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Posted on March 14, 2017

Abstract

Many companies fret about what technologies they should use to build their custom web and mobile backend software. It's easy to see why, given the dizzying array of choices that all claim they're the best; and the claims may all be true for certain specific use cases. To the uninitiated, it's a keyword soup of terms like JavaScript, Python, Ruby, ReactJS, Node.js, AngularJS, and Elixir. However, it doesn't have to be complicated. If you care most about spending your time actually talking to customers, then just build it in Django or Rails.

So you decided that you need custom software and not something like a CMS. What web framework do you use to speed up development? If you don’t use one at all, then you’ll most likely be sinking unecessary time and money into a poor version of one. To quote a previous post:

“Is it possible to instead build everything from scratch so that every single line of code perfectly suits your needs? Probably, but your rendition won’t be crafted by the same world-class web framework developers or battle-tested for over a decade. The benefits of building everything yourself tend to be marginal if present at all. It also won’t be free. You’ll end up paying a lot of money for what amounts to a bad version of already existing web frameworks.”

If you’re not opinionated about this decision, then as the title suggests, in 2017 you just can’t go wrong with choosing either the Django project or Ruby on Rails as the primary web framework for building your applications.

Of course, every company has different needs, but these frameworks are crafted in a modular form so you can easily pull in or cut out components, leaving only the perfect solution for your business needs. Even the most customized race car is a variation on the standard model of a car; it has wheels, a chassis, a transmission, and an engine. Web applications are the same way, and good frameworks such as Django or Rails bring all the parts you could want and a basic functioning skeleton to modify and build on.

Versus Other Web Frameworks

What makes Django and Rails so special? It’s a combination of feature sets, community, and track record over time.

The Right Features Made to Work Together

Some web frameworks or toolkits are Bring Your Own X, where X is anything from data modeling layers, to HTML rendering engines, to authentication systems, to database migration managers. These kinds of frameworks typically boast customizability and simplicity, and rightfully so. However, with extensive customizability also comes extensive effort to get your project to do what you want, meaning additional development hours and project management.

Examples include:

These are great if you have some very custom or slim application in mind, perhaps one of the use cases described in the post When Not to Use a Web Framework. However, if you’re starting a business or implementing a new web product for your existing business, then a more comprehensive web framework will probably better serve you. To find out if this is indeed the case, you can visit the aforementioned link to read the guide.

In particular, Rails and Django both have all the following components built-in and playing nicely together:

Community and Ecosystem

The community and ecosystem are together an important (if not the most important) aspect of choosing your technology stack. They will dictate how easy it is to hire competent technologists, how easy it is for your technologists to solve their problems, and how your organization is enabled to grow and evolve moving forward. Django and Rails both have phenomenal communities and ecosystems.

Finding Developers

There are reasons why developer bootcamps will teach their students one of these two frameworks. As described above, these frameworks are well-crafted and in wide use. Employers want to use it, and employees want to have jobs. The flywheel is already spinning very quickly. A quick Google search will yield results for job boards specifically for Django and Rails opportunities–this is how prevalent these technologies are. This means that there’s a market, and you’ll get a fair rate for a competent developer.

The more popular the technology, the easier it is to hire and find help for. This is why Java is still very popular; it’s even making a comeback on web (more on this in a future post). Good luck finding a business-savvy Haskell developer in 2017 willing to contract work for a rate that you can afford.

Libraries

If you need to integrate into Salesforce, Mailchimp, or anything else, it’s likely that someone has already solved that problem specifically for one of these two frameworks. Furthermore, it’s likely that they’ve made their solution freely available and ready for you to use in the form of a software library.

Because of their massive usefulness, software libraries are an important metric in measuring how stable and easy to use a technology would be. There are literally thousands of free add-ons and packages per Django or Rails. At the time of writing, Django Packages counts over 3,000 for Django, and there are probably a similar number for Rails at Ruby Toolbox. These are only the framework-specific libraries, too.

Any code written for these frameworks is able to leverage all the libraries written for its respective programming language, and the amount of freely available quality Python/Ruby libraries is staggering.

Technology Maturity

These frameworks have been battle-tested in trials ranging from highly-skilled hackers trying to break them, to the trifles of Internet scale in serving millions of users at once, to handling complex business models, to deployments in a unbelievable number of crazy different environments.

This means that the path is very well-beaten, and a developer is unlikely to encounter many thorns aside from their own ignorance. Most of the bugs have been squashed (and you can never really squash all of them).

