David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails
This month we interview David Heinemeier Hansson, Google and O'Reilly 'Best Hacker of the Year' 2005 and the man who released Ruby on Rails to start a bit of a sensation. More and more web hosting providers are offering Ruby on Rails packages so we thought we would go straight to the source to find out more about it and why it is suddenly receiving so much attention.
- HOSTSEARCH: David thanks for taking the time out of a busy schedule to talk to us - much appreciated. Particularly over the last few months there seems to have been a rise in the number of Ruby on Rails packages being offered by web hosts. Perhaps you could start of by telling us what
Ruby on Rails is and your role in its development.DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: Ruby on Rails is a full-stack web-application framework. People use Rails to ease the development of all sorts of web applications. From shops, to magazines, to collaboration tools, to social networks. We ship with everything in the box for what "most people need most of the time". The idea is to make it a pleasure to be a developer and enable the creation of beautiful code.
I'm the creator of Ruby on Rails and now the steward for the project.
- HOSTSEARCH: So... If Ruby on Rails is the solution, what was the problem?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: That the creation of web applications used to be terribly painful. Either you had to go quick'n'dirty with PHP or you had to go slow'n'clean with Java. Rails is providing a third way in the middle: Quick'n'clean. While we're certainly not unique in our aspirations to hit that high node, I believe we've been successful for shining attention at things like developer happiness and the beauty of code.
- HOSTSEARCH: We looked around and depending on where you look there's a variety of figures related to the growth of Ruby on Rails. Although most figures suggest that Ruby on Rails' 'market share' - for want of a better word - is not the same as PhP or similar languages, usage is growing at a colossal rate. That, alongside all of these web hosting companies suddenly offering Ruby on Rails packages makes us think something is in the pipeline. Is Ruby on Rails going mainstream?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: Mainstream is a funny word. To a lot of people it means "dumbing things down", making it bland. That's not the kind of mainstream we're trying to reach. Instead of giving the mainstream what they think they want, we're trying to change what the mainstream wants into what we're offering. Through education and desirable attributes like ease and speed of development.
- HOSTSEARCH: We have seen a small number of web hosts that are now dedicated to Ruby on Rails? Do web hosts have to alter their servers or make any special adjustments to offer Ruby on Rails? What makes a host a 'Ruby on Rails' host?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: The answer to that question is currently rapidly evolving. It used to be that you had to offer FCGI, which was kind of a pain to manage in a shared hosting environment. Today, the best practice is to do proxying to a Mongrel server backend. So the host has to offer proxying with something like mod_proxy_balancer from Apache 2.2 and give each person a port or two to run their Mongrel process on. This makes everything a lot simpler.
- HOSTSEARCH: Your website suggests you were awarded the Google and O'Reilly 'Best Hacker of the Year' award in 2005. To be honest, that sounds a little ominous - I am sure it's not though... Can you tell us a little about the award and why you received it?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: "Best hacker" simply describes a programmer that did something very useful. I got the award from my work on Ruby on Rails.
- HOSTSEARCH: You are also renowned for creating Instiki, which is something like a wiki - in fact your website calls it a wiki clone. Perhaps you'd like to give some insight into this technology... And what about the other applications your company produces? Basecamp, Campfire, Backpack and others.DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: Instiki was my first Ruby application, but I've since handed the project over to other people. I no longer really need a wiki, so I don't have the motivation to work on it. The other applications you mention are what my day job is about. Working on them and new applications for 37signals.
They're all about being really simple and light tools to help collaboration and communication. Basecamp for managing projects, Backpack for managing your life, Campfire for managing your team in realtime, Writeboard for managing your document collaboration, and Tadalist for managing your simple todo lists.
Ruby on Rails was originally extracted from Basecamp. And we continue to innovate on Rails through extractions from new 37signals applications.
- HOSTSEARCH: Perhaps you are in the best position to answer our de facto question: What's going to be the next big thing on the Internet and how will it impact people?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: That it becomes even more ingrained in every day life for every day people. And that perception changes in a way that running your applications online will be more common than offline.
- HOSTSEARCH: Ruby on Rails is an Open Source technology - just how important is the Open Source movement and how far do you think it can go?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: Open source is the best thing that ever happened to infrastructure software. Everything from databases to web servers to web-application frameworks have experienced immense progress because of open source. I think it won't be too long before more or less all infrastructure software goes open source.
- HOSTSEARCH: What is the best thing about the line of work you are in? What do you enjoy the most?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: I love writing beautiful code. I love writing less software. Ruby on Rails and the work on our applications at 37signals gives me plenty of opportunity to do both, so I'm a very happy camper indeed.
- HOSTSEARCH: What does a young Dane do when he's not immersed in business and computing?DAVID HEINEMEIER HANSSON: I enjoy rollerblading, though I haven't been doing much of it lately. I'm also a fairly active gamer and nothing gets the blood rushing like a fast car ;)