Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – The Right Approach To Web Development
Jun 2512 min read
Senior full stack developer and CTO at Ideamotive.
In the late 2004 popular American psychologist, Barry Schwarts came up with a bit counter-intuitive idea, that sometimes having a choice brings much more anxiety and suffering than being left without one. Although his book “The paradox of choice” was mainly about the consumer market, the statement remains true even on the B2B market. The proof is seen when it comes to choosing between Ruby on Rails and Node.js.
Ruby on Rails is a framework for Ruby programming language, designed mainly to swift up the code development process and eliminate the bottlenecks of the processes. The framework comes with several important features from the coders’ perspective. The most important is the “Don’t Repeat Yourself” rule, which forces the developer to reuse the components as often as possible, effectively reducing the hidden dependencies within the code and the possibility to ruin something when changes are applied.
Moreover, the framework aims to reduce the amount of required configuration by preparing the environment that is as much ready-to-go as possible. Hulu is one of the big companies using Ruby on Rails.
Throughout the years, Ruby on Rails was adopted by various web giants, including Hulu, Shopify, Airbnb, and GitHub.
Want to know everything about Ruby on Rails from the business standpoint? Read our Ruby on Rails from our comprehensive Ruby on Rails development guide. Over 70 pages of free, quality knowledge!
What is Node.js?
The project aims to enable developers to use a single programming language throughout the entire project, tackling the traditional separation of front-end and back-end technologies. It is most commonly used in designing the web applications executed in the real-time, like online games and communication tools.
Medium.com is not only based on Node.js, but also hosts the technology’s blog.
Just like Rails, Node.js is also commonly used by heavyweight IT players, including Microsoft, LinkedIn, SAP and IBM.
On the other hand, Ruby without Ruby on Rails web development framework remains a powerful and versatile programming language but is much less convenient to use.
Why compare them?
At first glance, both technologies appear to be similar. Both shine in the development of the online project and are used by web giants. Both have die-hard enthusiasts, ready to fight to the end in the internet battles.
The situation is far from being simple enough to provide a fair answer on which one to choose all the time. Considering that, we prepared this short guide to keep you informed.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – User Interface
As many web-based technologies, Ruby on Rails comes with many options to design the interface and deliver the user a more immersive and convenient experience. Yet – tools should be used what are they designed for and Ruby on Rails is not an exception. The language is designed to power the application, so leaving all the UX matters in the virtual hands of Ruby on Rails wouldn’t be the smartest move possible.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Architecture
Ruby on Rails is a framework, thus the developer is provided with many basic concepts, that powers coding with predefined architectural concepts. The convention over configuration approach enables the developer to focus on designing the code, not to tackle the configuration problems. With Ruby being the object-oriented programming, delivering the consistent and stable architecture is relatively easy.
Verdict: Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Speed of coding
Ruby on Rails (and Ruby itself) is one of the modern programming languages designed to be easy to use and to leverage all the modern IT tools. Considering that the Ruby on Rails programmers can deliver the code relatively easy and fast.
Verdict: Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails web development wins in terms of delivering the solution faster. In the end – it was designed to run all the backend work, not forced to do it by the runtime environment.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Performance
Node.js comes with Google-designed V8 engine and it really deserves its automotive-related name. It’s damn fast and its ability to write a high-speed asynchronous code is praised by many web developers. It shines especially in IO heavy operations.
Ruby on Rails is not fully supporting the asynchronous code and concurrency is much harder to achieve and requires more experience from developer. Thus, the performance of Ruby on Rails is visibly lower than in Node.js, although it may still shine in some CPU heavier scenarios.
Various benchmarks show that the performance of Node.js can be up to 20 times greater than the one provided by Ruby on Rails.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Popularity
The popularity of a technological solution might be sometimes difficult to assess. The battle between Ruby on Rails and Node.js is a great example that confirms this statement.
Let’s start with some raw numbers based on currently live websites.
Ruby on Rails is used on 1,899% of top 100k sites and 1,285% of top million sites while Node.js is seen on 1,987% and 0,983% respectively. The share exemplifies in 486,763 live websites powered by Ruby on Rails and 191,651 leveraging the Node.js technology.
Interestingly, Ruby on Rails remains dominant in almost every part of the world except for a handful of places. Here is a quick breakdown of the popularity of both of these solutions in some of the most technologically important countries:
All the above data is based on the report by SimilarTech as of the 4th of April 2020.
However, the number of live sites shouldn’t be the only way to measure the popularity of the technology. Some sites could be simply built a few years back and left running despite the IT world changing around. As Ruby on Rails was launched around 4 years before Node.js, it simply had more time to become a widely used solution.
So to make sure which technology is really more popular these days, let’s have a look at data from Google Trends.
Ruby on Rails (and Rails itself) on the other hand, are solutions for developers who tend to look for different, more unique ways of approaching problems. RoR never was and probably never will be a dominant technology among developers — even if it embraces the idea of easily understandable code.
Verdict: not yet
To fully understand how popularity affects the choice between Ruby on Rails and Node.js, we have to look at the other side of the coin — the community.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Community
Even the most robust and advanced technology may become a flop if it doesn’t gather enough developers around itself. If you jump into an online forum for expert developers, you’ll surely find there people talking about some new programming languages and frameworks that are considered interesting but unusable on a larger scale due to the scarce community using them.
The bigger community around technology, the more possible it is that someone already had a similar issue to yours, meaning it can be solved way faster than figuring it out by yourself. That’s why, when considering Ruby on Rails vs Node.js, it’s important to review the popularity of these solutions only within the community of developers.
And one of the best ways to measure the community around the technology is to have a look at GitHub. This is what we did below.
