PHP vs Ruby on Rails – What Are the Differences?
When people seek to start off a new IT project or career, they often find themselves wondering about how they could set it off on the right foot. One of the key steps in doing so is choosing a technology that you’re comfortable with and that will be around long enough for it to return your invested time and energy.
If you’re a business owner, you’ll want to work with a technology that will take your project and your business a long way after the initial phase. If you’re a developer, you’ll want a technology that has a lot of support and that will make it easy for you to find a job.
Most of us rely on our colleges, friends and various communities when making such a decision. Choosing the right programming language for web development is a highly debated topic with a lot of controversy.
In this article, we seek to help you decide whether you should choose Ruby on Rails or PHP for your next endeavor in the IT field. We’ll put emphasis on finding out how these two languages operate and how they compare in terms of speed, scalability, performance, cost, support and more.
But keep in mind that it isn’t fair, nor is it technically adequate to compare PHP with Ruby on Rails, since PHP is a server side scripting language and Ruby on Rails is a web development framework relying on the Ruby scripting language.
A fair comparison would be between Ruby on Rails and CakePHP or other PHP based frameworks. Ruby on Rails has gained more popularity over the years than any other PHP web framework, and for good reasons. Ruby on Rails simplifies its learning process by using conventions over configuration, so you don’t have much to think about and decide when it comes to hosting, organizing and running the application you’ve developed.
Even so, PHP still runs the web and will continue to do so, but Ruby was simultaneously developed with the Rails framework. It is a language that puts a lot of emphasis on productivity, so you might end up spending less time and resources on your application’s development.
Both of these languages have their own set of strengths and weaknesses that set them apart, but have a lot of common ground as well. It’s really up to you to figure out what your requirements are and what you want to work with in the end.
To make a proper distinction between the two, we’ll look through all the deciding factors and help you make your choice!
What is PHP?
PHP is one of the most popular server-side scripting languages used in web development. It is open-source, so it is completely free along with many development environments. It is also an object-oriented programming language, so programmers can be more creative in how they tackle problems.
The language has been released in 1995, as a way of creating dynamic web pages and has become incredibly popular ever since. PHP code could be simply embedded into HTML code, which made it very convenient. It has 82% of the market share and even big companies like Facebook, Yahoo! and Google have written much of their websites in it.
PHP is a very dynamic language and it can be used on just about any platform and every hosting provider supports it by now. It also supports a huge variety of databases such as PostgreSQL, MySQL, Informix, Sybase and Microsoft SQL. It is a powerful language that puts major emphasis on server-side scripting, but it can also be used to develop web-apps and desktop applications.
PHP is very fast and functional and is geared towards web development. It has a truly massive community and a lot of support, which provides constant development for new features and a lot of help. About 90% of the problems that you would come across in PHP have already been tackled by someone else, so you’ll find information very easily. The most common things that PHP allows you to do are:
- Simply and easily generate dynamic webpages and files. You can just add your PHP code to a HTML file and change its extension to .php or create a separate file.
- Create forms and gather user information with the use of forms. You can also write automated scripts to gather different information from all over the web.
- Send automated emails. Once your users have provided you with their information, you can send them automated emails.
- Add dynamic functions. Create clocks, calendars, calculators and other useful features on your website.
- Build desktop applications. Although PHP isn’t the best for building desktop apps, you can build one with it.
- Track users with cookies. You can write scripts to help you better understand how your users interact with your website.
There are some outstanding features in this language that made it so popular but it also has its own set of weaknesses. Let’s see what they are!
The Pros of PHP
- Simple and Shallow Learning Curve – PHP code is easy to understand even for newcomers and it also has a simple syntax which makes coding easier.
- It Was Made For The Web – PHP is focused on the web, so it comes with a lot of inbuilt functions that help solve web based problems much more easily and in a straightforward manner.
- Plenty of Resources and Support – PHP has a lot of documentation, resources, frameworks and tutorials you can use for free. There are also many CMS systems like Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress which were written in PHP. You can use them for free!
- Incredibly Easy to Deploy – There is no hassle when you want to use the code that you’ve written. You just have to copy your .php file to an FTP server and it will run.
