Node.js keeps stealing Rails' thunder

Rails founder isn't worried about Node.js displacing Rails, but more and more companies are making the switch

Thanks to benefits such as developer familiarity with JavaScript, Node.js is displacing Ruby on Rails in some major installations. But the founder of Rails says he's become bored with the discussion of any competition between the two technologies.

Reaffirming a migration pattern that has been pondered for a few years now, developers at major Web properties Groupon and LinkedIn recently championed their companies' selection of Node.js over Ruby on Rails. Groupon has swapped out its Rails-based Web front end in the United States with Node.js and will make the same move in other countries, too.

The replacement came about after Groupon decided it wanted to replace its large monolithic application, which had trouble scaling, says Sean McCullough, a software engineer at Groupon. The company already had the JavaScript developer talent that could work with Node.js. "The goal was we wanted to create new front ends just for each one of the sites, and Node was well suited for the kind of engineers that we had and the performance profile that we needed," says McCullough. Rails still is in use as a RESTful JSON API and for back-end services at Groupon, although plans call for replacing the API with a proxy leveraging Java and Vert.x; the team owning that layer is comfortable with Java, says McCullough.

LinkedIn has gained speed of development and speed of execution with Node.js, says Kiran Prasad, senior director of mobile engineering at the company. "When I joined LinkedIn, we actually were running a Ruby on Rails stack for pretty much our mobile front end," Prasad says. But these days the front end for mobile has had to move from the server side to the client side, and that shift has changed the needs of the front end on the server side. The server side is now memory- and I/O- bound instead of CPU-bound, he says. To accommodate this shift, LinkedIn looked at technologies like EventMachine and Python before opting for Node.js. "It ran really efficiently in terms of I/O utilization."

Asked about Node.js replacing Rails, founder David Heinemeier Hansson was uninterested in any debate: "Everything can be used instead of everything else. They're all Turing-complete languages." He concludes, "I find debates like this to be a bore at this point."

Freelance Web developer and blogger Sagi Isha also has joined the Node.js camp after having developed with Rails: "I believe Node is capable of delivering the same, if not better, results than Rails for any Web development task, although it's slightly less mature at the time and the conventions are less stable at this time."

Isha says he had developed with Rails for two years before switching to Node.js. in January of this year. "The time is right, the board is set. Node needs Rails developers to incorporate their good standards and conventions as early as yesterday. It's undoubtedly the future of Web development, and the sooner they get on that train the better for them, the community and the World Wide Web."

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