You’ve got a fascinating web app project on paper. And the tool you use to bring it to life will shape future success. On that account, it’s always tricky to choose a technology for web development. Today, we are not going to make a traditional comparison of two competitors. Rather we will try to figure out whether Python, Ruby, and Node.js fits best to your startup.
Coaches and fighters
The web is overfilled with miscellaneous reviews and comparisons like Ruby on Rails vs. Node.js, Python vs. Ruby, Django vs. Rails, etc. However, we are not going to offer some ridiculous and SEO-based collation but focus on tools for building projects, namely web applications. The technologies we mentioned in the introduction are the primary means of building web apps. The development process benefits most from their mainstream solutions. It is like coach and fighter where the first one does not participate in the fight directly. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience given to the fighter are essential. So, we’ve got three platform-coaches, Python vs. Ruby vs. Node.js, represented by three framework-fighters, Django vs. Ruby on Rails vs. Express. The journey promises to be tough.
Coach #1 – Python
This fully-fledged scripting language came out in 1991 and gradually began winning developers’ love. Python is characterized by high functionality and comprehensive library support. Building apps for servers, desktops, and mobile devices is not this language’s only niche. It is also widely deployed in machine learning related applications, as well as versatile data science research.
After a short warm up-introduction to Python, we are ready to come over to its web development framework…the ‘One Unchained’.
Fighter #1 – Django
The framework named after the famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt is written in Python and came out in 2005. Its initial purpose was to accelerate news website development. Today, developers enjoy a “batteries included” solution packed with templates, libraries, plugins, admin UI, session management, and other tools. Django is open source and provides plenty of information sources like free eBooks and tutorials that significantly reduce its learning curve.
Django enjoys popularity with such prominent names as Instagram, Udemy, Pinterest, Disqus and many others who opt for it as a web app tool. Since this Python framework came from publishing, there is no surprise that you will find the framework used for The Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine. Talking in figures, Django’s GitHub rate has risen beyond 34K stars having 1.5K contributors. As of the post’s release day, the framework’s community includes 11344 people from 160 countries.
Reasons to use
Amid numerous reasons to choose Django for your project, we have selected the most valuable ones to weight the scales of your decision.
- The app building process with the framework requires minimal costs of upgrades, changes, and additions.
- Any size project is a fit due to the tool’s scalability. Startups, as well as web apps with huge traffic, will benefit from opting for Django.
- Python being Django’s basis is an undisputed reason to engage it for your project. Both the language and the framework are open source, i.e., a supportive community is always ready to help with any probable blockages or troubles.
- Django is a toolkit of components required for the app building process. Besides, if there is a lack of something, you will always find a missing element among numerous plugins. So, adding google maps, creating complex permissions, connecting to stripe for payment processing and other tasks are no longer a challenge.
- The DRY principle followed by the framework foresees less time to get the code working, less code to break and change if re-orientation is needed.
- Great documentation. You may forget about spending hours for fixing errors since all necessary docs and code examples are available with any new release.
- Speed and cost efficiency. Django’s major advantage is expressed via its motto – the web framework for perfectionists with deadlines. Indeed, the development process with the framework is known for fewer time expenses due to less coding. As we know, less time means less budget that is an essential pro in modern market terms.
- Low learning curve Django is supported with ample of eBooks and documentation. Besides, Domain knowledge of the framework is not necessary due to a low learning curve.
- Large set of features and functionalities The framework is often referred to as the “batteries included” tool following the same principles as Python. It means that developers have plenty of features and functionalities in their possession. These include multi-language support, user authentication, MVC layout, sitemaps, free API, content administration, URL routing, RSS feeds, easy database migrations, etc.
- Front-end integration Depending on your project’s size, Django offers different solutions to build your front-end strategy. These include a common method of storing everything in a static folder, as well as using a front-end building system (Gulp, Grunt) or a third-party Django library (django-compressor, django-pipeline).
- Security Using this technology, you obtain the protection against cross-site scripting attacks, cross-site request forgery, SQL injections, clickjacking, and others. Django ensures elimination of common mistakes related to security.
- Scalability Another essential benefit ensured by the framework is the traffic handling capacity of above 400 million users. This allows you to increase scalability and decrease web hosting expenses.