- High Speed Performance – PHP is a lot faster than many other scripting languages.
- Cross Platform Compatibility – PHP can be used on major operating systems like Linux, Windows or Mac and most databases as well, without any hassle. Also, every hosting provider supports it!
- Stability – Since it has been around for so long and had an active community, PHP has become stable, thanks to the development put into it.
The Cons of PHP
- Security Flaws – PHP is an open-source language that has been around since 1995 and people have discovered a lot of security exploits. If your website handles some sensitive data, then it’s best to use added security modules.
- Lots of Sloppy Code – One of PHP’s greatest strengths is it’s weakness as well. Its simplicity often leads people to develop unmaintainable, sloppy code. This isn’t a feature problem, but it does require you to stick to specific coding standards or frameworks if you want to develop maintainable code.
What is Ruby on Rails?
As we discussed, in this argument Ruby and Rails should be treated separately.
Ruby is an open-source, general-purpose programming language that was developed in the mid 90’s. It supports various programming paradigms such as object-oriented, functional, and imperative as well. It also works with an automatic memory system and a dynamic type. Its simple syntax makes it reliable for just about anyone who is familiar with modern programming languages. Ruby also allows projects to be developed in different languages in case they are better suited for a specific task.
The languages main focus is simplicity and productivity, which enables fast coding and development. It was designed to be simple, portable, extensible and complete. It works on most platforms, such as Linux, UNIX, DOS, Mac OS, and Windows.
Rails is an open-source, server-side web application framework that was developed in Ruby. It was created to help programmers by making the development of web applications much easier. Rails’ development was based off the assumptions of what every developer needs to get started with a project. By using it, developers have to write far less code and can accomplish more than they would with other frameworks or languages since Ruby on Rail places major emphasis on productivity. You have probably used a lot of popular applications that were built with Ruby on Rails. Applications such as, SoundCloud, Zendesk, Hulu, Shopify were all built with it.
Although it is loved by many developers, it’s also heavily opinioned software, since it claims to provide “the best way” to do things. One thing’s for certain, using Rails will give you an incredible boost in productivity and many developers also claim that it makes development more fun.
For beginners, it is much easier to learn programming with Ruby on Rails, than almost any other programming language or framework. It is more flexible and more forgiving, taking a lot less time that you spend debugging and smashing your head against your desk and more time with learning.
Since Ruby on Rails is open-source software it is free to use. You only have to install at least version 2.2.2 of Ruby, the Development kit (if you’re on Windows), The RubyGems packaging system and the SQLLite3 Database.
The Pros of Ruby On Rails
- It’s Mature Framework – The use of Rails allows developers to create high quality products at a rapid rate. It is also more maintainable, thanks to its maturity.
- It’s Compact – It provides an enjoyable and elegant way to build apps, has an easy syntax that steps close to natural language.
- Fast and Joyful Development – You just have to focus on the most important development tasks with the Rails framework. Most of the menial tasks have been completely automated so you just have to focus on solving business problems instead of hacking your framework again and again. Since Ruby is focused on productivity, speedy and seamless development is one of its best features.
- Great for Rapid Application Development (RAD) – It’s also very easy to make changes in your application.
- Has Integrated Testing Tools – Rails also has a very useful testing framework, making the development and test, debug cycle much easier.
- Optimized for Programmer Happiness – Ruby got its name for being a “jewel of a language”. It is a favorite of many developers, because of its simplicity, ease of use and automated features.
- Ruby Code is Very Readable – This, along with the self-documenting features give Ruby increased productivity.
The Cons of Ruby On Rails
- Runtime Speed – The most widely noted problem with Ruby. It isn’t as fast as NodeJS for example but does have an acceptable performance. So it shouldn’t be a problem for your business.
- Not Every Hosting Provider Supports It – Ruby on Rails requires more resources to run, so it isn’t as widely supported as PHP, which consumes much less. But there are a lot of Ruby-friendly hosting providers out there, so no need to worry.
- Hosting is Often More Expensive – A regular shared hosting plan costs about $5, but most hosting providers that support Ruby will charge around $40 for their service, since Ruby demands a lot more server resources.
