Very often our clients ask us the same question, “What is Ruby on Rails Used for?” When you consider developing a new project, choosing the right technology stack is vital. For Back-End development, you have various options: Python, Java, PHP, Ruby, and many more. But, how do you choose the right one?

The task of choosing between Ruby on Rails and other frameworks becomes easier if you know the pros and cons of this technology and what Ruby on Rails is used for. In this article, we are going to explain when Ruby on Rails is best applied, what projects can be built with it, and which companies successfully utilize it already. Read the article and you will know the answer to the question “What is Ruby on Rails Used for?”

Ruby and Rails: Overview of Web Technologies

Ruby on Rails: Technologies Overview
Ruby on Rails: Technologies Overview

Before talking about what Ruby on Rails is used for, we should first address the history and the purpose behind the creation of Ruby and Ruby on Rails, and what Ruby on Rails actually is. The purpose of Ruby on Rails often causes confusion, and below we will clear it up for you.

What is Ruby and where is it used?

So, let’s start with what Ruby is and what Ruby is used for. The main difference between Ruby and Ruby on Rails is hidden within their purpose. Ruby is a programming language that was created in the 1990s by Yukihiro "Matz" Matsumoto. The main task of Ruby is the fast creation of new projects with high performance. It is a general-purpose programming language just like C++ or PHP. Since 2002, the language has had 1,082 releases. The latest stable release (version Ruby 2.6.2) was on the 13th of March 2019. Ruby language demonstrates great results in its repository. You can see this for yourself:

Programming language Ruby PHP Python
Stars 15,556 22,776 23,643
Forks 4,140 5,357 9,453
Pull requests 201 open
1,912 closed
156 open
3,872 closed
1,025 open
11,823 closed

The above table shows that the Ruby programming language is being developed steadily and is surrounded by a large community.

Vast community support, user friendliness, simplicity, readability, flexibility, and community gems, which are coding scripts that simplify the development process, are the main advantages of the Ruby programming language that back-end developers name.

What is Ruby used for? This question does not have a straightforward answer since, just any general-purpose programming language, it is suitable for a wide array of programming tasks.

However, building new software using only Ruby is a tedious job. This is why a dedicated framework was created to streamline the development process.

What is Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails: Framework Overview
Ruby on Rails: Framework Overview

Rails is often named as the main reason behind Ruby’s popularity. Rails, or Ruby on Rails, is an open-source framework written with the Ruby programming language and founded in 2003 by David Heinemeier Hansson, who is also known by the name DHH. Creator of Ruby on Rails (RoR) framework developed it “for programmer happiness and beautiful code.”

Ruby on Rails companies don’t have to rewrite every single piece of code in the process of web application development, thus reducing the time spent on basic tasks. The Ruby on Rails framework significantly simplifies the process of website and application building by taking common repetitive tasks off the developers’ shoulders, such as the creation of forms, tables, and menus. Developers don’t have to build a new website or web application from scratch, as they can utilize out-of-the-box solutions for repetitive tasks. Below we’ll talk more about what Ruby on Rails is used for in real-life applications.

Why Ruby on Rails is So Popular

Ruby on Rails is a very popular framework. Research by Slant states that Ruby on Rails is in 5th place among the most popular frameworks for back-end development. The number of websites built with the framework account for 350,000+ all over the world, and this number is rapidly growing.

So, what underlies the Ruby on Rails popularity? There are a few things that make Ruby on Rails popular among development companies.

Ruby on Rails: Popularity Across Industries
Ruby on Rails: Popularity Across Industries

Open Source status is the first thing to take into consideration when choosing the right back-end framework. This means Ruby on Rails is free and can be used without any charge. Anyone can go and download the source code for further usage in their projects. This is often a difference maker when weighing the pros and cons of the “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” dilemma.

Since Ruby on Rails is open source, you can also contribute to the development and prosperity of the framework. If you think that some feature would make it better, you can submit your contribution for approval. This is how this web application framework has been developed for the last 10+ years.

