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Node.js vs Ruby on Rails: What to Choose in 2020

When you are deciding on a front-end technology for your website, choosing the tech stack isn’t too difficult — CSS, HTML5, and JavaScript are the obvious choices. Backend technology, on the other hand, is a lot more versatile. Lately, Node.js and Ruby on Rails are becoming the leading backend languages.

To help you make a choice between the two, we share our experience of working with Ruby on Rails vs Node.js, all advantages, and disadvantages, spotted by the team. We’ll also talk about use cases and practical applications. By the end of the guide, you’ll be able to tell which one fits your project best — Node.js or Ruby on Rails.

Background and Purpose of Node.js and Ruby on Rails

Node.js is not a language, but a runtime environment that lets users convert client-side code to server-side. Node converts JavaScript into machine code that can be easily processed by the hardware. The framework is based on Chrome V8 Engine. It’s one of the fast engines out there, which contributes to runtime’s high conversion speed.

Ruby on Rails is a website development framework. Rails are created to help manage routine, internal logic, data computing, etc. Ruby on Rails is known for its code efficiency and high speed. What takes dozens of lines in Java can be done on Ruby with 5-10 lines.

Let’s compare Ruby on Rails vs Node.js by examining their pros, cons, and use cases.

Where is It Better to Use Node.js?

Node.js is a command-line environment that allows running the same JS code that you are writing for the front-end. It allows sharing code with the backend and browser and handling multiple operations at a time. Let’s see how these advantages come in handy in different aspects of web development.

Server-side development

Node is good at establishing reliable communication between the server and the browser. It uses a long-polling technique that allows applications to handle multiple incoming requests simultaneously. Node.js doesn’t wait for all queries to be processed to start handling new incoming ones.

This makes Node.js well-suited to real-time apps: messengers, online games, real-time collaboration platforms, chatrooms. The possibility of using JavaScript both at the frontend and backend will make development faster and easier. If you previously worked with JS, learning Node.js for backend will not be a problem.

API development

Node.js is a go-to language for REST API development. Representational State Transfer — this is what REST stands for. It’s an architecture that allows users to quickly get output to their web requests. The basic principles of REST development are to be uniform, stateless, client-server, have a layered system, offering a cacheable architecture, and responding on-demand.

REST APIs are incredibly practical in web development. Whenever a user is looking for something, a web app uses REST API to deliver source results. REST APIs connect the user’s input to the software’s code, opening a channel for communication. Node.js, with its fast request processing speed and JS tech stack, is an obvious first choice for REST API development.

Microservices

Node.js’ architecture fits perfectly with the structure of microservices. Its non-blocking request processing algorithms and event-driven approach allow us to connect multiple services and process hundreds of internal requests at the same time. Microservices need to communicate all the time, which is why assuring fast data processing is highly important.

Both microservice architecture and Node.js focus on speed and efficiency. The entire point of a microservice architecture is to let developers build well-performing and scalable platforms by breaking functionality down into manageable services. Node.js helps bring this to life with a fast V8 engine and non-blocking processing.

Companies that use Node.js

Companies switch to Node.js because of its performance and responsiveness. Node.js is currently used by LinkedIn, Uber, Medium, New York Times, and Hapi. For some companies, a transition to Node.js is coupled with a switch to the microservice architecture.

For instance, Netflix decentralized its web platform and used Node.js as the main backend tool in the process. This led to the app’s bigger scalability and responsiveness A similar thing was done by PayPal’s development team. The company used Node during prototyping and development — and the team reports an incredible increase in the team’s efficiency and app’s performance speed.

The Problem with Node.js

Node.js is by no means a perfect backend tool. JavaScript is still a front-end tool that is not adapted to certain aspects of server-side development. By design, it’s not suited for backend functionality. Node.js has to compensate for JS’s inability to work on server-side and as a result, offers a somewhat limited experience — here’s why.

Processor consuming tasks for Node.js applications

Node.js is a single-thread language, which means, it will process one request at a time unless you develop them up as a series of an event. When we are talking about fast operations, Node.js executes them quickly. However, as soon as we are talking about time-consuming functions, Node does not treat it as an event. A single long-term operation will block all the others.

Obviously, such an approach leads to high CPU consumption and a dramatic decrease in speed. So, many Node.js advantages are relevant as soon as you don’t overburden the app with consuming tasks. When you cross that line, Node.js loses many of its positives.

Security issues are difficult to tackle

Node.js is known for its large ecosystem. The open-source package management system provides developers with reusable code, plugins, add-on, increasing the versatility of the application.

Node.js are full of npm packages — using ready components saves time and potentially improves the code quality. However, not all teams understand the dangers associated with npm packages. The problem is, the Node.js team only recently began scanning modules for security issues. Many of the current npm packages which include tough-cookie, js.dom, and others have dependencies, vulnerabilities, and room for potential security threats.

Where is It Preferable to Use Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is used as a backend framework for web applications. It’s known for efficiency and scalability. You can write rich functionality with much fewer lines of code as opposed to what you’d need in Java or Node.js.

