Ruby on Rails: Guide of the MVC Framework for Complex Web Applications

MVC Framework for Complex Web Applications

In 2004, the American web development company 37signals (today Basecamp) published the project management application Basecamp, which, among other functions, offered features such as a messaging system, to-do lists, or time tracking.

One part of the software development services was a base architecture which, created especially for this purpose by programmer David Heinemeier Hansson, was extracted in the same year and published in 2005 as an open-source web application framework.

The Ruby on Rails framework, also known as RoR or Rails, was born. Developed based on Ruby, at the beginning of the framework, which currently has a development team of several people.

What is Ruby on Rails?

Since it was published under the MIT license, the creators of Ruby on Rails have continued the development of this framework, staying true to the “Don’t repeat yourself” (DRY) principle. In other words, in a project based on the Rails framework, the information can only be used once.

For example, it is enough to define the columns of a table in the database without that information being modified in the source code or a separate configuration file. Thus, the implemented ActiveRecord module will read it directly from the database.

The second design paradigm is “ Convention over configuration ”. Ruby on Rails uses certain conventions, for example, for naming classes. If you are a developer and you use these conventions, you will save yourself a lot of effort in configuration. However, Ruby on Rails also allows alternative configurations, so you will always have great flexibility available when developing your web application.

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Ruby: The Flexible and Independent Language of the Rails Framework

In the mid-90s, Japanese Yukihiro Matsumoto would publish Ruby, an object-oriented language. Although in its beginnings it was used almost exclusively in Japan, over time it has positioned itself globally as a popular alternative to market leaders such as PHP, Python, and co.

However, Matsumoto’s success is not a coincidence, as he set out to make programming a fun process, and, to achieve this, he decided to combine the best features of other languages ​​in Ruby.

In interpreting scripts, the code is executed by an interpreter (something that compared to other scripts represents a small decrease in speed), making Ruby a much more flexible and dynamic solution. Because there are specific interpreters for the main operating systems, Ruby code is platform-independent.

A very important characteristic of Ruby is its multiparadigm capacity, where, for example, C++ also excels. In other words, Ruby is not tied to a particular programming paradigm. The “principle of least surprise” allows you to use language intuitively and, generally, you will not encounter unexpected processes.

As open-source software under the free BSD license, Ruby is part of a large and active community that has contributed numerous libraries of current programs that are also subject to this license and that play a very important role in the development of modern web applications.

These software packages can be installed, used, and updated with the help of RubyGems calls. Some examples of these Gems are, for example, the web application programming interfaces (API) of Google or Facebook, as well as the Rails framework.

Model-View-Controller (MVC)

Ruby on Rails uses closed systems as its execution environment. These systems contain the interpreter, the necessary libraries, and each of the scripts. Each Rails project is subject to an automatically generated directory structure that separates scripts, configurations, classes, content, and more.

Thanks to this structural approach, in which data, management, and representation are separated, web applications are very easy to maintain. This is known as a Model-View-Controller architecture, the layers of which can be described as follows:

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Typically, Rails applications are linked to relational databases. The Ruby framework needs models to communicate with each database management system and to customize or manipulate objects.

These models form classes in a database table and individual attributes in columns. By default, the Model layer is based on the ActiveRecord ORM (object-relational mapping) framework. Thanks to the implementation of the plugin API, since Rails 3.0 it is possible to use ORM libraries such as Sequel.


The View layer or presentation layer is necessary to display and access the data of the Model layer. For this purpose, Ruby on Rails uses the Action View class, which supports different output formats. View renders and presents data (e.g., the requesting user) in the form of HTML documents.


The Controller layer serves as an interface between the Model and View layers and processes incoming requests through the web browser, accesses the appropriate model from the database, and passes it to View, which will handle its display.

Standard Ruby on Rails Components

As a framework for web applications, Ruby on Rails provides in its standard configuration all the necessary components that a custom software development company needs to program a functional application.

The only additional requirement is the installation of Ruby, the RubyGems package manager, and an SQL database. For the latter, the Rails team recommends the open-source library written in C SQLite, which contains a relational database system. Here are the standard Ruby on Rails modules:

  • Action Controller: with the help of this module it is possible to create the aforementioned interfaces between database entries, users, and programs.
  • Action View – This module provides the ability to create views for inputs and controllers. Regarding naming, there is a convention that all Views must be named after the respective controller.
  • Active Record – This is the core module used to manipulate the database of your Rails application. If you adhere to the naming and schema conventions, you only need to make some minimal configurations to generate individual models with it. To this end, Ruby on Rails offers powerful scaffolding systems, which are the ideal tool for producing interfaces for the four CRUD operations and for presenting the data set at the object-oriented level.
  • Active Resource – Implements object-relational mapping (ORM) for REST-based web services. Like ActiveRecord, this one also focuses on saving settings.
  • Action Mailer – Action Mailer allows you to send and receive email messages in your web applications. In this way, it is possible to configure, without complications, email registration and login.
  • Active Support – This component contains several classes of support programs as well as extensions to the standard library.
  • Railties: The so-called railties were created to ensure the functioning of all RoR components. As a consequence, each module has implemented its own railtie, for example, to launch the initialization process or implement configuration changes to the framework. Railties are also necessary to add your own modules to Ruby on Rails.

