Node.js vs Ruby on Rails: Which to Choose

Node.js vs Ruby on Rails: Which to Choose

Choosing between Node.js and Ruby on Rails when you select your development platform is a key decision. It will impact the way your project unfolds over time and how much server resources you’ll need. Both languages can support web applications of great complexity, but each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Knowing these pros and cons will help you pick the optimal solution to fit your intended project.

A Quick Intro to Node.js and Ruby on Rails

What’s the background and purpose of each of these languages? Let’s take a quick look.

Node.js

In short, Node.js is a runtime environment that allows you to execute server-side, what used to be essentially client-side, code. The “js” in Node.js, of course, stands for JavaScript. A scripting language that’s been in use on the client side since the late 90s.

So, Node.js, built on version 8 of the Chrome JavaScript engine, lets you execute JavaScript on a server. It was originally intended to make it easier to create push capability for real-time websites. But Node.js is an expansive platform. And it includes native modules that can manage everything from files to computing resources and security. Both PayPal and Uber use Node.js.

Ruby on Rails

Built on the Ruby programming language, Ruby on Rails ( RoR, or sometimes just “Rails”) is a fully-fledged website framework which includes everything you need to complete a website project including the ability to manage logic, routing and applications, all out of the box. These handy tools also include database integration and controllers which makes it easier to facilitate web development on an end to end basis. Popular applications running on RoR include GitHub and AirBnB.

Node.js vs Ruby on Rails: Where Node.js Wins

Fast execution

Node.js is best known for its speed. Partly thanks to a combo of programming centered events and programming which is not synchronised. Plus, input output that avoids blockages. All of which maximises the use of a single processor core and computer memory.

Effectively, Node.js can handle more requests at the same time, and by definition, the workload of many web servers. Node.js allows programs to keep working even the input, output demands when a server is high. Keeping app performance up no matter the load.

One language only

It’s obvious what the advantage of this point is. If you code in only one language on both the front-end and server-side, you progress quicker. Node.js came composed out of JavaScript. So, it’s easy to line up with front-end techniques to make effective second-gen web apps with less hassle. Your team can be smaller and more efficient while also delivering faster results.

Node.js is also good for scalability

The mix of Node workers and clusters can easily create additional Node.js processes, all depending on the workload. This makes Node.js applications easy to grow. The way Node.js is designed means that what you can do is really only limited by the number of server processors you have access to. Making Node.js a good platform if you’re planning on rolling out enterprise apps.

Points to watch out for with Node.js

Efficiency when operations are CPU intensive

Node.js is great for applications which involve small, frequent and simultaneous requests. However, it can struggle with applications which create high CPU usage in each thread. Because Node.js is single-threaded. If you’re going to manipulate images and video on your server, you may find that Node.js bogs down. There are workarounds. But it adds to development time and cost.

Quality of modules and documentation

Node is flexible but this can be a problem. Sometimes modules are low-quality and the documentation on offer can be short on specs. As the developer, you have a choice of modules with Node.js. And it’s not always obvious which module is best. Choosing a template engine, for example, can take time.

So Node.js is less of an out-of-the-box solution compared to RoR. Modules can be tricky to integrate too, while also being buggy and introducing unexpected behavior for devs. It’s, therefore, key to have an experienced Node.js developer on your team who can help solve issues.

Ruby on Rails vs Node.js: Where Ruby on Rails Wins

Web development best practice

Rails comes with a view to create best practice for web development. The creator intended to make it easy to develop sites according to a set framework which puts convention before configuration. As such, Ruby On Rails ships with every necessary library and module. And they all implement the model, view and controller paradigm. The intention is to make web development as predictable and smooth a process as possible.

Infrastructure that is expansive

RoR’s built for quick site development. So, it includes an integrated web server. Plus, it has a database with generators and scripts. These are powerful and hence make it easy to put together a Rails application. You can automatically put all the necessary bits and pieces a functioning Rails site requires in place. It’s absolutely great for rapid development.

Database interoperability

You can easily migrate Rails databases. Because the model that supports the Rails database, ActiveRecord, can easily translate the differences amongst the numerous SQL interactions. Instead of writing out SQL code, users of Rails can use the Rails language to describe changes to database tables.

So, in effect, the schema being created is agnostic of the database in use. Which means you can run your Rails application in many different database environments.

