December 3rd, 2018

Is Ruby-on-Rails a Good Fit for an SaaS product?

Explaining the pros and cons of Ruby-on-Rails and sharing our views on how well it can serve the purpose of SaaS
It's no surprise that people create new ideas each day and want to implement them and share them with the world. And being accessed through the Internet is surely the way to go, so you will probably get to choose between creating an app or a web-based product. But what if you wanna avoid both of these options and exist in a Cloud realm with remote access for the customers.
This approach is usually called Software-as-a-Service or simply SaaS and distributed via a subscription model. And when we think of this product, an obvious question emerges: What's the best way to make it possible? The first thing to pop in our heads is the framework choice, and it's arguably the most crucial aspect of the upcoming project.

In essence, any language could be used for SaaS development, but we will focus more on whether the Ruby-on-Rails (RoR) framework can fit this type of project or not. Let's take a peek at the 4 major traits that are common criteria for its convenient usage: security, performance, scalability, and flexibility.

Security

Distant access is often associated with security concerns and none of the frameworks can guarantee 100% defense level. Nonetheless, RoR is a fine choice to make it safe: there's a number of ways you can secure your data within this tool, on top of what its community has already done:

  • ActiveRecord mechanisms usage;
  • excluding invalidated users' requests;
  • filtering markup tags;
  • using a database backend to store sessions;
  • using existing gems for authentication, increasing password length;
  • control restriction gems usage;
  • skipping forgery requests;
  • strong parameters usage;
  • rendering paths regulation;
  • excluding sensitive files from your repository;
  • lots of built-in encryption libraries.

That's not the complete list of the ways you could protect your Saas project when using RoR. The cheat sheet for this framework has been addressed a long time ago and is now considered obsolete when you have an experienced team of Rails professionals onboard.

Performance

This aspect is also advantageous for RoR developers. Although it's not the fastest running framework—in fact, it's a little bit slower than the competitors, RoR can easily compensate this by having the best development standards on the market. These principles speed up the process as a whole: "don't repeat yourself, convention over configuration, and active record pattern" paradigms will serve for the best quality of your future product.

Backed by the default ORM system (ActiveRecord), RoR is capable of letting the devs put the data and application logic together and deploy a ready-to-work piece of software and further expand it with the new features.
Photo by True Agency on Unsplash
Tons of open-source libraries (gems) is also what makes RoR projects run faster. You can also add in the concise and expressive Ruby language nature to make it a fine match for the fast-paced SaaS projects.

Scalability

SaaS projects are surely no different than other types of ambitious startups: they all want to scale. To spare you the technical nonsense, here is a brief list of companies that managed to show incredible growth by using RoR as their core platform; they're the best proof it's more than doable:

  • GitHub is a prime SaaS example of a successful project. It is a web-based, version-control platform mainly used by developers with its open-source code. It is the go-to choice when you want to build your own software and manage the source code and is now home to 6M active users with 20M repositories.

  • Zendesk is another stellar RoR-based product that was exponentially growing and is now a synonym for a reliable support tool. Used by more than 50k companies worldwide, including Groupon, Vodafone, Uber, and Disney, it managed to evolve through its history and steadily add numerous features to increase the customers' satisfaction.

  • Shopify can also serve as a display of how RoR can scale its projects: this e-commerce platform is now responsible for 10M orders, 13.3b requests, and smoothly operates with an average response time of 45ms. It has also made countless customization improvements over its course and is now an easy-to-use modern product.

Flexibility

Flexibility is probably the only area where RoR can't... flex. Rails is an open framework and there's a strong dependency between each of the components, which can make the mistakes have an unpleasant effect. While we talk about ActiveRecord feature and its great power, experienced developers need to use it to a certain extent: overusing it will make the app logic too tied to the database models and won't really help its stability in the long run.
Flexibility is probably the only area where Ruby-on-Rails can't... flex.
The overall Rails tendency toward more innovative products makes up for its lack of flexibility: it is supported by a large, vibrant community that has created tons of libraries (gems). Relatively simple debugging will also be a nice bonus if you decide to change the course a little bit. But the most important thing is how well RoR fits the Agile development: being able to rapidly deploy ready-to-use software is the very premise of this method and will surely help to add new cool features or reinvent certain areas of your project.

What's left?

The simple takeaway lies on the surface: RoR is a very effective tool when handled by seasoned developers, and its flaws can be easily neglected if handled the right way.

Moreover, Rails meets all the requirements for a SaaS project: there's hardly any other framework that could address security, performance, and scalability concerns in the way that it does.

RoR-based products can also amplify one of the main SaaS advantages: being able to implement the product and generate revenue faster than the usual projects (without paying deployment and support costs).

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