A Beginner's Guide to Computer Language: Ruby

Ashley_Buckwell
edited August 2023 in PC Tech

The Ruby programming language is a scripting language built from the ground up for use in front end and back end web development and similar applications. It is a robust, dynamically typed, and object-oriented language. What is more, the syntax of Ruby is so high-level and easy to understand that Ruby is considered as close as you can get to coding in English. In this article, we dive into why Ruby was created and what it is most commonly used for.

What is Ruby?

The Ruby language is unique among object-oriented scripting languages. In a sense, it is a purist’s language for those who love object-oriented languages. Everything, without exception, is automatically an object; this is not the case in other programming languages.

Objects in a programming language can be thought of in terms of building a car. If you have a blueprint for it, then an object is the thing that is built from that blueprint. It contains all the attributes that the object holds (i.e., the make, model, and color) and the actions it can perform. Despite being a pure object-oriented language, Ruby retains features that are not expressly related to object-oriented programming, thereby increasing usability and flexibility. Like any programming language, Ruby has several downsides. For example, Ruby is not a high-performance programming language. 

Scripting languages like Ruby do not communicate with hardware directly, whereas languages like C++ and Rust do, which allows for precise, low-level programming. Ruby is an interpreted language, which means it is compiled and executed at run time, and this takes some time, slowing down the program. Essentially, Ruby is written to a text file, and then an interpreter parses it and converts it to machine-readable code at run time.

How does Ruby compare to other coding languages?

Ruby is often compared to Python. Python is a programming language that focuses on having a single, unambiguous solution to every problem. Ruby projects, by contrast, want to have many valid approaches to problem-solving. Each of these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Some other differences include that strings are mutable in Ruby but not in Python, and that Ruby only has one kind of list container. However, both Ruby and Python are heavily object-oriented; everything in both Python and Ruby is an object.

Compared to C++, Ruby tends to hide a lot from programmers to make their jobs easier. This can make it much easier to ship code but means finding deep bugs requires a lot more digging.

Designing Ruby

The architect of Ruby is a programmer named Yukihiro Matsumoto, who designed the language to be simple enough for beginner programmers to use and powerful enough for experienced programmers to have all the tools they need for advanced programming. It sounds contradictory, but this dichotomy is possible thanks to the pure object-oriented design that Ruby follows and the purposeful inclusion of features from other languages. Matsumoto had in-depth knowledge of multiple programming languages, including Perl, Smalltalk, Eiffel, Ada, and Lisp, and he created Ruby to combine what he thought were the best features of these languages. Matsumoto published the first public version of Ruby, ruby-0.95, to various Japanese domestic newsgroups on December 21, 1995. Since then, Ruby has continued to gain popularity among programmers, especially for its use in web application development.

Various libraries, such as XML parsers, GUI bindings, networking protocols, and game libraries, have been developed for use with Ruby that enable it to be used to build all types of applications. Ruby programmers also have access to the powerful RubyGems program, which makes it easy to import other programmers’ libraries into your own programs. RubyGems is a package manager for Ruby that provides a standard format for distributing Ruby programs and libraries (in a self-contained format called a “gem”), a tool designed to easily manage the installation of gems, and a server for distributing gems.

Ruby coding examples

The following code creates a new class, Numeric, with a plus method. Because everything is an object in Ruby, you can call this method with anything, even a number! We do this in the example y = 5.plus 6.

class Numeric 
 def plus(x) 
   self.+(x) 
 end 
end 
y = 5.plus 6 
# y is now equal to 11 

Variables and names in Ruby operate the same as they do in any other dynamic programming language, but in Ruby, you do not need to declare the type of variable or name; Ruby will know the type automatically. The following code shows how simple it is to declare variables: 

cars = 100 
drivers = 30 
puts “There are #{cars} cars and #{drivers} drivers.” 

Output: There are 100 cars and 30 drivers.

What is Ruby used for? 

The following lists the most popular use cases of Ruby:

  • Web development 
  • Static site generation 
  • DevOps and automation 
  • Web servers 
  • Data processing 
  • Web scraping and crawling

Skills for learning Ruby

When compared to most other programming languages, Ruby is user-friendly and easy to learn, because Ruby has intuitive and English-like syntax. Even if you have never written a line of code, you might understand what a basic Ruby program does thanks to its simple syntax. Ruby is a great candidate if you are looking to learn your first programming language. To get started coding in Ruby, you will need the following programs:

  • The Ruby interpreter 
  • A text editor such as Notepad++, Scite, or Vim. 
  • Command-line access. Though the details of this differ from platform to platform, Linux, Windows, and MacOS all have command lines available without any extra downloads or software installation.

If you think Ruby is the programming language for you, a good place to start is to get your hands on one or two of the books written about it by the creator of the language itself. The Ruby Programming Language is touted as the authoritative guide to Ruby. It was written in 2008 by Matsumoto together with David Flanagan. The book begins with a quick-start tutorial to the language, then it explains the language in detail, from lexical and syntactic structure to datatypes, expressions, and statements, then on through methods, blocks, lambdas, closures, classes, and modules. Another book written by Matsumoto, Ruby in a Nutshell, is for readers who want a single desktop reference on Ruby for all their quick programming needs.

For those who prefer the support and guidance of online courses, a popular free course to get started learning Ruby is Ruby Language Fundamentals at pluralsight. This course teaches students how to read and write Ruby data, generate CSVs, package Ruby code, and more.

The Ruby Programming for Beginners course at Udemy is an excellent paid course with hours of video lectures. The course contains ten steps that allow learners to become proficient beginner Rubyists.

Ashley is a technology writer who is interested in computers and software development. He is also a fintech researcher and is fascinated with emerging trends in DeFi, blockchain, and bitcoin. He has been writing, editing, and creating content for the ESL industry in Asia for eight years, with a special focus on interactive, digital learning.

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