First impressions of Rails

My internship at UniversityNow had me using Ruby on Rails, but I was mostly working with Backbone.js and fixing small Rails bugs. I had never sat down and built anything from scratch before. Today, I spent about six hours learning my way through starting a Rails app.

I thought it'd be interesting to catalog my first impressions of Rails. Please keep in mind that I have no bloody clue what I'm talking about, this is just my reflection.

  • Rails is crazy. It seems like a nice (and extendable) collection of good server-side libraries ("gems", I should say). It also seems to force rigidity on you, and when you begrudgingly comply, that part of your app is finished in two minutes. I haven't built anything exciting yet (mostly just user signup), but this simpler stuff takes longer to learn than to implement. It seems.

  • It seems like the clever Rails programmer writes the most important code in his or her gemfile. There are so many gems out there that you basically never have to write any code. A gem's readme will have sections like "Using Capybara with Cucumber" where a JavaScript framework will have "dependency injection and inversion of control". Rails seems like it's all about gems, where JavaScript seems like it's all about...well, JavaScript is a wild land of chaos.

  • RailsCasts is really well-done and even more helpful.

  • I've known about Twitter's Bootstrap for awhile now, but I finally tried it for the first time with the help of RailsCasts. I don't think I'm going to stick with vanilla Bootstrap long term, but it makes your site look not-butt-ugly really fast.

  • Devise is wild. I had a full user authentication process complete in 30 minutes and I had no idea what I was doing. Imagine how quickly I could do it now!

  • I find it a little disconcerting that, in many cases, I have no idea what Rails is doing. As of this writing, I have 12 gems in my gemfile and with dependencies, that becomes 71 gems. It seems fast. It also seems suspicious that 71 different gems aren't going to explode. I know I'm wrong -- people love Rails -- but something about that freaks me out.

  • I feel like I'm walking on a tightrope when I'm doing migrations. I wanted to rename two columns -- that was it -- and I was nervous that if I screwed up, databases would come crashing down. Certainly false, what with version control and the "down" migration and Them Internets, but I was much more careful with those than with, say, ERB.

  • I'm glad I'm learning it because it's an important skill to have, both for my own personal projects and because (selfishly) it's employable.