Ruby on Rails - Deserves the Hype?

Ruby on Rails' Impact on Productivity

Rails is an integrated framework that utilizes the dynamic nature of the object-oriented Ruby programming language. Rails developers emphasize features of the framework for productivity rather than tools, and they take a common approach to Web architecture that should satisfy the needs of a large portion of the Web application projects in the wild.

As Rails was developed, the innovators of the framework realized that there were a multitude of features inherent to the framework that could benefit all Web applications. Rails is an extremely productive framework for database-backed Web applications. It is different from other frameworks in that it preaches convention over configuration. Typically, if you were building a computer program, you had to start from scratch and rely heavily on the skills and experience of the team's architect to develop and adhere to standards of writing good software. Rails primarily uses conventions to avoid configuration when possible, resulting in time saving and enhanced productivity. In a study by IBM, Rails applications needed a fraction of the configuration code of Java counterparts, often by a factor of ten or more (1). Where the programmer must specify configuration, Rails usually relies on Ruby programming language to provide configuration. The strategy saves developers many lines of code and simplifies the code that does need to be written. By taking mundane but essential decisions away from the developer, productivity increases substantially because more time and attention is spent satisfying the customer's requirements rather than the technical plumbing that can burden most projects.

Ruby on Rails is known for its ability to build Web applications quickly and with ease. For first-time users of Java, it could take about five to ten days to build a moderately useful Web application that will communicate with a database using accepted Java Web best-practices such as separating business logic, from display logic (commonly referred to as Model-View-Controller). With no prior training on Ruby on Rails, it takes about one day to accomplish the same goal using the Ruby programming language. In several more days, it is possible to build a relatively complete Web application with Ruby on Rails.

In Java, a developer has countless decisions to make about how to proceed when communicating with a database. Should I use JDBC? Should I use an Object-Relational-Mapping (ORM) library, and, if I use an ORM, which one should I choose? TopLink? Hibernate? JDO? Do I need to use EJB2 or EJB3? Rails has an ORM database layer built into its framework called ActiveRecord. Another useful feature of Rails is scaffolding - Similar to how a building under construction uses scaffolding to assist in the construction of the final structure, Rails can generate code called scaffolding that can be used to quickly put up functional Web pages that talk to a database and allow you to add, delete and change information quickly and with very little coding. As previously mentioned, in other languages you have to select naming conventions and define the general structure of the file system, while Rails utilizes conventions and the Ruby programming language so that all of that is provided for you. Managers will appreciate the fact that Rails minimizes configuration and encourages standardization. This feature enables programming skills to be more portable. Rails developers can move from one project to another with ease, since standards common to all development projects, such as naming conventions, directory structures, unit-test frameworks, and interface templates, are already decided, with working samples always available.

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Francis Wong Francis Wong is an independent consultant and senior technical trainer for WestLake Training and Development. He has developed software applications for many well-known companies such as AOL, Hitac...


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