Coding with Jesse

PHP vs. Ruby on Rails: Update

May 15th, 2007

It's now been six months since I announced I had switched from PHP to Ruby on Rails. Reader Richard Wayne Garganta wrote me to ask:

So, now that you have worked with rails a while - are you still in love with it? I tried it a while back and found out my biggest problem was deployment. I have considered returning to it. Your opinion?

Originally, I decided to start using rails because I was getting bored doing server-side development. I asked myself, why was it so much fun to program in JavaScript, but so boring to program in PHP? I figured it might be the programming language itself that was boring me, so I took a stab at learning Ruby on Rails.

Ruby is a really great dynamic language that is fun to work with (though somewhat tricky to get used to). Rails is a great framework, especially when it comes to using ActiveRecord to simplify working with complex data models. I think that Ruby on Rails is a great way to build a complex web site.

Rails also makes it much easier to set up tests (which I was pretty lazy about) and have separate development and live environments. There's a lot of great solutions to common web development problems that makes Rails a lot more fun to work with, especially on big projects.

Eventually I realised that server-side programming in Rails, while a bit easier and more fun, was still server-side programming. Even though I didn't have to worry about writing SQL and building forms, the types of problems and challenges were basically the same as in any server-side language. I realised that even a new language and framework wouldn't change server-side programming altogether. At the end of the day, I still have a lot more fun coding with JavaScript, Ajax, CSS and HTML.

Lately, though, I've been having a lot more fun coding simple templates using PHP. There's something kind of simple and sweet about making a page dynamic by just by putting a few lines of code in a standalone template. MVC is the only way to build a large site or application that is easy to manage, but if you're doing something simple, it's definitely overkill. It's no surprise that the 37signals and Ruby on Rails web sites run on PHP.

So the moral of the story? Use Ruby on Rails for applications, use PHP for simple web sites, and don't use either of them if your passion is client-side development. :)

About the author

Jesse Skinner Hi, I'm Jesse Skinner. I'm a self-employed web developer with over two decades of experience. I love learning new things, finding ways to improve, and sharing what I've learned with others. I love to hear from my readers, so please get in touch!