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Rails vs Node - Help me Decide


Rails, is a server-side web application framework written in Ruby. Rails is a model–view–controller (MVC) framework, providing default structures for a database, a web service, and for web pages. Node.Js is a JavaScript runtime built on Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine. It uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient.

In this post, we’ll objectively look at a few of their differences, strengths and weaknesses to help you decide which, and when to use these technologies.

Community Support

Node The Node.Js community is broad, inclusive, and excited to enable as many users to contribute in whatever way they can. It is worthy to note that Node.Js has a package manager npm which has the largest ecosystem of open source libraries in the world. Node.Js also enjoys the support of the wider JavaScript community network.

As a way of keeping developers in sync, Node.Js has a committee that is directly in charge of global outward-facing community outreach efforts. They also organize local and international meetups and conferences to bring developers together. Node has not been around as much as the likes of Rails and Django, however, it is gaining steady popularity and usage. So far it has received, 54.3k stars, 11.7k repo forks with 2.1k contributions on Github.

Node Github repo

Community Support

Rails Rails have been in existence way longer than Node.Js hence, it has a very broad community support. The vast number of Plugins and Ruby Gems available for Rails has made it one of the most supported web framework available. Given that Rails has been around for a long time, it has a lot of people actively using and contributing. You can get involved with the community online on the Ruby on Rails: Talk mailing list, the Ruby on Rails StackOverflow Q&A tag, or the #rubyonrails IRC channel on Freenode.

As a way of keeping the community spirit high and bringing members together, they also do a yearly RailsConf conference for people to meet and share in real life. So far, Rails has received 41.1k stars, 16.6k repo forks with 3.6k contributions on Github.

Rails Github repo

Pros and Cons

Now, let’s take a look at a few strengths and weaknesses of these technologies and hopefully help you decide which will best suit your needs.

Node.js Pros and Cons

The Pros:

High Market Demand At this time, Node.js is on the cutting edge of web development, and the excitement for Rails has really gone down. More companies are hiring JS developers than any other language. This makes Node almost the most in-demand back-end solution right now. Data from Indeed shows that there 9.4K job postings for Node and 3.3K postings for Rails. TechMagic also shows a graph of Node.Js job trends vs that of Rails.

Comprehensive Node.JS covers everything from HTTP server to templating engine etc. Rails rely on something like Nginx or Apache with mod_rails to work. Moreso, it has the same language on both the client and server side making it even more lucrative and comprehensive. Plesk did a comparison post that further showcases this as well as Codeburst Node.js Cons.

High Performance Because of the fantastic npm modules available to Node.js, and the Chrome’s v8 JavaScript engine, it is vigorously fast. When performance is a factor, Node.js performance better than Rails, more like better than any other web framework as it runs on the Google JavaScript engine which is lightning fast. Moreso, half of the respondents of Node.js 2017 User Survey noticed improved application performance in comparison to other solutions. Also, LinkedIn replaced their back-end mobile infrastructure built on Ruby on Rails with Node.Js some time ago for performance and scalability reasons.

Scalability Because Node is asynchronous and runs on a single thread, it has been found by many companies to be very scalable. As a matter of fact, companies like Twitters new web stack is built on Node.js.

The Cons:

Single CPU Node.Js is bound to a single CPU, and as a result, it is not suitable for processor intensive tasks according to this recent findings on Codeburst.

Unending Frameworks Just like JavaScript, Node.js has tons of frameworks and there’s still more coming every day. This can get a little weary for developers as they will have to constantly learn the new frameworks to stay up to par. According to Pramod on Codeburst, Node.js remains inconsistent with it’s changing API’s but might change for good in time.

Not so backward compatible Because of the inconsistency in Node.Js API’s, it keeps changing at frequent intervals. As a result, it is often not very backward compatible. A statement on the release website just showed that they have made minor changes to support backward-compatibility.

Asynchronous Node is asynchronous. Hence, you’re going to run into a lot of callback functions that can potentially pile up to what is called a callback hell. However, the Node.js community has devised a few ways to prevent this on CypherTrick.

