Node.js vs Ruby on Rails Comparison: Which Environment Should I Choose for My Next Project?

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Radosław Bura

Aug 1, 2017 • 15 min read
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Ruby on Rails and Node.js are two popular server-side solutions for web application development. Both environments can manage apps with varying levels of complexity, but they are built around different concepts and architectures. It means that they offer a variety of benefits depending on the use case. In this article, we compare Ruby on Rails with Node.js, explaining what each environment has to offer when it comes to software development.

Given that both Ruby on Rails (RoR or Rails) and Node.js are wildly popular among web developers, you might be wondering which development framework to choose for your next project. The decision may not be straightforward, as both Ruby on Rails and Node.js have their advantages and limitations.

In this article, we will give you a detailed comparison of these two frameworks and explain in which cases Ruby on Rails may be a better choice than Node.js – and vice versa.

What is Ruby on Rails?

Ruby on Rails is a full-fledged web framework with a full set of out-of-the-box development functionalities: database integration, controllers, the ability to manage logic, routing, and applications.

This open-source framework is built on Ruby – a powerful and expressive programming language developed by Yukihiro Matsumoto in 1993. Ruby is an object-oriented programming language similar to Python or Perl.

Ruby language is popular among web apps developers because of code efficiency – it allows to cut the overall development time. It’s characterized by a simple syntax, similar to the English language, which makes it relatively easy to learn. That would explain why Rails has a large community of developers (RoR has over 4,500 Github contributors to its frameworks), thanks to which programmers can find ready-made solutions to common problems, and, above all, deliver high-quality code.

Ruby on Rails is used by leading tech companies, such as GitHub, Shopify, Airbnb, and SoundCloud.

Pros of Ruby on Rails

Based on tried-and-tested web development practices

RoR creators describe Rails as an opinionated framework because it implements their vision of the best web development practices and solutions. To this end, Ruby on Rails follows several reliable software development patterns: Convention over configuration (CoC), Don’t repeat yourself (DRY), and Active-Record.

In addition, RoR was created in the MVC (Model-View-Controller) paradigm that allows Rails developers to build modular and easily-extendable applications. All of the aforementioned make the development process smooth and simple (even when you’re building a complex solution).

Development speed: made for rapid development

Ruby on Rails has a rich and well-developed infrastructure that offers a fully integrated web server solution (Puma web server) and ActiveRecord database that allows to abstract schema and models. Moreover, Rails features generators – powerful scripts that allow to rapidly scaffold a RoR application. All this makes Rails suitable for rapid prototyping and deployment of web applications, increasing the overall development speed.

Easy portability across various database platforms

Ruby on Rails is easy to migrate across various database platforms. The active model that underlies the Rails default database ActiveRecord can easily abstract the differences between various SQL backends. Thus, Ruby on Rails allows creating database-agnostic schemas and models which simplify the migration of Rails applications across different database environments.

Cons of Ruby on Rails

Limited flexibility

If your application has a unique functionality and demands that Ruby on Rails do not support commits out of the box (e.g. two-phase ones), it may turn hard to adjust the framework to your product’s needs. As an opinionated framework, Rails is authoritative in dictating the app development process, so you may get to a point when adjusting the framework would take more time than building the app from scratch using a less opinionated framework.

Drop in performance

When comparing Ruby on Rails with Node.js, Rails is somewhat slower, as it’s heavier than most alternatives due to its provision of out-of-the-box modules. RoR is also less efficient at managing simultaneous requests. The only solution to this is using additional server instances, which will consume more memory.

Slow debugging

Rails' large stack frames and multiple layers of abstraction can make debugging of Ruby on Rails applications difficult. Your development team may have to allocate a lot of time to fixing errors and making updates to applications. This may slow down development, testing, and production cycles.

If you’d like to dive deeper into the pros and cons of Ruby on Rails, check out our other article on RoR Pros and Cons.

What is Node.js?

Node.js is a JavaScript runtime environment built on Chrome's V8 JavaScript engine that allows for executing JavaScript code on a server (initially JS language could be executed only in the browsers). Overall, Node.js is more flexible than Ruby on Rails.

Node.js environment features powerful native modules to deploy web servers, manage computing resources, file systems, and security of your applications. It should not be confused with a web framework shipped with routers, controllers, database integrations, and other web development tools.

According to the Stack Overflow Survey 2022, Node.js is the second most “wanted technology” by developers. More than 16% of respondents have expressed their interest in developing apps with the use of Node.js. This framework also boasts a large community of developers (over 3,000 active contributors) who can offer their extensive support and feedback.

Node.js is a preferred choice of several leading tech companies like PayPal, Uber, Netflix, NASA, LinkedIn, and other tech giants.

Pros of Node.js

Fast server-side solution

The core strength of Node.js is its high-performance. The technology offers an innovative application of asynchronous processing and event-based programming that also avoids I/O blockage and improves runtime performance. It maximizes the usage of a single CPU and computer memory. With that, Node.js servers can process more concurrent requests than conventional multi-threaded servers. Indeed, Node is one of the fastest server-side solutions around.

Easy scalability

Node.js is a very scalable solution, too. Node clusters and workers are abstractions that can spawn additional Node.js processes depending on the workload of your web application. Limited only by the number of CPUs at their disposal, you can easily scale your Node applications to fully functional enterprise software solutions.

One language on both the front- and backend

With Node.js installed server-side, developers can use the same programming language across the web stack, making quicker progress. The same language at the frontend and the backend means you need a smaller and more efficient team which can communicate better and, as a result, deliver tasks much faster.