Ruby on Rails has a huge community of talented and highly-experienced developers. The community develops a lot of free add-ons that can be integrated into applications. These are very useful for startups that want to launch a new feature-rich application within the shortest possible time.

The past few years have provided us with many success stories of startups that were able to launch a new web project on Ruby on Rails and acquire their first customers – all within a few weeks. Everything is possible thanks to a huge community and the support you can get as a result. If you are experiencing a problem, the likelihood is high that someone has already found the solution and is willing to share it with you. As a result, you can develop a solution more quickly. This is an important argument in favour of Ruby on Rails when considering the “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” dilemma.

Ruby on Rails Advantages and Disadvantages

The Pros and Cons of Ruby on Rails
The Pros and Cons of Ruby on Rails

Just like any other technology, Ruby on Rails has strengths and weaknesses. Without knowing all the ins and outs, you can’t make the right decision regarding Ruby on Rails development. Below you will find an extensive framework overview that will help you approach the “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” question with a more prepared perspective.

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Benefits of Ruby on Rails Development

So, why use Ruby on Rails? This back-end framework has a few winning arguments that no developer can ignore. Once all of them are combined, they reduce the development time and make the process more efficient.

Ruby on Rails development has a number of benefits for projects:

  • Extensive ecosystem
  • Ruby on Rails MVC
  • Consistency and clean code
  • DRY
  • High scalability
  • Security
  • Time and cost efficiency
  • RAD
  • Self-documentation
  • Test environment
  • Convention over configuration

  • Extensive ecosystem

Its ecosystem is what makes Ruby on Rails superior, as compared to many other frameworks. RubyGems, a Ruby community’s gem hosting service, provides access to thousands of various gems, which can take the form of add-ons, libraries, or software snippets. Gems are ready-made solutions for different problems that streamline the development process.

  • Ruby on Rails MVC

MVC is another integral part of the Ruby on Rails framework. The term stands for Model-View-Controller format. The approach separates the app work intro three subsystems, each of which is responsible for a set of actions:

  • Models handle data and business logic
  • Controllers handle the user interface and application
  • Views handle graphical user interface objects and presentation

Ruby on Rails MVC allows for parallel development and lets programmers speed up the engineering process three times over. The framework provides ready-to-use baskets for separation of the app business logic, so a Ruby on Rails web development company can save time through its utilization.

Ruby on Rails MVC
Ruby on Rails MVC

  • Consistency and clean code

Ruby on Rails developers can utilize the ready-to-use parts of code which simplifies the implementation of many features. As a result, the application code is clean and has high readability. All future updates are fast and seamless, as you have less code to read and sort through. This is an important characteristic that makes Ruby on Rails development both time and cost efficient.

  • DRY

DRY (Don’t Repeat Yourself) is another of the tenets Ruby on Rails is built on. If there’s a repetitive task, in Ruby on Rails development, you don’t have to write the same code again and again. The framework perceives a repetitive tasks in such a way that back-end developers can reuse them an unlimited number of times.

  • High scalability

Ruby on Rails scalability is another benefit to consider. An app built on RoR can be scaled to process thousands of requests per second sent by multiple users. A great example of high Ruby on Rails performance is the Shopify e-commerce platform, which processes up to 80k requests per second. This makes Ruby on Rails a great solution for apps that are actively growing their audience. This is also why you can find quite a few projects built on Ruby on Rails for e-commerce.

  • Security

Ruby on Rails takes no chances with security matters. Ruby on Rails security is another advantage. The framework has some security-centric features built in that make applications protected from SQL-injections and XSS attacks. As well, you can find a lot of gems that address other security threats.

  • Time and cost efficiency

Time is often the main deal breaker for startups. All of the features mentioned above combine to make Ruby on Rails time and cost efficient.

  • RAD

Rapid application development (RAD) is another sphere Ruby on Rails is used for. The framework streamlines the process of change accommodation.