Rails Pros and Cons

The Pros: Consistency Rails is very consistent in it’s development structure given that it follows the MVC pattern. As a result, most, if not all Rails applications will look the same with regards to core files and application structure. According to Mical on NetGuru, Rails still maintain one of the best industry standards.

Development efficiency Rails has an efficient system of modules and a package manager that makes it super easy. It also has tons of gems that could serve for pretty much any purpose. This in turn speeds up development time and increases productivity.

Ease of migration Rails is also one of the very few web frameworks that has a really good database migration functionality. Creating, editing and updating tables and columns in databases can be done directly on Rails without having to change settings on the database manually.

Vibrant community According to Micals RoR community post, Rails has an amazing community of developers who are constantly working to improve Rails by way of addition of new functionalities, creation of guides, attending to issues, etc.

The Cons: Performance One of the major pitfalls of Rails is that it is relatively slow. Both the runtime speed and the boot time speed are all slow as compared to that of their alternatives Node.js and GoLang. As a result, LinkedIn replaced their back-end mobile infrastructure built on Ruby on Rails with Node.Js some time ago for performance and scalability reasons.

Errors are expensive to fix If you’re able to be thorough and pay attention to all the small details during development, Rails will definitely be your helpful friend. However, if you make a wrong architecture decision during development, it could turn into a very expensive ordeal. Rails structural deficiencies are hard to fix because Rails is an open framework, where all components are tightly coupled and depend on each other. For instance, too much reliance on ActiveRecord makes an application logic tightly coupled with database models, which leads to maintainability problems in the long run.

Scaling Rails has been understood to have major scaling issues for big projects. As much as it works well for small applications, once capacity grows and you have need for scaling, it gets generally difficult with Rails. Company’s like Twitter has had to move away from Rails at some point when they faced a major scaling issue.

Strict nature Rails is a very opinionated framework as some will say. It forces you to follow a particular way. Some do see it as a good thing but we understand that flexibility is important not just for the project but for the developers creative skill.

Learning curve

Rails learning curve Rails follows the MVC structure, this makes it easier to understand for developers who are already familiar with the MVC framework. It however makes it a bit more difficult for non MVC experienced developers when trying to quickly get started on Rails. Moreso, it is vast with tons of gems and libraries, it takes quiet some time to get experienced with the framework given the number of tools you’ll need to get familiar with.

Node.Js learning curve Node runs on JavaScript, which according to BusinessInsider is the most popular and in demand language in the world. This alone makes it pretty much easy to use given the fact that almost every developer (even non JavaScript developers) are in certain ways very familiar with JavaScript syntax and concepts. However, it is worthy to note that Node itself is different from JavaScript, but being that it was built with JavaScript, JavaScript developers use it to maintain stack consistency. This however, means that developers coming from non JavaScript backgrounds like (Java, C#, PHP etc) will have to first understand JavaScript in order to efficiently use Node.

Getting started

Getting started with Rails:

  • Step1: Download and install Ruby and SQLite3
  • Step2: Confirm installation by running this command:
    $ ruby -v
    // this should print a value like this
    // ruby 2.3.1p112

Rails require Ruby version 2.2.2 or later.

  • Step3: If you are working on Windows, you should also install the Ruby Installer Development Kit.
  • Step4: Confirm SQLite3 version by running this command:
    $ sqlite3 --version 
  • Step5: Install Rails using the gem installation command:
    $ gem install rails
  • Step6: Verify Rails installation by running this command:
    $ rails --version
  • Step7: Create a new Rails app, switch to it’s folder and start the server:
    //create a new app "newProject"
    $ rails new newProject
    // swicth to the project folder
    $ cd newProject
    // start the server
    $ bin/rails server

Now open a browser window and navigate to localhost:3000. You should see the Rails default information page:

Getting started with Node.Js:

