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More rails for you

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 by Servage

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You’ve probably heard about Ruby on Rails by now. Your developer friends are raving about it, talking about how they wrote an application in less than half the time it would have taken using some other technology, how they really enjoyed themselves instead of stressing out, and then spent their extra time on the beach. Rails sure does sound like a pretty compelling technology. But what is it, and how does it fit into the big picture of web development?

If you’re a designer, user interface architect, writer, or a software developer not yet acquainted with Rails, you might be wondering what this technology is all about. Can it really cut through the headaches so often associated with web application development? Can it turn you, the mild-mannered non-developer, into a web application programmer overnight? Is Rails really the be-all and end-all development platform? What the heck are Subversion and Git? Do I need to learn all of this just to do design for Rails?

In this article, I’ll help prepare you for your first foray into Rails by explaining what it is, how it works, and where it fits into the spectrum of web development and design. I’ll address the issues above and more, with answers geared toward non-Rails developers, designers, and other creative professionals.

This article isn’t a Rails programming tutorial. We won’t be writing code here, but I will introduce you to some of the important concepts critical to understanding how the Rails framework functions. I’ll also explain what you’ll need to know to work with Rails developers and integrate your XHTML and CSS into Rails projects.

I’ll focus on the topics and issues that I’ve learned are most important for creative people instead of boring you with gruesome technical details. Yes, you’ll have to learn what terms like “MVC” mean, for example, but only in the context of getting stuff done.

What is Rails, and why use it?

David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at 37signals, created Ruby on Rails. As he built Basecamp, their flagship application, David extracted the application’s underpinnings and created code that he could use and re-use for software he wanted to build down the road.

The framework he created proved to be extensible, expandable, and multi-purpose. He decided to share it as open source software. A small group of developers, now known as the Rails Core Team, formed and improved and expanded the framework. After a good deal of effort, Ruby on Rails matured into a robust, solid software development platform. Today, Rails has a strong community and great documentation, and is used by thousands of developers to power hundreds of websites, such as Twitter, Blinksale, and the very site you’re reading now. There’s an even bigger list of sites over at Working with Rails.

Rails is designed to make building web applications simpler and easier. Rails provides developers with a large, easily expandable set of building blocks they can use (and re-use) to create web applications. Developers can use, integrate, and customize these components of code in any manner they choose to, to create the unique functionality they need for their application. Building software this way really helps reduce the time it takes for developers to create and later maintain their applications. It also helps to standardize the way applications get built, making it easier for many developers to collaborate and write more uniform code.

Web designers have time-tested CSS tricks to use as a starting point, web standards to adhere to, and Photoshop workflows they can rely on. Like these tools, Rails provides standards, conventions, tools, and a foundation upon which developers can construct applications by writing customized code using pre-built Rails libraries.

Sources for further reading

More rails for you, 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings
Categories: Guides & Tutorials

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