- February
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Ruby on Rails vs PHP: Which One Should You Learn?

These days, everyone and their brother will tell you that learning to code is an invaluable life skill. The question is, which language, or languages, should you focus on?

People will emphasize some languages over others when it comes to website design or database programming. Some say that certain languages, like Ruby or PHP, have died out.

But there are still certain benefits to learning Ruby on Rails and PHP. The question is which language is best for your purposes. Here, we’re breaking down Ruby on Rails vs PHP to help you decide what language is best for you.

What Is Ruby on Rails?

First, we should talk about what Ruby on Rails actually is, which means we need to talk about what Ruby is.

Ruby was created in 1995 by Yukihiro Matsumoto. It’s a general-purpose programming language based on the principle that there is more than one way to do something.

This means that the language offers a great deal of freedom for programmers to write code how they want. Of course, this also demands a greater understanding of Ruby’s complexity in order to use the language effectively.

Rails is a web application framework running on Ruby. Essentially, it makes certain assumptions about what every developer needs to get started in order to simplify the development process.

It is based on two guiding principles:

  1. Don’t repeat yourself
  2. Convention over configuration

In other words, every piece of knowledge and information should have one unambiguous representation in the framework in order to reduce unnecessary code, and the code that is written should abide the default conventions of Rails in order to limit contradictory configurations.

This allows you to accomplish more than many other languages and frameworks–while using less code to do it.

What Is PHP?

Then, there’s PHP.

PHP (short for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) is an open-source scripting language widely used in web development, especially because it can be embedded in HTML.

For those who don’t know, HTML is still at the heart of web development, even in something as basic as WordPress title tags.

It’s useful to think of PHP in connection to HTML, as one of PHP’s most common uses is to add functionality that HTML cannot achieve on its own.

For reference: HTML is a text-based programming language. It’s at the root of all web pages and can contain basic features like text, lines, tables, and images, but the juicy part of web design comes when other languages build on HTML.

For example, PHP can perform various types of calculations, and a large number of math functions are integral to the core of PHP. PHP also allows users to interact directly with the script, such as adding information to an address book which the script can then add to MySQL databases.

PHP was created in 1995 by a guy called Rasmus Lerdorf. Unlike Ruby on Rails, the learning curve isn’t nearly as steep because PHP doesn’t require you to load libraries and learn frameworks before using the language.

Ruby on Rails vs PHP: Conceptual Differences

Since Ruby on Rails and PHP are based on different fundamental principles, the languages are structured differently. This means their functionality for certain tasks isn’t always an equal playing field.

Method, Variable, Property

For example, you can use different syntax in PHP to access methods, variables, or properties.

Since Ruby is based on the principle that the code shouldn’t repeat itself, you only get one way of accessing methods, variables, or properties.

Granted, this isn’t an issue that should trip you up too much, though it can cause confusion if a PHP developer reads Ruby code or vice versa.

Type Hints vs Duck Typing

Another key difference is the use of type hints vs duck typing.

Where some languages require you to define a type for arguments, PHP added optional type hinting for arguments. You could also require specific class names, interfaces, abstracts, arrays, and callables.

Ruby, of course, has none of this. With Ruby, you have to use duck typing.

Since Ruby doesn’t declare types of variables or methods, everything in Ruby is an object, and every object can be individually modified. Ruby also relies more on an object’s capabilities than its type.

Duck typing basically means an object is defined by what it can do, rather than what it is. A duck, for example, is defined by its ability to quack rather than the fact of it being a duck.

Alternately, if an object waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, a Ruby developer is happy to treat it like a duck. Swap in coding terms like strings, and you’ve got the idea.

Difference in Uses

Since PHP and Ruby on Rails have different sensibilities about the way things work in a programming language, they’re also more useful for different applications, depending on what you want to accomplish.

At the moment, PHP wins out over Ruby on Rails as a back-end programming language. In fact, as a server-side programming language, it’s actually quite versatile.

Ruby on Rails, on the other hand, is useful for building apps–the programs you access and interact with on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet, like Netflix or Facebook. The beauty of Ruby on Rails is that it gives you a framework so you don’t have to build every individual application from scratch.

Which language is right for you? That depends on what you’re trying to build. If you want front-end, you’ll likely be better served by Ruby on Rails. If you want server-side, you’re probably better off with PHP.

Making Sense of Web Development

Of course, there’s so much more to web development than the Ruby on Rails vs PHP debate. We’re here to help you figure it out.

Check out our blog for all kinds of posts that will help you demystify the development process, like these eight coding tips for total beginners.