  • Self-documentation

As we’ve previously mentioned, Ruby code is highly readable and self-documenting (self-describing). This makes the development process faster, as the development team doesn’t have to write out separate documentation. Newcomers on development teams should not have problems with grasping the concept and participating in existing projects.

  • Test environment

Ruby on Rails has three default environments, namely: production, development, and testing. The whole development cycle is optimized and you can test a product that is being developed at every stage. This results in fewer bugs and errors that you should be aware of and debug. This is an important factor to consider when trying to determine what is Ruby on Rails is used for.

  • Convention over configuration

Convention over configuration is one of the key principles of Ruby on Rails development. This reduces the time programmers spend on configuring files. Ruby on Rails framework has a set of rules that make it easier for aspiring Ruby on Rails developers to start using the framework. By using conventions, the code becomes readable and concise and allows for easy navigation inside a Ruby on Rails web application.

Downsides of Ruby on Rails Development

Disadvantages of Ruby on Rails Framework
Disadvantages of Ruby on Rails Framework

Despite having a lot of benefits, Ruby on Rails has a few disadvantages you need to consider before deciding what Ruby on Rails is used for and whether it is a fit or not:

  • Documentation
  • Runtime speed
  • Boot speed
  • Website hosting

  • Documentation

With Ruby on Rails framework, documentation is sometimes really challenging to seek out. The problem is particularly ever-present in the use of gems, as few developers tend to document everything.

  • Runtime speed

Ruby and Rails is fast, but not as fast as the vast majority of other object-oriented programming languages. Runtime speed is often named as the main argument against Ruby on Rails. When compared to the runtime speeds of Ruby on Rails vs Node.JS vs GoLang, Ruby on Rails lags behind. However, when we consider the Java framework Spring, RoR wins this battle. You are very unlikely to have bottlenecks in Ruby on Rails performance.

  • Boot speed

Developers often name boot speed one of the frustrating aspects about the Ruby on Rails framework. Depending on the number of files and gems utilized, it may take a significant amount of time to start the framework. Spring, a Rails application preloader, solved this problem somehow; however, there is still some work to be done to resolve the issue completely.

  • Website hosting

Not all website hosts support Ruby on Rails. The framework requires many more resources than PHP and low-end hosting providers can’t produce the necessary processing powers. However, you can find a lot of website hosting providers that do support Ruby on Rails applications.

How Ruby on Rails Differs from Other Programming Languages and Web Frameworks

It is impossible to make a well-thought-out decision regarding any technology without comparing it with other solutions on the market. Below, we compare Ruby on Rails with other popular languages for back-end development and dedicated frameworks: Python and Django, PHP and Laravel, Java and Spring.

All of these frameworks and programming languages are quite popular. Below, you can find information about the frameworks and their repositories:

Framework Ruby on Rails Django Laravel
Stars 42,803 40,895 51,570
Forks 17,251 17,591 15,703
Pull requests 753 open
22,606 closed
222 open
11,004 closed
1 open
3,339 closed

Ruby on Rails vs Python and Django

Ruby on Rails vs Python and Django
Ruby on Rails vs Python and Django

If you are considering different technologies for back-end development and are looking for the answer to the question “Which is better, Python and Django or Ruby on Rails?”, you won’t be able to avoid comparing these languages and their frameworks. While they are very similar in nature, their differences lie in their problem-solving approaches.

  • Languages
  • Python and Ruby are object-oriented and dynamically-typed languages. They are both open-source, with extensive communities and support from famous organizations.

  • Performance

  • When considering Ruby vs Python, you won’t find any significant differences in the level of performance.

  • Architecture

  • Both languages have MVC based architecture. An app created with both of them will be well-structured with basic divisions between layers: controllers, models, and views. However, Rails and Django address the task a little bit differently, but this won't cause any problems.