- Loose coupling According to Django’s loose coupling philosophy individual components are kept separate. This allows integrating the tools that are most appropriate for a specific problem, as well as those an engineer is familiar with.
- Community It is difficult to imagine a powerful web development tool without a supportive community. In our comparison of Python vs. Ruby vs. Node, all technologies can boast a great number of active supporters. Open-source technology can lack financial resources. However, Django and its vibrant community can count on DSF (Django Software Foundation), which was created to promote, support, and advance the project. DSF’s corporate members include Instagram, JetBrains, Sentry, Zapier, etc.
- Monolithic architecture Some developers may not see this as a disadvantage. Still, if you prefer dealing with customizable design patterns and architecture, you won’t be satisfied with the framework’s monolithic nature.
- Regular expressions to specify URL The code gets larger and is overgrown with complicated syntaxes because of Django’s usage of regular expressions to specify URL routing patterns.
- Small projects are not a fit In fact, Django is a complex solution for web app development. On that account, using it for small projects means dragging a heavy structure and vast functionality without actual implementation of them.
- Hosting “Can you recommend a decent Django hosting provider?” is a frequent question within the community. However, troubles associated with hosting Django apps are gradually vanishing with such services as DigitalOcean or Heroku offering almost one-click installation solutions.
- Runtime speed It’s not a drastic drawback but Django is actually slower than web frameworks based on Java, Scala, C, and C++.
For whom is it the right choice?
Django is a fully featured framework that handles much of the web development hassle. It enables modeling your domain and code classes and provides an ORM. Despite numerous controversial opinions regarding the best applicability of the framework, complex and dynamic apps are the Django’s niche. For example, you can entirely unlock the tool’s potential when building a powerful CRM app. Django is a perfect fit for different startups since it eliminates a necessity to handle versatile concerns apart from the app you are building.
Coach #2 – Ruby
Ruby is four years younger than Python. Both languages have much in common: object-oriented nature, interactive shell, standard libraries, etc. At the same time, Ruby is all about elegance and magic that make it a popular choice for startups. Engineers admit its simple and intuitive code. Besides, software development is faster, i.e. cost-effective, compared to other technologies.
When talking about web development, you can’t not mention Ruby on Rails.
Fighter #2 – Ruby on Rails
Our next contender in this Ruby vs. Python vs. Node.js comparison has numerous names including Rails and RoR. Regardless the way you name it, it is a web app framework written in the Ruby language. The framework’s core principle is convention-over-configuration. According to this doctrine, your working environment provides certain logical situations (conventions) by default. Consequently, an engineer doesn’t need to create own rules each time because the existing ones can be adapted. In practice, following the established conventions reduces the code size, as well as time expenses for programming your Rails app.
Ruby on Rails is a powerful toolkit providing everything needed to build database-backed web apps according to the MVC pattern. It was launched later than Django (in 2004) but managed to come into its own and allure such prominent names as GitHub, Dribbble, Airbnb, Twitter, and others. Here you can learn versatile famous web apps built with ROR. The popularity of the technology is proved by 3.5K contributors and almost 40K stars on GitHub, as well as more than 5K StackShare votes.
Reasons to use
Recently, Railsware offered its thoughts on why to use RoR for your product. Here is a small summary of the core reasons:
Conventional web development tools might cost a fortune, and your company would have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to afford licensing costs. In such conditions, Rails seems a magic solution since it is free to use for both individuals and companies. Moreover, if you combine the framework with other free and open-source databases, servers, and operating systems and miscellaneous tools, you will get an outstanding development package.
When you decide on Ruby on Rails, you get a robust infrastructure, which spares you many concerns related to configuring files for set up. In other words, you accelerate your development process.
Engineers often disagree about the learning curve of one dev tool or another. It all depends on personal attitude. However, Rails is rightly considered one of the easiest frameworks because of availability of proper documentation, exhaustive tutorials and convention-over-configuration principle. An expressive language and rich syntax sugar are the framework’s major attributes. It is really easy to read the framework code involved in the app code.
Good development principles
Ruby on Rails associates with such development principles as MVC, conventions-over-configurations, and DRY that rightfully improve the app building process and encourage software engineers to generate refined code.