Ruby on Rails: advantages and disadvantages of this web framework

On the platform, you will find a large amount of documentation in different languages ​​and even jokes like this:

Two developers are talking about programming. One tells the other: “I work with Java and I give PHP to my children to play with.” And the other responds: “I play with my kids and let Ruby work for me!”

Of course, there is a good amount of exaggeration in this joke, but also a large amount of truth. Java is one of the preferred options for complex solutions and is therefore used in many frameworks in the enterprise sector.

However, especially due to its complex structure, programming with this platform-independent language is usually very complicated and, in addition, is constantly associated with high costs of time and money.

As an interpreted programming language, Ruby is also not attached to a particular platform. Plus, writing code with Ruby is fast, easy to adapt, and requires much less effort. However, the interpreter language also ensures that the speed of the applications developed is slower than the equivalent applications in Java.

Also PHP, compared to Java, represents significant advantages in terms of simplicity and development efforts. In the web development environment, this language is recognized for being an established standard solution that forms the basis of different content management systems such as Joomla, WordPress, TYPO3, and others.

Because PHP was compiled somewhat arbitrarily and was not always object-oriented, updating web applications that were developed with previous versions can be somewhat tedious. For its part, from its inception, Ruby on Rails was object-oriented, so applications that were programmed using older versions contain much cleaner code than some PHP projects.

Ruby on Rails offers an integrated framework that allows you to test application functionality at any time so that errors can be identified and fixed from the beginning. Web 2.0 technologies like AJAX can be implemented with just a few lines of code. Additionally, Ruby and the Rails framework have a huge and growing community, as well as a wide variety of extensions.

The innovative Rails philosophy, which consists of seeking the greatest possible simplification for the developer, implemented from the beginning by Matsumoto with features such as the scaffolding system, fixed conventions, or the MVC structure, has served as inspiration for many other frameworks. Thus, this approach is recognizable in PHP frameworks, such as Symfony, CakePHP, and the Zend Framework.

Who is RoR intended for?

Ruby on Rails offers everything a developer needs to create modern web applications: primary structures for interface implementation, an easy-to-configure connection to an SQL database, and the ability to use software development services such as AJAX.

Clear principles such as “Don’t repeat yourself” and “Convention over configuration” provide the foundation for clean, easily manageable, and adaptable code that can be written quickly. In addition, it also allows you to make your configurations, since Ruby is designed to offer the programmer the freedom they need.

Thus, this framework is suitable for beginners and experienced programmers who have worked with other scripting languages ​​to date, although, in some cases, a greater investment of time may be necessary at the beginning.

One of the strongest points of the Ruby framework is the way the scoffing system facilitates the creation of planned prototypes for web projects in a very short time. The integrated testing environment allows you to review your application during the development phase of custom software development services for possible errors.

Ruby on Rails is even equipped to meet the needs of complex applications. With the help of the so-called RubyGems extensions, which include the same framework, it is possible to easily add the necessary interfaces, libraries, and functional and visual features. Because Ruby and RoR are subject to the BSD license, you will only have to count on the costs necessary for hosting your web project.

At no time should you assume that you don’t need any programming knowledge to implement Ruby on Rails in your project. This language does not completely take care of the entire job, as the joke we mentioned above presupposes. In terms of speed, those developing applications with RoR will not be able to keep up with their main competitors. The code will only be executed when users access the respective content, so handling incoming requests logically takes longer than previously compiled lines of code.

Finally, remember that you will have to do without the Rails framework if you want to organize your application with CMS such as Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress. The latter, as well as many other platforms, are based on PHP. However, there are already different content managers based on Ruby on Rails, such as Alchemy CMS.

Predictions about the spread of RoR and the possibility of jeopardizing the positioning of market leaders such as PHP, Java, and Python are difficult to make. However, the advantages and growing popularity of the Ruby framework speak for themselves.

Yokesh Shankar

Glad you are reading this. I’m Yokesh Shankar, the COO at Sparkout Tech, one of the primary founders of a highly creative space. I’m more associated with digital transformation solutions for global issues. Nurturing in Fintech, Supply chain, AR VR solutions, Real estate, and other sectors vitalizing new-age technology, I see this space as a forum to share and seek information. Writing and reading give me more clarity about what I need.

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