  • Step1: Download and install Node
  • Step2: Confirm Node version:
    $ node -v
  • Step3: Create new Node project, switch to the project folder and open it up in VSCode:
    // create project folder
    $ mkdir newProject
    // switch into the project folder
    $ cd newProject
    // initialize a Node project in it
    $ npm init -y
    // ... next open up the project folder in your editor ... //
    $ code .
  • Step4: Create an app.js file in the project root directory and update it with the code:
    const http = require('http');
    const hostname = '127.0.0.1';
    const port = 3000;

    const server = http.createServer((req, res) => {
      res.statusCode = 200;
      res.setHeader('Content-Type', 'text/plain');
      res.end('Hello World\n');
    });
    server.listen(port, hostname, () => {
      console.log(`Server running at http://${hostname}:${port}/`);
    });
  • Step5: Run the Node app:
    $ node app.js

Now visit localhost:3000 and you will see a message 'Hello Node!!' with this output:

Performance

Performance is a major issue for the Ruby on Rails community. Given that the framework is heavy and embodies a large number of mixins and gems that further contributes to the slow runtime and boot time of Rails applications. As compared with the likes of Node.Js, GoLang and Python, they all outperform Rails given that it has the lowest runtime and boot time speed.

That said, Rails has been making consistent improvements to increase performance. This has kept all the big companies running on Rails afloat without issues till date. On the 16th of September 2018, Daniel J Colson posted on the Rails blog about some major performance improvements some of which are:

  1. Do less work and use less memory - This successfully replaced 1682 system calls with just 14.
  2. Use faster globs for template resolving - This made file storage 1.58% faster, stopped the allocation of arrays on no args etc.

You can also check out the full list of the most recent changes on their Github repo.

Node on the other hand is a JavaScript runtime powered by Chrome v8 JavaScript engine which makes it lightning fast. As a result, Node has one of the fastest runtime and boot time speed. Node.Js also owes its fast performance to the fact that it is single-threaded and asynchronous. This means that every I/O operation doesn’t block other operations. Hence, you can read files, send mails, query the database, etc all at the same time.

Companies and individuals have found their applications to be twice and thrice faster with Node than with other conventional frameworks. However, given that it is single threaded, performance suffers a bit of a downfall during heavy CPU intensive tasks.

image from Techmagic on medium

As can be seen from the table above, Rails has the slowest runtime when compared with the likes of Java and JavaScript.

Community Impact Numbers

These technology are both widely used by developers around the world. We’ll curate the ratings given by users on different platforms as at the time of writing to help you understand how other developers see them:

Platform specific metrics:

| Framework | Hackernews Pts | Reddit Pts | StackOverflow Qs | Github Stars | Stack Jobs | | ------------- | ------------------ | -------------- | -------------------- | ---------------- | -------------- | | Node | 3.86K | 3.4K | 246K | 54.3k | 5.21K | | Rails | 2.37K | 1.29K | 298K | 41.1K | 3.95K |

According to this Stackshare ratings, 2178 companies on their platform use Rails including twitter, AirBnb and Codecademy. It also integrates with over 39 tools. The same ratings puts Node.Js on 3404 companies and 93 tools.

Conclusion

Node.Js is perfect for web apps, mobile apps, real-time applications (instant messaging, live chat), online gaming apps, e-commerce transaction software, and much more. It's also a good choice if you're dealing with microservice architecture, which can lay the foundation for advanced systems – bear in mind that apps like Netflix or Uber were built using Node.Js.

Rails is definitely one of the best web development frameworks to consider for your next project. With Rails, you can do pretty much the same as with other good frameworks. The excellent community, a quality code base, the sheer size of the module database, and the maintainability of Rails applications made it the preferred choice for such successful projects as Airbnb, GitHub, BaseCamp, Zendesk, and Bloomberg. However, the devil is in the detail. Rails is surely a good choice if your project has tight deadlines and budget requirements.

Node.js vs Rails: What are the differences?

Node.js: A platform built on Chrome's JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices; Rails: Web development that doesn't hurt. Rails is a web-application framework that includes everything needed to create database-backed web applications according to the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern.

Node.js and Rails can be categorized as "Frameworks (Full Stack)" tools.

"Npm", "Javascript" and "Great libraries" are the key factors why developers consider Node.js; whereas "Rapid development", "Great gems" and "Great community" are the primary reasons why Rails is favored.

Node.js and Rails are both open source tools. Rails with 43.6K GitHub stars and 17.5K forks on GitHub appears to be more popular than Node.js with 35.5K GitHub stars and 7.78K GitHub forks.

