Get Started with Ruby on Rails: Learn What Kinds of Awesome Sites You Can Build

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Ruby, one of the most popular programming languages in the world, is a general-purpose programming language that can be used to build any sort of computer application. It is particularly popular as a web application programming language when paired with the development framework known Ruby on Rails, or simply Rails.

Rails, is a collection of software tools, formally known as a package library, that makes Ruby a great tool for building custom websites and web-based applications. The popularity of Ruby as a web app programming language is due to the power of the Rails framework.

What Can You Build With Ruby on Rails?

If you’re considering learning Ruby on Rails, it would be a good idea to know the sort of web applications that can be built with the framework. Rails has been used to build a wide variety of sites and applications, and some of the most popular Rails web apps, which you have undoubtedly heard of, include:

  • Socially Connected Sites: Twitter was originally built using Ruby on Rails. Since then, the application has been rewritten primarily in Java for improved scalability, but Rails was chosen initially, and powered the site for several years. GitHub is another Ruby on Rails app that has a strong social component, and Basecamp, one of the leading project management apps, is also powered by Ruby on Rails.
  • Ecommerce Platforms & Tools: Shopify, Groupon, and Square were all built using Ruby on Rails. So whether you want to launch an ecommerce store, attract ecommerce business, or process ecommerce transactions, there’s a Ruby on Rails app for that.
  • Information Sites: Ruby on Rails can also be used to develop complex websites with large amounts of public-facing information. Some of the well-known article sites that make use of Ruby on Rails include Bloomberg, the Bleacher Report, and Crunchbase.
  • Crowdsourcing & Crowdfunding: Airbnb and Indiegogo, two leaders in the crowd-collaboration arena, were built using Ruby on Rails.
  • Media Hosting & Streaming: Soundcloud, a social network for music producers, Hulu, the video streaming service, and Slideshare, the slideshow sharing platform, are all powered by Ruby on Rails.

Any type of web application or website can be built with Ruby on Rails. Whether you want to build a site that fits nicely into an existing niche, or strike out and create a brand new niche, Ruby on Rails is up to the task.

How to Learn Ruby on Rails

There are two steps to learning Ruby on Rails:

  • You need to learn Ruby, the programming language harnessed by Ruby on Rails.
  • You need to learn how to use Ruby within the Rails framework to create web applications.

While there are countless resources to help you learn Ruby and Rails online, they all fall into two general categories: interactive browser-based courses, and books or tutorials that require you to set up a Ruby on Rails environment on your machine.

We recommend you start with some of the browser-based courses where you can learn Ruby and Rails without going through the technical process of creating a Rails environment on your computer. Once you have a few browser-based interactive courses under your belt, you’ll able to move to more advanced books and tutorials without being overwhelmed.

Interactive Courses

If you aren’t ready to commit to a full course you can still Try Ruby for just 15 minutes courtesy of Code School. If that goes well, and you want to give Rails a spin, Rails for Zombies is your next logical step.

Codecademy, the premier provider of free online interactive programming education, offers a course titled Learn Ruby on Rails. While it won’t turn you into an advanced programmer, it will provide a solid foundation of experience working with Ruby in a browser-based Rails environment.

Once you’re ready to go beyond beginner level courses, Ruby Monk is a great place where you can develop beginner, intermediate, and advanced Ruby programming skills right in your browser.

Books & Tutorials

Learn Ruby the Hard Way by Zed Shaw is the Ruby-teaching installment in the Learn Code the Hard Way series. The series started with Python, and in addition to Ruby, it also includes C, Regex, and SQL. All of these courses are fairly detailed and comprehensive. Make it all the way through one, and you’ll be well on your way to being a competent programmer.

The Odin Project offers a Ruby on Rails course as part of their free full-stack web developer course list. While the Rails course is intended to be taken as part of their complete curriculum, you can jump right in to the course assuming you already have a solid grasp of web development technologies such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and know how to use Databases and Git.

The Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl can be read for free online, and boasts testimonials from internet heavyweights such as David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of Basecamp, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby.

Learn Ruby with the Neo Ruby Koans is not for beginners. However, if you have a solid grasp of Ruby and are ready to work towards becoming an expert Ruby programmer, Ruby Koans is for you.

Jon Penland

About Jon Penland

Jon has worked in many capacities in the high tech world, including engineering and development. He's written many articles for, including expert reviews of web hosts, programming resource guides, and even front-end development tutorials. He lives in Georgia with his wife and five children.


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