Whatever happened to Ruby?

If you’ve been around the world of web development long enough, you’ve seen many languages and frameworks rise and fall. The shooting star that is Ruby and its web application framework, Ruby on Rails, burned brighter than most. In 2008, just three years after Rails was introduced, this very publication posed the question of whether the framework might be the successor to Java, noting that it squeezed the drudgery out of web development and that Ruby-adjacent startups were seeing big venture capital investments.

Fifteen years later, the idea that Ruby would displace Java seems laughable. The TIOBE index, which tracks search results for queries about different languages, had Ruby in 16th place when I last checked. It sits between MATLAB and Object Pascal. (Java held a respectable fourth place.) Filtered, a company that provides virtual environments in which job applicants can show off their skills to potential employers, doesn’t even list Ruby in its top eight languages. Hirers only tested for Ruby about 0.5% of the time, they said.

But don’t put Ruby in a museum with FORTRAN or ALGOL just yet. I spoke to current and former Ruby programmers to try to trace the language’s rise and fall. They shared their thoughts about how and why Ruby’s been displaced from the list of most loved languages—and also why they think it still has a future.

When Ruby was great

There were a number of factors behind Ruby’s initial surge of popularity, but chief among them was that it made it easy to quickly ramp up development, particular for front-end applications. And that hasn’t changed. “Ruby on Rails is still a great way for a small team to have the impact of a large team,” says Noel Rappin, co-author of Programming Ruby 3.2. “It remains one of the fastest ways to go from zero to a real, valuable product.”

“Ruby is and always has been the best language when it comes to providing the user with a solid front-end experience,” explains Pulkit Bhardwaj, e-commerce coach at BoutiqueSetup.net. “It provides ease of use for the final users and gives a stable, secure experience. It also provides a space for experimentation, as Interactive Ruby offers immediate expression results line by line.”

Ruby has also been associated with a strong open source community from its earliest days. Kevin Trowbridge, CTO of Qwoted, believes that the nature of the language itself has a lot to do with that. “It’s the most literate of all programming languages,” he says, meaning that “it’s just so easy to write and read. That’s why you have the community, which is extremely strong, and the philosophy, which is that it’s optimized for product, developer productivity, and happiness.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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