According to the StackShare community, Node.js has a broader approval, being mentioned in 4102 company stacks & 4028 developers stacks; compared to Rails, which is listed in 2321 company stacks and 796 developer stacks.

What is Node.js?

Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.

What is Rails?

Rails is a web-application framework that includes everything needed to create database-backed web applications according to the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern.

Want advice about which of these to choose?Ask the StackShare community!

Why do developers choose Node.js?
Why do developers choose Rails?
What are the cons of using Node.js?
What are the cons of using Rails?
What companies use Node.js?
What companies use Rails?
What are some alternatives to Node.js and Rails?
AngularJS
AngularJS lets you write client-side web applications as if you had a smarter browser. It lets you use good old HTML (or HAML, Jade and friends!) as your template language and lets you extend HTML’s syntax to express your application’s components clearly and succinctly. It automatically synchronizes data from your UI (view) with your JavaScript objects (model) through 2-way data binding.
PHP
Fast, flexible and pragmatic, PHP powers everything from your blog to the most popular websites in the world.
Python
Python is a general purpose programming language created by Guido Van Rossum. Python is most praised for its elegant syntax and readable code, if you are just beginning your programming career python suits you best.
JavaScript
JavaScript is most known as the scripting language for Web pages, but used in many non-browser environments as well such as node.js or Apache CouchDB. It is a prototype-based, multi-paradigm scripting language that is dynamic,and supports object-oriented, imperative, and functional programming styles.
React
Lots of people use React as the V in MVC. Since React makes no assumptions about the rest of your technology stack, it's easy to try it out on a small feature in an existing project.
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What tools integrate with Node.js?
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    Decisions about Node.js and Rails
    No stack decisions found
    Interest over time
    Reviews of Node.js and Rails
    Avatar of mihaicracan
    Web Developer, Freelancer
    Review ofNode.jsNode.js

    I have benchmarked Node.js and other popular frameworks using a real life application example. You can find the results here: https://medium.com/@mihaigeorge.c/web-rest-api-benchmark-on-a-real-life-application-ebb743a5d7a3

    How developers use Node.js and Rails
    Avatar of StackShare
    StackShare uses RailsRails

    The first live version of Leanstack was actually a WordPress site. There wasn’t a whole lot going on at first. We had static pages with static content that needed to be updated manually. Then came the concept of user-generated content and we made the switch to a full on Rails app in November of last year. Nick had a lot of experience with Rails so that made the decision pretty easy. But I had also played around with Rails previously and was comfortable working with it. I also knew I’d need to hire engineers with a lot more experience building web apps than I do, so I wanted to go with a language and framework other people would have experience with. Also, the sheer number of gems and tools available for Rails is pretty amazing (shout to RubyToolbox ).

    I don’t see us ever having to move away from Rails really, but I could be wrong. Leanstack was built in Rails 3. For StackShare we decided to upgrade to Rails 4. Biggest issue with that has been caching. DHH decided to remove the standard page and action caching in favor of key-based caching (source)[http://edgeguides.rubyonrails.org/caching_with_rails.html#page-caching]. Probably a good thing from a framework-perspective. But pretty shitty to have to learn about that after testing out your new app and realizing nothing is cached anymore :( We’ll need to spend some more time implementing "Russian Doll Caching", but for now we’ve got a random mixture of fragment and action caching (usually one or the other) based on which pages are most popular.

    Avatar of Karma
    Karma uses RailsRails

    We use Rails for webpages and projects, not for backend services. Actually if you click through our website, you won't notice it but you're clicking though, I think, seven or eight different Rails projects. We tie those all together with a front-end library that we wrote, which basically makes sure that you have a consistent experience over all these different Rails apps.

    It's a gem, we call it Karmeleon. It's not a gem that we released. It's an internal gem. Basically what it does is it makes sure that we have a consistent layout across multiple Rails apps. Then we can share stuff like a menu bar or footer or that kind of stuff.

    So if we start a new front end project it's always a Rails application. We pull in the Karmeleon gem with all our styling stuff and then basically the application is almost ready to be deployed. That would be an empty page, but you would still have top bar, footer, you have some custom components that you can immediately use. So it kind of bootstraps our entire project to be a front end project.

