Ruby Vs. Ruby on Rails: Everything You Need to Know

Arjun Ruparelia
Arjun Ruparelia
Published: 20.09.2022

The first time you heard about Ruby and Ruby on Rails (also called Rails), you probably thought those terms meant the same thing. Though they have a few similarities, they’re different things meant for different purposes. In this guide, we help you better understand the differences between Ruby vs. Ruby on Rails.

Ruby is an object-oriented, general-purpose programming language. The open-source language is one of the most popular application frameworks — according to W3Techs it’s used by 5.7% of all websites (2021 data), based on the data of websites whose server-side programming W3Techs knows.

Ruby has a bright future, so it makes sense for you to invest time in learning it. But before you start, you should clearly understand what Ruby is, be able to draw a distinction between Ruby vs. Ruby on Rails, and understand their pros and cons.

What is Ruby?

Ruby is an object-oriented scripting language written in C, which supports all major platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix.

Yukihiro Matsumoto introduced Ruby in 1995 to help programmers gain speed when developing applications. Ruby is also the preferred choice among professionals in various other fields such as data science.

Ruby code shown on a laptop screen.

Since Yukihiro’s aim was to simplify web application coding, Ruby uses dynamic typing where the coding syntax is similar to spoken language. Most experts agree that Ruby’s syntaxes are easier to understand and write than other scripting languages like Python, Smalltalk, and PHP.

What is Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is a web development framework based on the model view controller (MVC) architecture. The MVC architecture allows separating the user interface, controlling logic, and data. Rails is the most popular Ruby development framework, but others like Hanami and Sinatra are also well-known.

Even though Ruby and Rails are different, Rails wouldn’t exist without Ruby. Rails was programmed in Ruby and introduced ten years after Ruby in 2005 to help web developers work more efficiently on server-side scripting, building web applications, and developing interface scripts.

Convention over configuration (CoC) and don’t repeat yourself (DRY) are fundamental to Rails’ efficiency. The DRY principle ensures you can simply write code once and move on without having to write the same syntax repeatedly. Rails also comes with added functionalities like the ability to accept HTML code within the script, which helps improve efficiency.

Ruby Vs. Ruby on Rails: 5 Key Differences

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what Ruby and Ruby on Rails are, let’s talk about how they differ.

Use Cases

Ruby and Ruby on Rails serve different purposes. Ruby is primarily used for developing desktop applications. If you want to create a desktop app, Rails can’t help you because it needs a web server to run.

On the other hand, Rails is more efficient for developing web applications. You still need to know Ruby to use Rails, but Rails simplifies the code and improves efficiency considerably. Rails is an excellent choice if you’re building a SaaS product and want to start with a minimum viable product (MVP).

Given the diverse use cases, it’s easy to outsource Ruby and Rails development to an external team. Be sure to use our best practices and job description template for hiring Rails developers before outsourcing.

Programming Language Vs. Framework

You still need to know Ruby to use Ruby on Rails.

Ruby is a programming language that can help build applications that can accept inputs from a user and instruct the computer on how to execute the user’s instructions.

Rails is a web development framework developed by a community that helps improve Ruby’s capabilities. Since Rails isn’t a programming language, it doesn’t have its own syntaxes but uses Ruby’s syntaxes instead.

Speed and Efficiency

Both Ruby and Rails were developed to improve development efficiency. However, Rails goes a step further to help developers speed up the code.

Ruby was designed to simplify coding compared to other object-oriented programming languages like C++, so you can develop Ruby scripts much faster and maintain them far more easily.

Ruby on rails code shown on a laptop screen.

Ruby on Rails takes things up a notch with its convention over configuration (CoC) approach. CoC emphasizes the use of convention — commonly used coding patterns — to minimize the number of decisions you need to make when writing code. CoC helps programmers be more productive and keep the code DRY.

Not having to customize configurations and manage configuration files saves programmers plenty of time. Programmers can dedicate this time to parts of the code that would benefit more from their attention instead of working on configurations that Rails can easily streamline.

Ease of Maintenance

Ruby makes writing and maintaining code easy with a simple syntax. Dynamic typing is especially helpful when it comes to ease of use. However, Ruby on Rails goes a step further to offer ease of use. Rails minimizes the need for repeating lines of code and uses CoC. These factors make the code cleaner and easier to maintain.

