Ruby -vs- Python

03 Oct 2012

Ruby and Python. Two languages. Two communities. Both have a similar target: to make software development better. Better than Java, better than PHP and better for everyone. But where is the difference? And what language is "better"? For the last question I can say: none is better. Both camps are awesome and do tons of great stuff. But for the first question the answer is longer. And I hope to provide that in this little article.

Is the difference in the toolset around the language? No, I don't think so. Both have good package managers, tons of libraries for all kind of stuff and a few decent web frameworks. Both promote test driven development. On the language side one is whitespace sensitive, the other isn't. Is that so important? Maybe a little, but I think there is something else that is way more important. The culture.

It all started with a stupid python troll at the Sigint that wanted to troll our cologne.rb booth. To be prepared for the next troll attack I started to investigate Python. For that I talked with a lot of Python guys and wrote a few little things in Python to get a feel for the language and the ecosystem. Luckily at the FrOSCon our Ruby booth was right next to the pycologne folks and we talked a lot about the differences. During that time I got the feeling that I know what is different in the culture of both parties. Last month I had the opportunity to test my theory in real life. The cologne.rb and the django cologne folks did a joined meetup. And I took the opportunity to test my theory. And it got confirmed by lots of the Python people.

Okay, now what is the difference in the culture? It is pretty easy. Python folks are really conservative and afraid of change, Ruby folks love the new shiny stuff even if it breaks older things. It's that simple. But it has huge consequences. One you can see for example in the adaption of Ruby 1.9 vs Python 3. Both new versions did tons of breaking changes. A lot of code needed changes to run on the new plattform. In the Ruby world the transition went pretty quick. In the Python world it is very troublesome. Some Python people even say that Python 3 is broken and all energy should be focused on the 2.x-branch of the language. The Ruby community saw the opportunities. The Python community only saw the update problems. Yes, there have been update problems in the Ruby world, but we found an easy way to fix this: isitruby19.com. A simple plattform that showed if the gem is ready for 1.9. And if it wasn't and the gem was important, it got fixed with pull requests or something similar. And the problems went away fast.

Both models of thinking have pros and cons. The Python world is more stable, you can update your django installation without much troubles. But that also means new technology is only added very slowly. The Ruby world loves changes. So much that most of the "new stuff" in the Python world was tested in the Ruby world first. We love changes so much that the Rails core is build around that idea. You can easily change nearly everything and extend everything. Most of the new stuff the Rails Core Team is testing right now for version 4 is available as plugin for Rails 3. This is pretty interesting if you love new things, love change, and love playing around with stuff. If you don't and hate the idea of breaking changes, you maybe are better suited with the Python way. But don't be afraid of breaking changes. They are all pretty well documented in the release guides. It's not voodoo.

I for myself love the Ruby mindset. Something like Rails or Asset Pipelines or all the other things would not be possible if we are stuck with "no, don't change that, it works pretty well that way". Someone has to be the leader. Someone has to play around with new ideas. Yes, some ideas won't fly, some are removed pretty quickly. But at least we tried them. Yes, I know that some people prefer the conservative way. If you consider yourself to be like that, you should at least try Python. I stay with Ruby.

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