Django started in 2005, 11 years ago as of the time of this writing. It has since had over a thousand people make changes to its code base and even more scrutinizing it for imperfections. Rails started in 2004, 12 years ago, and has had over three thousand contributers, also scrutinizing and making changes. Both are solid pieces of technology to be reckoned with.

Examples in the Wild

To give a feel of how rock-solid Django and Rails are, below is a compiled list of companies built on it for 2017. If these frameworks are good enough for these world-class traffic-heavy and feature-rich products, then it’s likely good enough for yours.

Companies Based on Django

Instagram

Instagram is a wildly-popular photo sharing service with more than 600 million users. There are more than 80 million photos uploaded and 3.5 billion likes per day. It still runs on Django, which proved stable and modular enough to allow the engineering team to swap out the database to a more customized solution when the company was experiencing growing pains. A benefit of a well-engineered and modular piece of software such as Django is that it can be customized in a straight-forward manner to grow with your organization.

Mike Krieger on Scaling Instagram

Stackshare - Instagram


Pinterest

Pinterest is a media-rich sharing platform where users can share and save recipes, home decor ideas, and more. It averages 5 million posts per day to its platform, and many more comments and saves. Pinterest started on Django, and through its growth, has also made many heavy customizations to the framework including a sharded database solution and custom search indexes. This is another example of the framework providing value to the business from day one, and then being able to rapidly add supporting capabilities as needed over the span of years.

High Scalability - Scaling Pinterest

Stackshare - Pinterest


Disqus

Disqus is a plug-and-play discussion and engagement tool that processes more than 165,000 requests per second as of 2014. A pure-Django solution got the company to 45,000 requests per second, and then they switched out a tiny component into the Go programming language to handle real-time message processing (see the exceptions section above). However, the rest of the architecture was still written in Django, as of 2014. These web frameworks work well as part of a wholesome solution, and they provide a very nice way to specify business data models even well into a company’s maturity.

Scaling Django to 8 Billion Page Views

High Scalability - Disqus

Stackshare - Disqus


Bitbucket

Bitbucket is Atlassian’s competitor to GitHub. It is also an Internet hosting service that serves open-source software that is smaller in usage, but still serves projects in the millions. It has been tightly integrated into Atlassian’s other service offerings including the JIRA issue tracker and the Confluence project management tool. This is an example of how nicely Django can play well with other systems and services at a large scale.

Bitbucket - Wikipedia

Atlassian

Companies Based on Ruby on Rails

Twitter

Twitter started in 2006, and used Rails successfully for five years before making the switch to a different JVM-based platform in 2011. They identified a massive architectural benefit to their business by switching to a statically-typed language (Scala) and framework (Play) that was in many ways a better natural fit for their messaging platform. At this point, they already had many exceptional engineering hires and huge amounts of traffic. Their business strategy and core engineering problems had been identified, and Rails got the job done until that point. Reports suggest that Twitter still uses both Django and Rails on new projects.

Twitter Shifting More Code to JVM, Citing Performance and Encapsulation As Primary Drivers

Twitter Search is Now 3x Faster

Stackshare - Twitter


Shopify

Shopify is an ecommerce platform. In 2016, it processed $15.4 billion in Gross Merchandise Volume with annual revenues of near $400 million. It’s still running on Rails, and has managed to scale Rails to support over 375,000 merchants. Rails has been proven to be robust and performant enough to create a platform that supports hundreds of thousands of ecommerce businesses, which can afford little to no downtime.

How Shopify Scales Rails

Shopify Announces Fourth-Quarter and Full Year 2016 Financial Results

Stackshare - Shopify


Airbnb

Airbnb is an online marketplace for hospitality. People stay at privately-owned apartments, homes, etc. for reasonable fees. Estimates put its revenues at far over $1 billion for 2016, and in 2015, it had over 80 million bookings. The number of bookings is likely to be far higher today, and they still rely on Ruby on Rails. Due to its excellent engineering team, Airbnb has managed to scale Ruby on Rails to reliably and securely process all the accompanying payments for those bookings. Not only is Rails great for prototyping, but it can be made even more robust in the necessary ways when it’s needed.

Large Scale Payments Systems and Ruby on Rails

Airbnb’s revenue soars 89 percent

Stackshare - Airbnb


GitHub

GitHub is an Internet hosting service that serves much of the world’s open-source software. Interestingly, Rails and Django source code repositories are both hosted on GitHub. There are over 50 million other projects hosted on GitHub today, and it is still being served by a scaled up Rails installation. Large and small software companies rely completely on GitHub every day to manage their code repositories. This speaks to how rock-solid a Rails application can be made.

GitHub: Scaling on Ruby, with a nomadic tech team

Stackshare - GitHub

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