Happy 10th anniversary, Ruby on Rails -- but watch your back

Founded as the 'quick'n'clean' alternative to PHP and Java, Rails faces competition from Node.js

This month marks the 10th anniversary for Ruby on Rails. Over its first decade, the open source Web framework gained lots of adherents, but it no longer carries the buzz it once did, ceding the spotlight to JavaScript frameworks like Node.js and Angular.js.

Rails was built to make Web development more fun and productive, says its creator, David Heinemeier Hansson. "Most frameworks and languages at the time were focused on neither [fun nor productivity]. The forging ground was quick'n'dirty with PHP or slow'n'clean with Java. There was room for something quick'n'clean in the middle."

The framework was launched on July 25, 2004, and it has been downloaded millions of times and used to build sites ranging from GitHub and Twitter to Shopify and Hulu. Hansson estimates there are between tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Rails developers.

Rails, however, has had to endure the onslaught of JavaScript's growing popularity in Web development, particularly the Node.js server-side framework coming to prominence. Citing scaling concerns, Groupon decided to replace its Rails front end with Node.js. Rails, in fact, has suffered from critical performance issues, argues blogger Ben Sigelman in his July 2013 post, "Why Nobody Should Use Rails for Anything Ever." Reached Wednesday, Sigelman still feels pretty much the same way. "Well, behind the provocative title was an article that allowed a bit of breathing room. But I do think there are some significant and fundamental problems with Rails, yes." Rails, like rival development technologies (Java, for example), also has had some security concerns.

Regardless, Hansson is plowing full speed ahead. "Ruby on Rails is many times faster today than it was back then," he says, "and computers have gotten tons faster as well. Performance has never been a more irrelevant issue, and the productivity and cost and happiness of programmers have never been more relevant."

When it comes to jobs, Rails talent is in demand. A search on the Dice.com jobs site turns up 935 results for Rails. This pales in comparison to a similar search on Java, which yielded 17,062 results, PHP (3,566 results), or Python (5,301 results), but compared to other frameworks, Rails does well. A search on Angular.js, for example, turns up 458 results. Node.js is comparable, with 860 results.

Cloud platforms have been a bright spot for the framework. On the Heroku cloud, set up in 2008 for Rails development, Rails is still the dominant development platform. "It's our most popular language and framework," says Adam Gross, Heroku vice president of products. And at cloud vendor Engine Yard, which also accommodates Rails, the company is even wishing Rails a happy birthday this week, expecting the next 10 years to be "even more amazing."

This story, "Happy 10th anniversary, Ruby on Rails -- but watch your back" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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