- Code Quality An object-oriented and user-friendly programming language provides a high level of readability. Ruby allows you to significantly increase the productivity of the development process and eliminate any hurdles.
- MVC principle Being a Model-View-Controller framework, Ruby on Rails promotes modularity and extensibility of the final product. In other words, if you need to enhance your app with new features or business logic, you won’t face any impassable barriers to overcome.
- Convention over configuration The aforementioned paradigm facilitates navigation between different RoR projects because of implementing common conventions.
- Ecosystem In the Rubyists’ community, a gem denotes a software package containing a Ruby app or library. You can use gems to improve and modify functionality like task automation or work acceleration in your apps.
- REST architecture Rails app architecture is based on the client/server relationship that allows for creating logic around apps.
- Flexibility The framework is highly flexible. It means that engineers can deploy multiple tools/technologies/frameworks accompanying Ruby on Rails for their projects.
- Community A vivid developer community is a decent reason to opt for RoR. Rubyists are always ready to lend a helping hand to brush up your code or resolve any issue. You can find them on forums, chat rooms, websites, and other online collaboration sources, as well as annual conferences like RailsConf or RubyC. As for the financial support, Rails can count for Basecamp.
- Runtime speed Comparing to apps built with Node.js, which by nature are capable to handle more traffic due to event-driven architecture and I/O handling, Rails products may seem slower. However, it does not mean that your RoR app will face significant bottlenecks in performance.
- Complexity What is the core reason that makes Rails so attractive? This framework offers simplicity in development. However, it is actually a false sense. In practice, convenient interfaces conceal decent complexity. The RoR code is not simple but easy to write. And the lack of separation of concerns increases coupling and damages the project.
- ActiveCoupling Loose-coupling and component-oriented design are not the approaches followed when creating Rails. The framework’s philosophy lies in putting everything in ActiveRecord with no concerns about tight coupling between domain logic and persistence. If your purpose is to avoid this type of coupling, be prepared to invest tremendous efforts and lose much of the built-in functionality.
For whom is it the right choice?
Ruby on Rails is hands-down one of the most powerful web app development tools you can choose. It is a decent solution for those limited in production time and budget. At the same time, the framework is rather opinionated and that can be an obstacle to building I/O-heavy real-time apps. Railswarians opted for this technology long ago, as is evident from our company’s name. The choice of Rails does not rest on its popularity but on significant improvement of the development process, which you obtain when working with the framework.
Coach #3 – Node.js
Node.js allows you to build any JS app with I/O access. Do not be skeptical about the technology if a server app is not your goal. It provides a bunch of tools built atop to improve your dev process. So, amid numerous web app frameworks including Meteor, Koa, Sail.js and others, we decided to introduce Express.js as the most flexible and refined solution for your project.
Fighter #3 – Express.js
Express is the youngest tool in our comparison since it came out first in 2009. Despite the self-positioning as a minimalist web framework, Express.js is rightfully considered a powerful technology suitable for building a REST API server for simple apps, as well as creating highly scalable full stack products. Fighter #3 is a fast and unopinionated solution, which inspired and formed the basis of well known Node.js frameworks like Locomotive, Kraken, Sails, Blueprint, and others.
Statistically, Node is a leader in our comparison according to StackShare with 7.4K votes and 11.6 stacks. GitHub statistics (35.9K stars) lags behind RoR but overcomes Django. With that in mind, Express.js cannot rest on Node’s laurels and has to gain popularity by itself. Having over 2K community members, the framework is not able to compete on equal terms with Rails and Django. Express is not associated with big names like Netflix, Uber, and eBay that opt for Node.js, but the framework has been chosen by TotalCast, Dial Once, Impraise, and other companies.
Reasons to use
Express.js is the simplest web app framework in the world of Node.js. In this context, it means that the app building process focuses on developer’s preference and does not require a needless learning curve. Projects without historical charge will consider this an advantage. At the same time, the framework’s stability is grounds for high popularity with other tools. Not only that, the Express framework is the best choice for beginners who want to join the Node.js app development community.
- One of the reasons why engineers opt for Node.js is speed. Express is a thin layer packed with web app features including basic routing, middleware, template engine and static files serving, and others. It does not aggravate the powerful I/O performance of the JS runtime.