Cons of Node.js

Less efficient with CPU-intensive operations

Node.js’ asynchronous and single-threaded models have certain limitations: They are not so efficient when it comes to CPU-intensive operations, such as generating graphics or resizing images. Luckily, a work-around of making a new task queue to manage CPU-intensive requests exists. However, it requires spawning additional workers and introducing new layers to your Node.js application.

Poor quality or lack of documentation for some modules in npm

Node’s flexibility may sometimes backfire on those who want to quickly deploy their web applications. Node.js leaves the selection of modules to the developer and the choice may not always be obvious. They also have to integrate them, which means that more planning, time, and effort may be required to bootstrap a Node.js project. A Node.js application may depend on dozens of modules and wrong choices may result in unexpected behavior of your Node.js app. It is thus crucial to have an experienced developer in your team to avoid major issues.

Key differences: Ruby on Rails vs Node.js

TL;DR? Here’s a short cheat sheet with key differences between Node.js and Ruby on Rails.

  • Ruby On Rails is for backend development only. In contrast, Node.js can be used for both frontend and backend programming.
  • Compared with Ruby on Rails, Node.js will work faster on the server side thanks to its event-based programming and non-blocking I/O usage of a single CPU.
  • Node.js is easier to learn than Ruby (also for those who come from a different programming background). On the other hand, Rails offers more learning resources and has a large supporting community online.
  • Node.js is very flexible, while RoR requires a definite file/folder structure.
  • When it comes to operations, Ruby on Rails supports multi-threading and is more suitable for CPU-intensive use cases, while Node.js is single-threaded, not suitable for CPU-intensive applications but works well in I/O-heavy use cases.
  • Ruby on Rails works sequentially (there are no callbacks), while Node.js works asynchronously (has callbacks).
  • RoR code is rule-heavy and thus easy to maintain. In contrast, Node.js doesn’t have any rules, so maintaining the code may be tricky.
  • Node.js API changes frequently, so the framework is inconsistent, whereas Ruby changes rather infrequently and hence is consistent.
  • Node.js has a much larger collection of libraries than Ruby on Rails.

Ruby on Rails vs Node.js Comparison Table

Ruby on Rails

Node.js

Programming language

Ruby

JavaScript

Applications

backend development

backend + frontend development

# of threads

multi-threaded

single-threaded

Framework type

Opinionated, doesn’t offer much control

Non-opinionated, offers more control

Development time

quick: few commands via command line

time-consuming: requires writing the code, selecting modules and integrating them

Performance

relatively slow, debugging may be problematic

faster than Rails thanks to JavaScript engine

CPU-intensive tasks

well-suited for RAD, image processing and data processing

not suitable, as it’s single threaded

Scalability

not as scalable as Node.js

more scalable thanks to clusters with abstractions

Availability of talent

not immediately available

easily available

Use cases

MVP development, prototyping, CMS development

Real-Time Apps

Open-source?

yes

yes

When to use Ruby on Rails?

This backend framework for web applications is appreciated especially for scalability and efficiency. Developers should choose it over Node.js in the following cases:

  • When RAD (Rapid Application Development) is critical: Fast prototyping is the philosophy of Rails. Just in a few commands, you may have a fully functional prototype that may be amended with additional features later.
  • For full-stack web applications: As Ruby on Rails has a lot of rules for organizing the code (the Model, View, Controller framework), it yields an efficient code that is easy to read, maintain, and edit.
  • When building Content Management Systems: While PhP remains the go-to language for CMS development, Ruby on Rails is demonstrating significant advantages in this field. Its high abstraction levels allow to quickly program rich functionalities with little programming work.
  • When building an MVP: In such cases, you would prioritize operational efficiency and a solid development process over speed and impeccable interface. Multiple command-line builders, open source libraries, and ready-to-use code will be of great advantage.
  • For CPU-intensive applications: Ruby on Rails is efficient at computation on vast arrays of data. Node.js’ single-threaded environment simply isn’t designed for CPU-intensive operations.

If you’d like to learn more about the use cases of Node.js, take a look at some of the projects we worked on: Neveo, Artemest, and National University System.

When to choose Node.js?

Node.js is often chosen for building high-performance web apps. With this environment, developers can increase the development speed by running the same JS code on backend and frontend technology, simplifying the entire process. This means Node.js will add the following advantages in these scenarios:

    • In server-side development: As Node.js establishes good communication between the server and the browser and can handle multiple incoming requests simultaneously, it’s perfect for developing real-time apps, such as messengers, online games, or real-time collaboration platforms.
    • When performance and scalability are the priority: When comparing Ruby with Node.js, the latter is more lightweight, so it will be more stable and easy to scale.
  • In API development: Most developers choose Node.js for REST (Representational State Transfer) API development, which are particularly useful in programming web applications. Node.js can quickly process user requests and yield an output quickly. For that reason, it’s also commonly used to develop Single-Page Applications.
  • When building microservices: Node.js does a great job handling heavy I/O operations thanks to non-blocking processing and a fast V8 engine, so it’s effective at handling hundreds of internal requests simultaneously.

You can take a look at some of our Node.js projects: Nodus, Moonfare, and Home Made.

How to choose between Ruby on Rails and Node.js?

Both Ruby on Rails and Node.js are useful server-side development frameworks that will work well in a variety of projects. If you’re choosing frameworks for your next software development project, consider the specific type of app you’re about to build and the tasks it’s going to perform. Also, determine how much time you have at hand and what your scalability and performance needs are.

If you’re going for a CPU-intensive web app development and need to deploy fast, opt for Ruby on Rails. In contrast, Node.js will be better suited for building RTAs, SPAs, and I/O-intensive tools where concurrency support is required.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to make an informed choice as you decide which framework to use for your web development project. If you have additional questions about Ruby on Rails or Node.js, feel free to contact us directly.

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Radosław Bura

Junior Node.js Developer

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