A Comprehensive Guide to Elixir vs Ruby

Deciding what programming language is best for your long-term business strategy is a difficult decision. Suppose you’re tossing the coin between Elixir and Ruby, or considering making a shift from one to the other. In that case, you probably have a lot of questions about both languages, which we will compare for you in the latest Elixir vs Ruby guide.

Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each language, as well as their optimal use cases and other key points, providing you with a clearer insight into both. Elixir is well-known for its scalability and fault tolerance, making it the best for real-time applications and systems needing high concurrency. Meanwhile, Ruby’s strength lies in its syntax and robust framework. Each language has its ideal use cases, and we’ll take a closer into them throughout the article.

Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each language, as well as their optimal use cases and other key points, providing you with a clearer insight into both.

The pros of Elixir

If you’re considering migrating from Elixir to Ruby, you’ll undoubtedly be looking into its benefits and some key advantages it has over other languages. So let’s jump into some of its most prominent features.

Built on the BEAM

As mentioned, Elixir operates on the Erlang virtual machine (BEAM). It has a long history as one of the oldest VMs in IT history and remains widely used. The Erlang VM BEAM is ideal for managing and building systems with concurrent connections. 

Immutable data

A major advantage of Elixir is its support for immutable data, which simplifies code understanding. Elixir ensures that data is unchanged once it has been defined, enhancing code reliability by preventing unexpected changes to variables, and making for easier debugging.

Top performance

Elixir offers amazing performance. Phoenix framework is the most popular web development framework in Elixir, boasting remarkable speed and response times (a matter of milliseconds). While Rails isn’t a slow system either, Elixir’s performance just edges it out, making it a superior choice. We’ve previously made the case for Elixir’s great performance making it one of the fastest programming languages in our previous post.

Parallelism

Parallel systems often have latency and responsiveness challenges due to how much computer power is required for a single task. But Elixir addresses this with its very clever process scheduler, which proactively reallocates control to different processes.  

So even under heavy loads, a slow process isn’t able to significantly impact the overall performance of an Elixir application. This capability ensures low latency, a key requirement for modern web applications.

Highly fault-tolerant

In most programming languages, when a bug is identified in one process, it crashes the whole application. But Elixir handles this differently. It has unmatched fault tolerance. 

A fan favourite of the language, Elixir inherits Erlang’s “let it crash” philosophy, allowing processes to restart after a critical failure. This eliminates the need for complex recovery strategies.

Distributed concurrency

Elixir supports code concurrency, allowing you to run concurrent connections on a single computer and multiple machines. You can learn about the importance of building scalable and concurrent applications in Elixir programming language in this post.

Scalability

Elixir gets the most out of a single machine perfect for systems or applications that need to scale or maintain traffic. Thanks to its architecture, there’s no need to add servers to accommodate demand continuously.

So what is Elixir?

Elixir, as stated on the official website Elixir-lang.org, describes itself as a ‘dynamic and functional language for creating scalable and maintainable applications.’ It is a great choice for any situation where scalability, performance and productivity are priorities, particularly within IoT endeavours and web applications.

Elixir runs on the BEAM virtual machine, originating from Erlang’s virtual machine (VM). It is well known for managing fault-tolerant, low-latency distributed systems. Created in 1986 by the Ericsson company, Erlang was designed to address the growing demands within the telecoms industry.

It was later released as free and open-source software in 1998 and has since grown in popularity thanks to the demand for concurrent services.  If you would like a more detailed breakdown explaining the origins and current state of the Elixir programming language, check out our “What is Elixir” post in full.

The pros of Ruby

Now let’s explore the benefits that Ruby has to offer. There are massive advantages for developers, from its expansive library ecosystem to its user-friendly syntax and supportive community.

Huge ecosystem

Not only is Ruby a very user-friendly programming language, but it also boasts a vast library ecosystem. Whatever feature you want to implement, there’s likely something available to help you develop swift applications.

Easy to work with

The founder of Ruby’s aim was to make development a breeze and pleasant for users. For this reason, Ruby is straightforward, clean and has an easily understandable syntax. This makes for very easy and productive development, which is why it remains such a popular choice with developers.

Helpful, vibrant community

The Ruby community is a vibrant one that thrives with the consistent publishing of readily available solutions that are open to the public, like their ever-popular Ruby community page. This environment is very advantageous for new developers, who can easily seek assistance and valuable solutions online.

Commitment to standards

Ruby offers strong support for web standards across all aspects of an application, from its user interface to data transfer.

When building an application with Ruby, developers adhere to already established software design principles such as  “coding by convention,” “don’t repeat yourself,” and the “active record pattern.”

So why are all of these points considered so advantageous to Ruby?

Firstly, it simplifies the learning curve for beginners, designed to enhance the professional experience. It also lends itself to better code readability, which is great for collaboration and developers and finally, it reduces the amount of code needed to implement features.

What is Ruby?

Ruby stands out as a highly flexible programming language. Developers who code in Ruby are able to make changes to its functionality. Unlike compiled languages like C or C++, Ruby is an interpreted language, similar to Python.