  • Syntaxes

  • Ruby and Python have different syntaxes. The first one was created for the code to have good style, while the latter was designed to be read easily like you would read any other language.

  • Magical vs configurational

When counter distinguishing Ruby on Rails vs Django, the main difference between them is the philosophy behind them. Ruby on Rails allows for the creation of less code to achieve the same results as with Python and Django.

Django requires configuration, while Ruby on Rails relies on conventions. This is why Ruby on Rails is often called a magical framework with a lot of work done behind the scenes.

  • Spheres of application

Although Ruby on Rails does not serve a particular niche, the main projects built with this framework are from the web application sphere. While Python and Django are utilized for web applications as well, they are also used in science, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Go with Django if:

  • You have a strong team of Python and Django developers.
  • Your project requires some specific libraries for machine learning or artificial intelligence, etc.

Go with Ruby on Rails if:

  • Your development team has in-depth knowledge of Ruby on Rails and knows how to utilize all of the provided resources.
  • If you need to create an application quickly (you can do real magic with gems).

Ruby on Rails vs PHP and Laravel

Ruby on Rails vs PHP and Laravel
Ruby on Rails vs PHP and Laravel

PHP and Laravel are another option often considered when contemplating Ruby on Rails. Laravel is the most popular PHP framework that is widely used by various companies for back-end development. Together, PHP and Laravel are a worthy opponent for Ruby on Rails.

  • Languages and frameworks

Both frameworks and programming languages are open source. Ruby and PHP are dynamically-typed languages that have huge communities and extensive support from companies all over the world.

You can find more information about the Ruby on Rails vs PHP comparison in our article Ruby on Rails vs. PHP: It’s Time to Set the Record Straight

  • Popularity

While Ruby on Rails and PHP Laravel are similar in popularity, the first technology is used mostly by startups and big corporations that need to develop a minimum valuable product (MVP) quickly and cost-efficiently. At the same time, individual developers and small companies tend to choose PHP and Laravel, as the job market is full of experienced PHP developers.

  • Syntaxes

The syntaxes of Ruby and PHP are very different. Ruby code is easy to read and maintain, while PHP code is often considered easy to write but very difficult to maintain. This is one of the reasons why many developers give up on the language. However, Laravel partly solves this problem, so it is not as pressing when using this framework.

  • Development time

The ability to develop a solution quickly is often a deciding factor in choosing between two or more technologies. Both Ruby on Rails and Laravel let you produce more in less time. You can create a new project from scratch within a small amount of time. However, if you need an application with a wide variety of features that will probably need to be scaled in the future, go with Ruby on Rails, as it provides a lot of gems.

  • E-commerce

If we talk about creating an e-commerce project, PHP and Laravel are considered to be more suitable for e-commerce websites. Supported ready-to-use solutions allow for the inclusion of additional features that enable the integration of sales analytics tools for the main business operations.

  • Performance

Performance is another important factor to consider. While the runtime speed of Ruby on Rails could be faster, the overall application performance built with both Ruby on Rails and PHP Laravel are comparable.

  • REST APIs

If you consider building an application that provides data to other apps, PHP and Laravel provide a good routing system, as it makes the creation of REST APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) easy and fast.

Want to know more about RESTful API?

Read our article A Beginner’s Tutorial for Understanding RESTful API where we've overviewed the main mechanisms behind it.

  • Convention over configuration

Ruby on Rails is famous for its ‘convention over configuration’ approach. The framework is tailored to suit specific development needs more efficiently and faster than PHP and Laravel.

Bet on Ruby on Rails if:

  • You need to create an application really quickly with a wide variety of complex features.

Go with PHP and Laravel if:

  • Your application will provide other apps with data, and you need to develop REST APIs.

Ruby on Rails vs Java and Spring

Ruby on Rails vs Java and Spring
Ruby on Rails vs Java and Spring

Java and Spring are the options worth considering before you start creating a new application.