Full-stack web application

Ruby on Rails is a highly structured framework for a web app. Rails have a lot of rules on how the code has to be organized. The framework uses the Model, View, Controller framework. To get an app to respond to a request, you need to define a view, controller, and route. Getting started with an MVC framework is time-consuming, but in the end, the code is well-organized and easy to read. In the end, you’ll end up with an efficient code that’s easy to maintain and edit.

Content management systems

Ruby on Rails is not yet the universal top choice for content management system development. PHP is still the go-to choice, but Ruby on Rails entered the field recently and it offers a lot of competitive advantages. Ruby on Rails allows quickly writing rich functionality due to high abstraction levels. You can map entire tables and databases as separate objects. You can refer to a big chunk of functionality with several lines of code.

Prototyping

Ruby on Rails allows writing code fast and implementing built-in features, available in the ecosystem. When you are working on the minimally viable version of a product, you don’t need ultimate speed and interface — the main priority is operational efficiency and well-organized development processes. Ruby on Rails offers multiple command-line code builders, letting developers avoid writing code from scratch. Coupled with open source libraries, this ready-to-use code can accommodate more than half of functionality.

The Problem with Ruby on Rails

Many developers wonder: seeing how productive the process of writing on Ruby and Ruby on Rails is, how come both the language and its framework aren’t more popular? Well, even though the language definitely wins in efficiency, its performance reputation isn’t quite that stellar.

Performance speed

If we compare the speed of Ruby on Rails vs Node.js, even experienced Ruby on Rails developers acknowledge that the framework is slow. While its speed improves with every version, it’s still a lot lower than Node’s. There are many reasons for the performance delay.

  • Ruby is an interpreted tool, which means the code is not compiled into a machine version. Therefore, it’s harder for hardware to read and process quickly.
  • Node offers the Just In Time compilation which allows turning JS code into a bycode instead of a machine language. Cutting off an additional conversion step increases the application’s performance speed. Ruby, in comparison, introduced JIT only in recent versions, and it’s far from perfect — if anything, current JIT slows code processing down.

Ruby offers a way to write multiple threads, so the problem of handling CPU-intensive tasks isn’t as drastic as with Node. Still, when it comes to comparing Ruby on Rails vs Node.js performance, Rails won’t be your top choice.

Garbage collection ineffectiveness

It’s a known fact that garbage-collected languages tend to be slower. All of a sudden, developers might see a sudden spike of memory usage in their apps and a drastic drop in the performance speed. The more you scale the application, the more memory each iteration of the garbage collector will use.

In Ruby, GC.disable will stop garbage collection. There are also libraries for handling garbage-collector-related memory leaks, but they mostly act as a temporary solution.

No Static Typing System

When we compare Ruby to Node.js, the lack of a static typing system is one of the most noticeable drawbacks. In Node.js, TypeScript allows integrated features that aren’t natively supported by JS. These features are written and displayed as typical JavaScript variables. There’s no difference in how the language treats its native and non-native components.

TypeScript is a must-use for increasing code reliability, facilitating the communication between teams, documenting development. It also allows using specific features for increasing the app’s compatibility with particular browsers. You can type code, organize features, and build new functionality. In Ruby, all these features don’t exist.

The Difference Between Node.js and Ruby on Rails

Criteria Ruby on Rails Node.js
Usage Backend web development Backend web development
Language Ruby JavaScript
Number of threads Multi-threaded Single-threaded
Pros Easy development, Efficiency: code doesn’t repeat itself, Automated garbage collection, Readability High-performance speed, The possibility of using JS for the entire web project, Well-suited to microservice development, A top choice for REST API development
Cons Slow speed, Memory allocation issues, No static typing npm security, Poor performance on CPU intensive tasks
Use cases Minimum Viable Products, Prototypes, CMS development Real-time apps (chatrooms, games, collaboration services)

Conclusions

Node.js and Ruby are both powerful for backend development, but neither is perfect. Node.js’ main selling point is the possibility to use JavaScript for the entire tech stack and high-performance speed. Node.js vs Ruby on Rails performance differs in speed and real-time processing capacities.

  • Node.js efficiently handles short-term operations and quickly responds to user interactions. It’s non-blocking processing and event-driven syntax makes Node.js one of the most responsive backend languages out there.
  • Node.js handles web-sockets well and can easily handle more than 10,000 concurrent requests. Ruby, in comparison, is unable to handle such a workload — you’ll be risking a server crash.

Ruby on Rails and Ruby are known for superior design (syntax is clear and easy to learn). The code quality is higher than in Node.js — developers don’t have to repeat themselves and use unnecessary specifications. The language itself lacks efficiency in performance but the development process is one of the most efficient out there — and not just in comparison to Node.

So, which is better: Ruby on Rails or Node.js? Both languages cater to different types of projects. Ruby is perfect for teams that see development speed as a priority (Saas development, MVP, etc). Node.js is a go-to choice for realtime web apps and single-page apps. If you are considering a backend tool for your project, let us know your concept. The TechMagic development team will define project priorities to help you choose the stack that fits your needs like a glove.

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TechMagic is a software and web development company from Lviv, Ukraine that builds dedicated teams skilled in JavaScript, Node.js, Angular, React, AWS, Serverless, and Salesforce.
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