    Avatar of MaxCDN
    MaxCDN uses Node.jsNode.js

    We decided to move the provisioning process to an API-driven process, and had to decide among a few implementation languages:

    • Go, the server-side language from Google
    • NodeJS, an asynchronous framework in Javascript

    We built prototypes in both languages, and decided on NodeJS:

    • NodeJS is asynchronous-by-default, which suited the problem domain. Provisioning is more like “start the job, let me know when you’re done” than a traditional C-style program that’s CPU-bound and needs low-level efficiency.
    • NodeJS acts as an HTTP-based service, so exposing the API was trivial

    Getting into the headspace and internalizing the assumptions of a tool helps pick the right one. NodeJS assumes services will be non-blocking/event-driven and HTTP-accessible, which snapped into our scenario perfectly. The new NodeJS architecture resulted in a staggering 95% reduction in processing time: requests went from 7.5 seconds to under a second.

    Avatar of Trello
    Trello uses Node.jsNode.js

    The server side of Trello is built in Node.js. We knew we wanted instant propagation of updates, which meant that we needed to be able to hold a lot of open connections, so an event-driven, non-blocking server seemed like a good choice. Node also turned out to be an amazing prototyping tool for a single-page app. The prototype version of the Trello server was really just a library of functions that operated on arrays of Models in the memory of a single Node.js process, and the client simply invoked those functions through a very thin wrapper over a WebSocket. This was a very fast way for us to get started trying things out with Trello and making sure that the design was headed in the right direction. We used the prototype version to manage the development of Trello and other internal projects at Fog Creek.

    Avatar of AngeloR
    AngeloR uses Node.jsNode.js

    All backend code is done in node.js

    We have a SOA for our systems. It isn't quite Microservices jsut yet, but it does provide domain encapsulation for our systems allowing the leaderboards to fail without affecting the login or education content.

    We've written a few internal modules including a very simple api framework.

    I ended up picking Node.js because the game client is entirely in JavaScript as well. This choice made it a lot easier for developers to cross borders between being "client side" game developers and "server side" game developers. It also meant that the pool of knowledge/best practices is applicable almost across the company.

    Avatar of Tony Manso
    Tony Manso uses Node.jsNode.js

    Node.js is the foundation for the server. Using Express.js for serving up web content, and sockets.io for synchronizing communications between all clients and the server, the entire game runs as Javascript in Node.js.

    I don't know how well this will scale if/when I have hundreds of people connected simultaneously, but I suspect that when that time comes, it may be just a matter of increasing the hardware.

    As for why I chose Node.js... I just love JavaScript! My code is all original, meaning that I didn't have to inherit anyone's bad Javascript. I'm perfectly capable of creating my own bad Javascript, thank you! Also, npm rocks!

    Avatar of Tarun Singh
    Tarun Singh uses Node.jsNode.js

    Used node.js server as backend. Interacts with MongoDB using MongoSkin package which is a wrapper for the MongoDB node.js driver. It uses express for routing and cors package for enabling cors and eyes package for enhancing readability of logs. Also I use nodemon which takes away the effort to restart the server after making changes.

    Avatar of Instacart
    Instacart uses RailsRails

    Web has always been in Rails from the beginning, so we used Redis for caching our items, which we had, from the beginning. Rails is kind of what we were comfortable with, and we knew we wanted the front end to be really, really snappy, so we de-normalized all the item attributes into Redis, and that's how it got served out.

    Avatar of Tim Lucas
    Tim Lucas uses RailsRails

    Rails 5 (beta 3) provided a nice structure for rendering responses, linking to front-end assets (compiled previously via Webpack), handling sessions w/ tailor made login links via an email button/token, background jobs, and creating an admin behind basic auth to allow managing of users and purchases.

    Avatar of Ngakkan Nyaagu
    Ngakkan Nyaagu uses RailsRails

    For this project rails was ideal due to new features introduced in Rails 5 that allowed us to build a lightweight "API only" project. Developer familiarity and the ability to rapidly iterate, as well as providing an accessible testing framework were additional factors.

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