Is Ruby on Rails a Good Choice for Your Website?

Joshua Zader, CEO, Atlas Web Development

Ruby on Rails (often referred to as just "Rails") is a framework for building websites that can make it more affordable to create and maintain your site, while simultaneously offering improved performance and faster development times.

We started building Rails sites in 2006, not long after the framework was publicly released, and have since created hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sites with it, giving us many opportunities to put Rails to the test.

Our conclusion? In general, Rails gives you more "bang for your buck" as a business owner, without sacrificing flexibility or performance. We have also found, however, that there are some projects for which Ruby on Rails is not the best choice. Below are some guidelines for determining whether Ruby on Rails would be a good choice for your project.

The benefits of Ruby on Rails

Overall, as a business owner, the three largest benefits you can expect with Ruby on Rails are:

  • Quicker launch. Sites that would traditionally take 12 weeks to build can commonly be launched inside of 6 weeks with Ruby on Rails. This time savings results from a few factors: a leaner code-base (fewer lines of redundant code), a modular design (re-using existing components rather than building everything from scratch), and the availability of existing plugins (again, reducing the need to build features from scratch).
  • Easier changes. After site launch, future modifications to your site (e.g., adding new features, making changes to the data model) can be made more quickly, for the same reasons noted above.
  • More cost-effective. Because of the speed with which Rails sites can be built and modified, you spend less money to create and maintain the website — without compromising the quality, performance, or scalability of your site.

In summary, while building Rails websites isn't "cheap" — typically the bare minimum for a professional-quality Rails site is $8,000 to $10,000 — for larger sites you do stand to gain a much better return on your investment by using Rails.

When to use Ruby on Rails

In our experience, Rails is an ideal solution if your site falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • E-commerce. Most e-commerce sites benefit tremendously from Rails' user-friendly features and modular approach to site development. We can also include features that you would normally only find in high-end e-commerce suites, such as bulk uploads and updates (for product descriptions and photos, extremely handy when you have thousands of products), custom pricing algorithms, and on-the-fly photo resizing/cropping (especially handy for making product thumbnails for browse pages).
  • Membership sites. Membership and social networking options are pretty much "baked" into Rails. A variety of plugins are available to solve just about any social networking challenge you can think of.
  • Content management. If the purpose of your site is to present thousands of articles, audio files, or other database-friendly content, Rails is a great solution because of the ease with which users will be able to navigate the site, and the ease with which you will be able to upload and manage the content.
  • Custom database solutions. More and more of our new projects are custom solutions requiring a novel database structure to support a creative new business model. In most cases, Rails is an ideal way to realize build these solutions at a fraction of the usual time and expense.

If your site fits into one or more of those categories, generally we would be very comfortable recommending Ruby on Rails as an ideal match.

When NOT to use Ruby on Rails

On the other hand, your site likely will not be well suited to Ruby on Rails if it is:

  1. A "brochure" site. Many small business owners taking their first steps on the web are looking for a brochure-style website that makes a good first impression, provides background and contact information for the company, and enables the business owner to update the website himself. For this kind of website, a better solution than Rails would be a WordPress-driven content management system. We build such sites regularly for our customers, sometimes for as little as $2,000. If this is what you need, there's no reason to bear the expense of creating a Ruby on Rails site.
  2. Limited to a budget under $8K. Rails sites offer real advantages once they are set up, but getting the initial framework in place takes some work. In our experience, setting up a fully-functioning Rails site for less than $8,000 requires cutting corners we think shouldn't be cut. For this reason, we generally do not undertake building a new Rails site unless the client is comfortable with a budget of at least $8,000 (and preferably $10,000+).
  3. A blog-centric site. Ruby on Rails makes it easy to add a blog to a larger web site (e.g., an e-commerce or social networking site). But if your site is first and foremost a blog, then Rails is probably not the best choice; there are other solutions that offer more advanced features with less overhead. You would be better served by utilizing WordPress, for example, as your base site.

Questions? Need development help?

We're happy to talk with you about your project and answer any questions you may have. If we're a good match to develop your site, that's great; and if not, you will still walk away with useful information. Please complete the form below and we will contact you promptly, typically within one business day. (You can also reach us directly by telephone at 1-512-956-9729)

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