Personally, we would recommend to focus on the number of contributors and commits for each technology. These show the commitment of the community and how active it is the most. And in this category, Ruby on Rails is a clear winner - Node.js might have more stars, but Rails developers are the ones who truly love and explore their technology.
Verdict: Ruby on Rails
The numbers prove that someone who loved Rails once keeps loving it for years to come, actively supporting the community.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Stability
When the technology is backed and used by internet giants, serious problems with stability aren’t usually the case. Both technologies are used by heavyweight internet (and not only!) players and come with numerous users around the web.
Verdict: Ruby on Rails
The stability is not a case in this context – both technologies are stable and can be trusted. The difference is in modules and extensions, where Ruby on Rails dominates the clash.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Documentation
Both projects provide solid documentation on core components. The rest varies depending on the effort put by the team delivering the component. Considering the less strict approach to programming seen in Node.js, the add-ons may come in a less trustworthy quality than in Ruby on Rails.
Considering that, there is no clear way to point the better one.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – The maturity of the platform
Both technologies provide stable versions and are developed in regular releases. There are many companies relying on these technologies and looking for ways to leverage them in their projects.
Finally, both technologies can be easily used alongside and integrated with other popular solutions.
Considering that, there is no doubt that both technologies provide a solid and trustworthy base for any web-based project, be that e-commerce or a SaaS product.
Ruby on Rails vs Node.js – Case studies
Before we proceed with summarizing our findings, it’s good to consider the differences between Ruby on Rails and Node.js on real-life examples.
First, let’s start with Twitter. The famous social media platform is not using Ruby on Rails anymore, but it has been for many years. As some people say – without Rails, we might not have Twitter of today at all. The framework allowed the company to build its popularity fast, implementing new functionalities and improving its web app fast. The rapidness of writing good code is one of the most popular arguments for using Rails.
In the end, however, as we have already mentioned, Twitter moved from Rails. This is because of the scalability and performance issues. When Twitter really became a global phenomenon, Rails started to be not enough for the company’s needs.
LinkedIn has a similar case. They moved from Rails to Node.js due to the need for improving performance. As they have expanded to other countries, including China, the need for a quickly accessible platform for people from all over the world became a must.
We looked at Node and ran some load against it, at which point it would send a request out to something like six other services, grab that data, merge it, and then pop it back out in a fairly simple way. We just ran with that all the way up to about 50,000 QPS (queries per second). Along the way, we discovered that Node was roughly 20 times faster than what we had been using and its memory footprint was smaller as well.
Kiran Prasad, Senior Director of Mobile Engineering, LinkedIn
For many global IT companies, however, Rails still happens to be a viable and scalable solution. Years have passed since Twitter stopped using the framework and many improvements have been made. To make sure Rails still answers the modern needs, many of the Rails companies participate as contributors in the development of new versions of the framework.
The list of these companies includes GitHub who was using the beta version of Rails 6.0 and fully migrated to this new version of the framework just after 1.5 weeks after the official release.
There are so many wins to staying upgraded that go beyond more security, faster performance, and new features. By staying current with Rails master, we’re influencing the future of the framework to meet our needs and giving back to the open-source community in big ways. This process means that the GitHub codebase evolves alongside Rails instead of in response to Rails. Investing in our application by staying up to date with the Rails framework has had a tremendously positive effect on our code base and engineering teams. Staying current allows us to invest in our community, invest in our tools for the long term, and improve the experience of working with the GitHub codebase for our engineers.
With both technologies being powerful, flexible and mature, it is challenging to pick the winner. It rather depends on the type of web product you want to create.
To make you distinguish the differences between Ruby on Rails and Node.js easier, we’ve set up a quick round-up table below.
Ruby on Rails
Object-oriented Ruby is great for the back-end.
Speed of coding
Designed to deliver code rapidly.
Ruby is easy to learn, but it’s rarely the first language to be learned by devs.
Lower, especially with a team of inexperienced devs.
Great, powered by Google’s V8 engine. Performance up to 20x times better than RoR.
Similar since its best times. Many websites still run on Rails.
Constantly growing, surpassed Ruby on Rails in Google Trends a few years back, but still a lower number of sites live using Node.js.
Very active community; if you love Rails once, you’ll always love it.
A growing number of devs learn it, but the community still isn’t as active as Rails’ one.
Takes more effort to scale with keeping up a good performance.
A number of top companies use it and help in the development of new versions. Some have recently dropped the framework, though, mostly due to issues with scalability.
A number of top companies use it, it’s getting more and more popular.
When to use Node.js?
When there will be a MASSIVE number of requests – Node.js is visibly better performing than Ruby on Rails, so every app that is going to be heavy on requests to the process can benefit from choosing the Node.js over the Ruby on Rails.
When to use Ruby on Rails?
When the project is heavy on databases – Ruby on Rails shines when it comes to database management and operations on data. The ability to perform requests with the Ruby on Rails code instead of integrating the SQL code comes with numerous advantages and the swiftness of the process is just one of them.
When the clarity is a must – Ruby on Rails comes with numerous best practices and guidelines to follow when developing the project. When combined with the good and clear documentation, the code becomes easy to read, manage and develop by a large, distributed team.
When there is a need for rapid delivery – the framework itself comes with all the technologies the web app would need to be launched – the web server, the database, etc. Thus, there is no need for the integration and configuration or looking for the best match. This saves a lot of time and effort and the development team can just sit and start to code.
Whatever the project you have to deliver, picking the right tool is the first step to victory. What comes later is assembling a team of people who can actually handle the tool well and deliver the project on time and within budget.
Dawid is a full stack developer experienced in creating Ruby on Rails and React Native apps from naught to implementation. Technological superhero, delivering amazing solutions for our clients and helping them grow.