  • Dynamic vs static typing

Let’s start our overview with the Ruby and Java languages. While the first one is a dynamically typed programming language, the latter belongs to a group of statically typed languages. While we could argue about the pros and cons of each language type, what developers choose is a matter of preference. We need to concentrate on another important factor.

It is widely known that statically typed languages show better runtime performance. It is possible due to checking types before running. On the other hand, dynamic typing provides programmers with better project support and changes.

  • Market share

When we compare market shares, Spring lags behind Ruby on Rails, as fewer companies use it in their projects. This data indicates that the popularity of Ruby on Rails is still high despite all the rumors.

  • Web application development

Do you have a great idea for a web application? In that case, don’t think and go for Ruby on Rails. If you choose Java and Spring, you will have to learn a few more technologies and things to bring a web application idea to life. The development is tedious, and thus time and money will be consumed at a greater rate.

  • Usage for small and big businesses

Java and Spring are a great solutions for enterprises with a huge exchange of data. These are far from being suitable for startups as it requires one to make a lot of tweaks to launch a new system from scratch. When considering what Ruby on Rails is used for, we need to remember that They are great for small businesses that are aspiring and growing.

Choose Ruby on Rails if:

  • You do not yet have a defined concept
  • Your timeframe is concise
  • You need constant project changes/revisions/updates
  • You need fast prototyping

Java and Spring is a good choice when:

  • You need an application with complex architecture
  • Time is not so critical for development
  • You have a final decision regarding functionality
Ruby on Rails Django Laravel Spring
Language Ruby, created in 1995 by Yukihiro Matsumoto Python, created in 1991 by Guido Van Rossum PHP, created in 1991 by Rasmus Lerdorf Java, created in 1995 by James Gosling
Language license Open source Open source Open source Open source
(OpenJDK implementation only)
Language type Object-oriented and dynamically typed Object-oriented and dynamically typed Object-oriented and dynamically typed Object-oriented and statically typed
Frameworks Ruby on Rails was created in 2005 by David Heinemeier Hansson Django was created in 2003 by Adrian Holovaty and Simon Willison Laravel was created in 2011 by Taylor Otwell Spring was released in 2002 by Pivotal
Spheres of application Mainly in web applications In web applications, science, machine learning, artificial intelligence In web applications, e-commerce Complex applications
Framework license Open source Open source Open source Open source
Companies using Airbnb, CrunchBase, Bloomberg, GitHub, Zendesk, Dribble Disqus, Instagram, Spotify, YouTube, The Washington Post, Dropbox, Eventbrite 9GaG, UNION, Geocodio, Webedia, Needful Co. MIT, FitBit, Edify, Zillow, BillGuard

What Ruby on Rails is Used for: Types of Projects

What is Ruby on Rails Used for: Types of Projects
What is Ruby on Rails Used for: Types of Projects

Now that we know about Ruby on Rails’ advantages and disadvantages, it is time to answer the question “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” Ruby on Rails is a multi-purpose tool that can be utilized in projects from different spheres to develop various types of applications.

  • E-commerce application development

Perhaps the most vivid example of what Ruby on Rails is used for is the Shopify platform. E-commerce companies use the framework as it offers a wide range of tools. Etsy and Brandless are two more great examples of Ruby on Rails’ e-commerce usage.

  • Social-media-like applications

Twitter, one of the most popular communication apps to date, was initially built with the Ruby on Rails framework. Two other famous examples include Dribbble and Basecamp. These, and the previous Ruby on Rails app examples, dispel doubts as to the ability of such an app to be scaled up to business needs. The Couchsurfing platform shows that Ruby on Rails is still relevant for this sphere.

  • Fintech sphere

Fintech is not the sphere that first comes to mind when asked “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” However, Ruby on Rails eliminates the most pressing programming problems and helps to deliver a complex project quickly. The Squareup payment system and Fundera lending platform are great examples of how Ruby on Rails’ framework can be utilized in the fintech industry.