Points to watch out for with Ruby on Rails

Flexibility can be an issue

Often, for every advantage, there is a matching drawback. This is the case with RoR too. Due to Rails creator’s development vision, you may feel restricted with RoR if your particular application is too unique. The Rails platform imposes a lot of authority on the developmental process. So there can come a point where adjusting RoR to fit your requirements takes up a huge amount of your time. Whereas simply starting from scratch would have been quicker.

Performance is not always optimized

Again, a positive point that can also be a negative. Because of the large number of modules in the box, RoR can seemingly bog down when running in the real world. The overall framework is heavier than alternatives, including Node.js. So it’s not so efficient at managing a barrage of requests – typical of many website applications. You can add more server instances, but these use up your memory.

Debugging can be tedious

Because of Ruby on Rails’ complexity and multiple layers, it can be difficult to troubleshoot a Ruby application. Finding an error in the mix can be very time-consuming. So if something goes wrong, perhaps compounded by your application’s custom requirements, you can find Ruby on Rails a very tedious platform to develop on.

How to pick between Node.js and Ruby on Rails

The only thing that’s clear is that neither Node.js nor Ruby on Rails provides a solution ideal for every development situation. But each environment is suited to a specific kind of task. Let’s look at the types of tasks each environment is most appropriate for.

Where Node.js works better than Ruby on Rails

By now you may have gathered that Node.js is great for applications that are real-time. And which handle a lot of concurrent requests. Under these scenarios, data constantly goes between the client and server. These Real-Time Applications (RTAs) include chat apps, applications for collaborating and video conferencing.

Because Node.js is event-based, it’s great for handling these apps. Running on a single page (known as SPAs or Single Page Applications) involves a lot of processing on the client side. The main function for the back-end under these scenarios is to just provision a REST API. Whenever you’re worried about performance and scalability, you should turn to Node.js first before you consider Ruby on Rails.

Where Ruby on Rails is preferable to Node.js

As I said before, Rails is a better solution where your applications are very CPU intensive. And where development needs to happen quickly. Because Node.js is a single-threaded environment, it cannot cope well with handling data such as images and graphics. A computation on a big dataset in Node.js can simply block all the other requests that are coming in. Hence, rendering the advantage of Node.js void.

Second, Rapid Application Development, or RAD, is an important aspect of rolling out websites too. And here, Ruby on Rails is the clear winner. You can have a prototype in short thrift, with little work, when you use Rails. Whereas just starting out on Node.js involves quite a lot of choices. As much as Node.js provides generator scripts to speed up development, it’s simply never as fast as Rails.

When you pick between the two platforms, the main points you should consider are the development speed you need, and the server performance parameters. Are you running lots of simple, concurrent requests through the application? Or more complex, CPU intensive requests? Go with Node.js for concurrency, and Ruby on Rails for CPU intensive applications.

Plesk Onyx Hosting Platform with Node.js and Ruby on Rails

Node.js

We think Node.js is a great open-source platform that is great for developing server-side web applications. Even though it has only been around for a few years, it’s already gathered a lot of support. We also like that it uses JavaScript. So the learning curve is relatively shallow. Meanwhile, you can get super-fast apps with Node.js.

Our Plesk Onyx hosting platform helps because of all the following.

  • Just a quick few clicks activates Node.js applications for your website.
  • Node.js Applications can easily be managed from Plesk Onyx. Including restarting and stopping applications and adding npm packages. You can also run scripts and edit the Node.js configuration files on Plesk.
  • Under Plesk for Linux you can also install multiple versions of Node.js.

Ruby on Rails

Rails is still very popular, so we make it easy to get going with Ruby on Rails via an extension to Plesk. The extension allows users to very quickly deploy Rails apps on a domain, including the Sinatra framework. Our extension lets you do the following.

  • Enable the support of Ruby on Rails on any virtual host.
  • Pick the Ruby version you want to use on your domain.
  • Get maximum conformity for both UI and CLI calls via the rbenv utility.
  • Install gem dependencies using a UI with the Bundler tool.
  • You can edit configuration files and supply custom environment variables.

Finally, we strongly suggest that, when using Ruby on Rails, you install the tools required for building Ruby gems components. In order to easily and quickly facilitate a Ruby gem installation. These components let you relax and forget about the decency difficulties that users often experience with Ruby. Because our bundled tools automatically resolve dependencies for you.

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Elvis Plesky
Our fun and curious team mascot's always plugged into the latest trends. He's here to share his knowledge and help you solve your tech problems.

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