Use of Additional Languages

Ruby on Rails has the edge over Ruby on this front. You can use other languages in a Rails script, such as XML, HTML, and CSS. You can’t use other languages in Ruby, though. That’s why Rails offers a lot more room for retaining the design you initially imagined or came up with when creating a web app.

Ruby Vs. Ruby on Rails: Pros and Cons

Both Ruby and Rails are excellent languages for building an app. They have their own set of strengths that make those languages a good choice based on your specific use case. However, there are areas where they lack like any other language. Below, we discuss the pros and cons of Ruby and Rails.

Pros of Ruby

  • Memory Management: Memory management is how Ruby apps control and coordinate your computer’s main memory, making it easier to work with a complex algorithm or data structure. Multiple factors are involved in managing memory in Ruby, but the three main memory management factors include the Ruby runtime, system kernel, and the host operating system.
  • Fast Development Speed: Development speed was one of the most important factors. The syntax in Ruby allows for writing code faster, allowing programmers to create web apps within a short window of time without compromising on the code’s understandability.
  • Dependency Management: In Ruby’s context, a dependency mainly refers to a class. Ruby’s dependency management offers an easy way to operate and implement classes and ensures minimal dependency conflicts. Moreover, you can use a dependency manager like Bundler, which creates project-specific bundles of gems for your project.

Cons of Ruby

  • Overlooked Syntax Problems: The interpreter might ignore syntax problems given the massive codebase. This can encourage developers to overlook the problem. However, these problems should be addressed immediately to avoid more future errors.
  • Relatively New: Ruby hasn’t been around as long as other more popular languages. Many programmers view this as a disadvantage and would rather prefer to spend time solidifying their knowledge of languages they’re already familiar with.

Pros of Ruby on Rails

  • Massive Number of Library of Helpful Tools and Libraries: The community already has and continues to create “gems” and libraries that allow you to code faster. Gems don’t have any impact on the code’s content, but influences the overall software design. For example, some gems help debug the code, while others help during the testing phase.
  • Follows Industry Best Practices: Rails follows industry best practices, including CoC, DRY, and MVC. Rails uses industry conventions, which means it typically defaults to the best way of writing code in most cases. The DRY principle ensures the code is clean and easily maintainable.
  • Simple and Cost-Effective: Rails fast-tracks development, allowing you to save valuable time that can be spent writing more code. It’s also easier to learn than other frameworks, so you can outsource Rails development and have the in-house team work on more complex parts of the job. The gentle learning curve means you won’t have to invest much time or money learning the framework. Most importantly, you won’t have to spend excessive money on maintaining the code.

Cons of Ruby on Rails

  • Slow Application Performance: Sure, you can put together an application much faster than in other languages using Rails. However, once the application is ready for use, you might find that it runs slow. Applications coded in other languages are typically faster. That said, many popular platforms like Shopify and Twitter were created with Rails and continue to use it to this day.
  • Inflexibility: Rails is an opinionated framework. While the framework is helpful if you’re okay with Rails’ standard functionalities, you’ll need to spend a lot of time changing the code if you have something unique and specific in your mind.
  • Hard-to-Find Documentation: There’s a general lack of adequate documentation, especially for less popular gems and libraries that use a lot of mixins. You’ll need to look through the test suite to understand behavior better. However, if you like reading code more than written documentation, this isn’t too big a problem.


Q1. Is Rails the same as Ruby on Rails?

Rails and Ruby on Rails are not the same. Ruby is a programming language that helps create desktop applications, while Rails is a web development framework that helps develop web applications.

Q2. Should I learn node js or Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is ideal if you want to learn something easy. However, there are several drawbacks to Ruby on Rails, such as poor performance and difficulty in achieving concurrency. If you don’t mind spending a little more time learning, NodeJS might be a better choice. You’ll find more job opportunities if you know NodeJS and if you already know Java or C++, you’ll find the Node.js’ language familiar.

Q3. Is GitHub still using Rails?

Yes, the GitHub interface still uses Ruby on Rails. GitHub was originally written using Ruby on Rails and Erlang by GitHub developers Wanstrath, Hyett, and Preston-Werner. They co-founded GitHub in 2008 in San Francisco.

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