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Python Vs. Ruby for Web App Development – A Comparison of the Two Programming Languages

Python and Ruby. Two established and widely used programming languages for developing websites and web apps. Both technologies can be used to build and manage sites and applications of any complexity and functionality. YouTube and Google, for instance, were both built using Python. Pretty impressive, right? Absolutely – but some awesome sites have been built with Ruby, too, such as Twitter (originally), Groupon, GitHub, and Hulu.

As a business owner, you might be wondering which language you should choose for your next project. It’s not going to be an easy choice. In many ways, the two have a lot in common. Both are high-level languages that focus on simplicity and getting things done fast with fewer lines of code. In addition, both are object-oriented, come with standard libraries, an interactive shell, persistence support, and feature-rich frameworks – Ruby’s Ruby on Rails (RoR), and Python’s Django.

However, despite their similarities, Ruby and Python are in fact worlds apart when it comes to solving problems, which means you need to be aware of the advantages and limitations of each before making your final decision – for indeed, your decision will have consequences.

Let’s consider the main differences between Ruby and Python.

Philosophy and Ease of Learning

There is a fundamental difference in the philosophies behind the two languages.

  • Ruby says: “There is more than one way to do the same thing.”

  • Python says: “There is only one ‘best’ way to do something, and that is how it should be done.”

Python’s philosophy has led to a language that is very strict in layout, making everything obvious to the programmer. This is realised by the language’s three core principles: 1). Explicit is better than implicit; 2). Simple is better than complex; 3). Complex is better than complicated.

These are great rules that serve Python programmers well. Because the code structure is explicit, a developer can easily tell where everything comes from and leads to – making it relatively simple to learn, and relatively easy to debug. It also renders the code extremely readable, which is why Python is great for beginners, or for programmers already skilled in one language, but wanting to try their hand at another. Python, indeed, is growing in popularity around the world.

By contrast, Ruby’s philosophy gives developers the freedom to choose from several different options to solve the same problem, and is designed to be flexible and empowering for programmers. As such, there is more to learn, but it is more expressive.

Ruby focusses on “human-language” programming, which means its code can be read as you would read the English language, which makes it a joy for programmers. However, its elegance and expressiveness does come with a sacrifice – namely, that it can sometimes be difficult to track down bugs, which can add time onto a project. In addition, the learning curve is steeper than Python, so though developers with prior programming experience may get to grips with Ruby relatively quickly, it’s perhaps not best suited to complete beginners.  

Frameworks

Python’s Django and Ruby’s RoR frameworks have similar performance. They each provide everything you would expect from a framework, such as models, views, controllers, and database migrations, and each have lots of libraries programmers can use to add features to web applications. Ruby has a fantastic repository called Rubygems, as does Python, which is called the Package Index (PyPI). Each feature treasure troves of pre-packaged code that streamline development.

In essence, both frameworks are pretty much comparable – whatever integration library you need, the chances are that you’ll find it for both Django and RoR. One notable exception is if you intend to build an element of Machine Learning into your application, such as to make recommendations or some other kind of prediction. In this case, Python is the best bet– there aren’t that many Machine Learning Ruby Gems available, and those that are, aren’t well supported. By contrast, Python has numerous, well-documented Machine Learning packages, such as numpy, pandas, keras, and tensorflow.  

Community and Support

Both Python and Ruby boast strong communities. There are, however, a couple of things to consider.

Python has a more diverse community than Ruby. This is because Python is used for many purposes beyond web development, such as data science and Machine Learning computations, so you will find lots of influence and support from the various industries in which it is used.

Ruby’s community, however, has been primarily focussed on web development since the initial release of RoR back in 2008. In fact, Ruby has one of the most active and supportive communities out there, which has led to great documentation. Over time, the Ruby community has grown a lot more diverse, though not to the same extent as Python.

Ultimately, both have tons of support and loyal followings – so you shouldn’t fear you will be left in the dark no matter which you choose.

Final Thoughts

It would be unfair to declare one real “winner” when trying to decide whether Ruby or Python is “better” than the other. In the end, the decision will ultimately come down to the philosophical preferences of your developers, and of course whether or not you require an element of Machine Learning built into your application, in which case you will need to use the Python-specific libraries.

If you don’t need Machine Learning, and are looking to develop a web app quickly, Ruby could well be the very language that has everything you need, as it is a lightning fast option thanks to the dozens of well-supported gems that RoR offers. It also gives developers the freedom to tackle problems however they want – though of course, some might prefer Python’s insistence on zeroing in on the single “right” way of doing something.

Your best bet will always be to consult Ruby experts and Python pros to get the most relevant insight into what would be best for your specific project. Here at Netguru, we have both – so get in touch today and we can chat through the requirements and advise you on the best path forward.

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