- Not as Popular as Other Scripting Languages – Even with more and more developers switching to Ruby each year, there isn’t as much already written code available when compared to Java or PHP.
- Ruby isn’t an Easy Programming Language – Some of Ruby’s functions aren’t as straightforward for newcomers. It is an incredibly powerful language but some parts of it are indeed harder to learn.
PHP vs Ruby on Rails
It still isn’t an easy task to decide which language is better or which one you should learn and they both have their own set of strengths and weaknesses that separate them. There are a number of important factors we should take into consideration when we analyze a programming language. These differentiate them from each other and help us make important conclusions. Let’s see what they are!
Ease of Use and Learning Curve
As I said earlier, although Ruby on Rails is very compact and forgiving, Ruby isn’t an easy language to learn. PHP is much more comprehensive for newcomers and they tend to learn it more easily.
Most people who choose to use Ruby have already got experience in programming and know the basics. A lot of PHP developers have moved to Ruby. Why? They chose it for the same reason that you would choose one language over. It’s a personal preference. PHP has a shallow learning curve, making it more user-friendly.
Also, if you’re looking for developers for your business, it will be much easier to find someone who is proficient at PHP than it would be for Ruby, so using PHP will also be more cost effective. Just consider that out of 5 developers, one would know how to develop applications with Ruby.
Speed and Performance
Now, it’s important to note that, while speed and performance are very important factors in a language, comparing the speed of Ruby on Rails and PHP isn’t exactly a fair bet. Both of them are among the slower languages to choose from to begin with. We also cannot make an accurate measurement of speed because it also depends on a lot of other factors such as caching mechanisms, the database systems and your hosting provider in general.
Also, Ruby on Rails is a framework, which means that it compromises speed for the sake of functionality and ease of use. It also takes more server resources than PHP does.
Community and Support
PHP wins this game right off the bat, since it has a massive pool of developers and many online resources to choose from. There are about 5 times more resources on PHP then there are on Ruby. Also, people seem to be much more interested in Ruby on Rails than Ruby, the language itself.
It’s important to note, that while there are plenty of resources for PHP and enough resources for Ruby, both have the same problem. A lot of guides and resources are outdated, since both languages are under constant development. So it’s important to be thoughtful about where you get your resources from.
For example, phptherightway.com offers definite guides to help newcomers stay on a straight road to developing their programming skills. If you check out White Ruby, you’ll find that it has numerous podcasts and a lot of video content created by professionals.
Scalability and Maintenance
Once again, PHP has much more resources available on the Internet. Both languages have the ability to scale, but Ruby has much less to work with compared to PHP. The possibility and the ability to scale an application also depend on how the application was designed.
Either way, scaling an application requires the developer to have sufficient experience. If he doesn’t then it’s time for him/her to look for tutorials and articles to help them out. There is plenty of info available for scaling PHP applications and websites, where there is only a small amount of information available for scaling Ruby applications.
It’s useless to make a separate argument about maintenance, since any application that was built with the use of a framework will be easier to maintain.
PHP has a number of frameworks you can use too and a lot of them were developed with specific goals in mind.
Available Code Editors
Both PHP and Ruby editors have most of the useful features that you would use to make your job easier, but PHP still far outguns Ruby in this aspect. This is simply because it is more widely used, thus there are more tools developed for debugging, benchmarking and so on. PHP just has more options.
So is either of these languages better than the other? No. Both of them have their own strengths and weaknesses, so the most important conclusion of this article is that they are both good solutions for building an application.
But it’s also important to keep in mind that since Ruby requires more server resources, hosting can get more expensive than it would be with PHP.
The most important things to take away, about PHP are that:
- It is more cost effective.
- More developers and resources.
- A wider selection of tools.
- Easy to learn.
The most important takeaways from Ruby are:
- It offers much faster development.
- Has a truly passionate community.
- Ruby Developers are really skilled.
- PHP vs Node.js – Which Language Should You Learn?
- PHP vs HTML – What is the difference?
- php.net: What is PHP?
- Ruby on Rails Guides