  • SaaS projects

The answer to the question “what is Ruby on Rails used for?” cannot be considered complete without mentioning the Software as a Service project. If you are considering creating such a solution, we highly recommend looking into Ruby on Rails development. Basecamp and Zendesk are great examples in this regard.

  • Live-streaming apps

Live-streaming applications are more popular now than ever before. Twitch, the most popular gaming live-stream service, demonstrates the full potential of Ruby on Rails development in this industry.

  • News, trading and data analytics platforms

If your application idea is centered around news, data analytics, or both of these spheres combined, go for Ruby on Rails. The most famous Ruby on Rails example in this case is Bloomberg. All of its web applications are based on Ruby on Rails. And, as you might know, it is a world-renowned financial data provider.

As you can see, the “What is Ruby on Rails used for?” question is a multi-answer one. It is genuinely a cross-industry framework. A highly-professional Ruby on Rails web development company can build almost anything with it.

What is Ruby on Rails Used for: Real Examples

Companies that use Ruby on Rails
Companies that use Ruby on Rails

So, what is Ruby on Rails used for in real life? We’ve mentioned a few Ruby on Rails projects in the previous section, and here we will dive deeper and give an overview of the most famous companies that use Ruby on Rails. The Ruby on Rails framework receives support from world giants and innovative startups all over the world, and the number of companies using Ruby on Rails increases day after day.

  • Basecamp

Basecamp is probably the most important project in the history of Ruby on Rails. There is a direct correlation between Basecamp and Ruby on Rails, as Rails was invented in 2003 by David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at Basecamp. It is considered to be #1 project development tool. This is the first project that comes to mind when asked: “what is Ruby on Rails used for?”

  • GitHub

This web-based hosting service was launched in 2008 and, at that time, was built entirely with the Ruby on Rails framework. So far, the service still widely utilizes the technology, but lately has also started building functionality with Go, Java, and Haskell.

  • Airbnb

Nearly everyone has likely heard about this apartment booking service. Did you know that it uses Ruby on Rails framework? The service has more than 150 million users, and even more guests, who can make bookings in more than 65,000 cities all over the world.

Read our article Mobile Travel App Development to find out more about travel apps types and how to develop them.

  • CrunchBase

CrunchBase is like an innovative reference book for startups. TechCrunch, a large tech news portal, powers the services and uses Ruby on Rails for back-end and Varnish for website caching.

  • Indiegogo and Kickstarter

These two international crowdfunding web applications give users the ability to raise money for their interesting and innovative projects. Indiegogo and Kickstarter are also two Ruby on Rails websites.

  • CafePress

This online gift portal is another vibrant example of a Ruby on Rails web application. The platform hosts more than a billion products of all kinds.

  • Ruby on Rails CMS platforms

There are multiple content management systems (CMS) built with Ruby on Rails. They are all free, open-source platforms that can be integrated into your projects. Examples include names like Radiant, Adma CMA, Casein, BrowserCMS, and Refinery.

The Future of Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails Future
Ruby on Rails Future

You can easily find that thousands of companies all over the world utilize Ruby on Rails in web application development, providing support and shaping the way the framework is being developed. The question "What is Ruby on Rails used for?” does not have a single answer.

This technology does not serve any particular niche. It can be used to build various types of projects and offers a wide range of gems that streamline the development process.

Ruby on Rails is evolving at a rapid pace. The demand for a tool that offers a way, or rather many ways, to create a new project from scratch in the shortest time possible will only grow as more and more startups emerge on a daily basis.

Everyone is waiting for Yukihiro Matsumoto to release Ruby version 3.0. The programming language creator is planning to increase the speed of Ruby three times over as compared with the current version. As a result, we can expect to see Ruby on Rails becoming 3x times faster. The release is planned for the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020. A lot of awesome stuff is in the future.

Ruby on Rails Popularity vs Other Frameworks
Ruby on Rails Popularity vs Other Frameworks

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