But unlike Python which focuses on a singular, definitive solution for every problem, Ruby projects try to take on multiple problem-solving approaches. Depending on your project,  this approach has pros and cons. 

One hallmark of Ruby is its user-friendly nature. It hides a lot of intricate details from the programmer, making it much easier to use compared to other popular languages. But it also means that finding bugs in code can be harder. 

There is a major convenience factor to coding in Ruby. Any code that you write will run on any major operating system such as macOR, Windows, and Linux, without having to be ported.

Elixir v Ruby: Key differences

There are some significant differences between the two powerhouse languages. While Elixir and Ruby are both versatile, dynamic languages, unlike Ruby, Elixir code undergoes ahead-of-time compilation to Erlang VM (virtual machine) bytecode, which enhances its single-core performance substantially. Elixir’s focus is on code readability and expressiveness, while its robust macro system facilitates easy extensibility.

Elixir and Ruby’s syntax also differ in several ways. For instance, Elixir uses pipes (marked by |> operator) to pass the outcome of one expression as the initial argument to another function, while Ruby employs “.” for method chaining.

Also, Elixir provides explicit backing for immutable data structures, a feature not directly present in Ruby. It also offers first-rate support for typespecs, a capability lacking in Ruby.

Elixir vs Ruby: A history

To gain a better understanding of the frequent Ruby and Elixir comparisons, let’s take it back to the 90’s when Ruby was created by Yukihiro Matsumoto. He combined the best features of Small, Perl, Eiffel, Ada, Lip and Smalltalk languages to simplify the tasks of developers. But Ruby’s popularity surged with the release of the open-source framework Ruby on Rails.

This launch proved to be revolutionary in the world of web development, making code tasks achievable in a matter of days instead of months. As one of the leading figures on the Rails Core Team, Jose Valim recognised the potential for evolution within the Ruby language.

In 2012, Elixir was born- a functional programming language, built on the Erlang virtual machine (VM). The aim of Elixir was to create a language with the friendly syntax of Ruby while boasting fault tolerance, concurrency capabilities and a commitment to developer satisfaction.

The Elixir community also has Phoenix, an open-source framework from Phoenix’s creator Chris McCord. Working with Jose Valim and implementing the core values from Ruby on Rails perfected a much more effective framework for the Elixir ecosystem.

Best use for developers

Elixir is a great option for developers who want the productivity of Ruby and the scalability of Elixir. It also performs just as well as Ruby for Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and startups for larger applications, while demonstrating robust scalability for extensive applications.

For companies who want swift delivery without sacrificing quality, Elixir works out as a great overall choice.

Comparing Ruby v Elixir

Exploring the talent pool for Elixir and Ruby

Elixir is a newer language than Ruby and has a smaller pool of developers. But that doesn’t stop it from slowly becoming one of the most popular programming languages, ranking second most popular in 2022.

Elixir v Ruby

The Stack Overflow Survey 2022

Also, let’s not forget it’s also a functional language, and functional programming typically demands a different way of thinking compared to object-oriented programming. 

As a result, Elixir developers tend to have more experience and understanding of programming concepts. And the Elixir community is also rapidly growing. Those who are familiar with Ruby commonly make the switch to Elixir.

Although Elixir developers might be more difficult to find, once you do, they are worth their weight. 

Who is using Elixir and Ruby?

Let’s take a look at some highly successful companies that have used Ruby and Elixir:

Elixir

Discord: Uses Elixir for its real-time messaging infrastructure, benefiting from Elixir’s concurrency and fault tolerance.

Pinterest: Takes advantage of Elixir’s scalability and fault-tolerance features.

Bleacher Report: Bleacher Report, a sports news website, utilizes Elixir for its backend services, including real-time updates and notifications.

Moz: Uses Elixir for its backend services, benefiting from its concurrency model and fault tolerance.

Toyota Connected: Leverages Elixir for building scalable and fault-tolerant backend systems for connected car applications.

Ruby

Airbnb: Uses Ruby on Rails for its web platform, including features like search, booking, and reviews.

GitHub: Is built primarily using Ruby on Rails.

Shopify: Relies on Ruby on Rails for its backend infrastructure.

Basecamp: Built using Ruby on Rails.

Kickstarter: Uses Ruby on Rails for its website and backend services.

So, what to choose?

Migrating or simply deciding between programming languages presents an opportunity for enhancing performance, scalability, and robustness. But it is a journey. One that requires careful planning and execution and achieve the best long-term results for your business.

While the Ruby community offers longevity, navigating outdated solutions can be a challenge. Nonetheless, the overlap of the Ruby and Elixir communities fosters a supportive environment for transitioning from one to the other. Elixir provides a learning curve that may deter some, but for developers seeking typed languages and parallel computing benefits, it is invaluable.

If you’re already working with existing Ruby infrastructure, incorporating Elixir to address scaling and reliability issues is a viable option. The synergies between the two languages promote a seamless transition. 

Ultimately, while Ruby remains a solid choice, the advantages of Elixir make it a compelling option worth considering for future development and business growth. You can learn more about our Elixir offering on our Elixir consulting page, or by contacting our team directly.

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