Rails, a.k.a. Ruby on Rails, is a framework for building web applications.
Let’s back up a bit: Ruby (without the Rails part) is a programming language. You can use Ruby to tell a computer to do all sorts of things, like copy files or build a web page or anything else. Because it can do so many things, though, it isn’t necessarily really good at any one particular thing.
Rails changes that, and gives you a bunch of shortcuts to help you use Ruby to make web applications. A web app is just a fancy site that lets you do things like purchase products, search, or upload pictures or blog posts. Even making a simple web app is complicated, but with Rails it’s much easier for both experts and non-experts.
For example: We click links all the time on the web, so if we’re making a web site it’s pretty important to have links, right? Ruby by itself doesn’t understand what a link is, so you’d have to type out dozens of lines of code to get it to make a link. With Rails, though, you can just type this:
link_to("Visit Skillcrush", "http://www.skillcrush.com")
That’d make a link to skillcrush.com out of the text “Visit Skillcrush”. Sure, it’s still code, but it’s a lot nicer than dozens of lines!
Rails was created by David Heinemeier Hansson in 2004 while he was working on a project at 37signals, but these days is supported by a vibrant community. Anyone can offer up fixes, features, and improvements to Rails.
Groupon, Twitter, and Hulu are all examples of sites built using Ruby on Rails. Web developers enjoy using it because it allows them to do things more quickly than traditional programming could – typing one line to make a link sure beats typing dozens!
Cocktail Party Fact
Because of the community-driven nature of Ruby on Rails, there’s somewhat of a culture around Rails development. Talented or famous developers are often referred to as “rockstars” or “ninjas” (although it’s fallen out of fashion in the past couple years), and feuds and drama are as common as in any other large social group!