help you make the right choice.

Have additional questions about Ruby and Elixir?

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. At MLSDev, we have experienced Ruby on Rails developers and we know Elixir, so we will definitely offer the best solution for you.

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