- Express is not deprived of generators despite its unopinionated nature. With express-generator, you can create an app folder with clear hierarchy for better structuring of front-end static JS, images, stylesheet and HTML template files.
- Express.js compliments Node’s npm for dealing with numerous third-party plugins. These are a great aid to an engineer for solving issues during the production process.
- Non-blocking I/O The first advantage using Node.js to mention is the asynchronous data flow. It means that data is sent and received by client without interruption on the call finish. In practice, no page refresh is needed to receive new data. SPA or real-time apps are perfect products to build with Express.
- Powerful routed API Express has a powerful routed API, which allows for building REST API and routes for simple web apps.
- Full stack JS back-end development With Node.js, you get such benefits as improved performance and productivity, code reuse/sharing, a bunch of free tools, as well as speed.
- Ecosystem A package manager, npm, is a place where you can discover thousands of useful tools to broaden the Node.js ecosystem. Using them, you will be able to elicit the technology’s entire potential.
- Corporate support Express is one of the most supported web app frameworks in the Node.js runtime. With the founding members represented by SAP, IBM, Microsoft, and PayPal, Node.js resembles a multimillion dollar project rather than an open source one.
- Callback hell This lingo describes a situation where a callback ends up with tons of nested callbacks. Callback hell is a serious issue, which affects the code quality and leads to a slower process, and increased costs. Node’s 7th version contains the async/await feature to increase the code quality and forget about callback hell.
- No object-relational mapping support Though Express.js has no ORM support, you can always integrate Node.js ORM like bookshelf or sequelize with numerous databases provided in the framework’s documentation.
- Dependent cloud-based architecture Plenty of packages needed to deploy, scale, monitor and handle your API in the cloud-based world.
- Insufficiency with heavy computations A single-threaded nature of the runtime environment is not suitable for computation-heavy systems because a CPU-intensive task can block the event loop. As a result, website users experience a prolonged delay.
For whom is it the right choice?
Small and medium projects are the niche of middleware frameworks. Node.js, in turn, is a great choice for real-time apps, as well as projects that require handling a large number of simultaneous connections. Besides, low-latency heavy-load real-time parts of apps can benefit from the technology. If your future product is a gaming app, forum, ad server or another application requiring high speed and intense I/O, be sure that Node.js is quite the useful thing. However, large projects with the support of a large team of engineers might not be the case for Express.
What to choose?
Your choice should depend on the project requirements including budget and type of app to build. Python is the case for CPU-heavy apps and development of IoT back-end. Ruby is also a fit for data-driven apps and the development limited in funds and time. Node.js with its framework answers the door for RTAs, SPAs, and apps with heavy I/O operations, server requests, and data flow.
If you were hoping to see exact figures in this section, I have to disappoint you. No developer can immediately tell you the price of your project. At the same time, different web app building technologies suit certain budgets and financial expectations. So, let’s have a look from a business perspective and find out developers’ rates for each technology.
One wise man said that the cost of hiring an engineer is determined by his/her experience and expertise rather than the language he/she knows. You may agree or disagree with this statement, but in practice, the state of affairs is a bit different. Some web sources show that an average hourly rate for Ruby and Node.js engineers is almost the same, and Python developers’ rates are lower. With that in mind, Django and Rails offer the shortest amount of time to get an MVP. I.e., the Unchained wins both Ruby’s framework and Express.js in terms of cost-efficiency. Node.js is deemed the most expensive solution. However, it is all relative and cannot be considered a benchmark.
Engineers in demand
We have neither a winner nor loser, and there will never be one. It is not a problem, but there are a bunch of solutions to choose from. In terms of code, Python’s fighter scales better than RoR. Node.js and its framework perform in a special weight category of RTAs/intense I/O. But… real-time apps are tricky. Server-side real-time means something different than client-side real-time. For non-techies, RTA example is Google docs or Facebook Messenger where a user instantly sees updates. The trick here is that it can be achieved with Rails as well since it has a special component (ActionCable) that can be combined with anycable server-side implementation in Go, Node.js, whatever. So, you can build complex app with some real-time features in Rails.
Railsware is a cutting-edge company and attempts to maintain flexibility amid technologies because some projects may benefit from Node or Django, while others are better to build with Ruby on Rails. We also recommend you follow this principle to get the best efficiency for your future product.