Saturday, November 11, 2006

McGovern Likes JRuby

I'm not entirely sure how to feel about this one. Apparently James McGovern believes that "the Ruby community at large should drop their current approach and embrace the JRuby stuff." He notes that Jeff Sutherland recommended the same thing for Smalltalk years ago, to save it from being left behind.

Now I haven't generally agreed with James McGovern in the past. His hilarious post about how "Ruby isn't ready for the enterprise" was pretty ill-informed, though perhaps well-meaning. My primary issue with that post was that there's nothing about Ruby--the language, libraries and apps--that would prevent it from being perfectly suited to enterprise development. There are issues with the implementation, certainly, but I don't believe that Ruby necessarily has to equate with the C version. Enter JRuby...

JRuby is Ruby. It looks like Ruby, it acts like Ruby, it walks like a Ruby and talks like a Ruby. We aim for it to run Ruby apps and libraries; we hope for it to be as close to 100% compatible as possible. The fact that some of it is written in Java or that it runs on the VM-formerly-known-as-Java is wholely irrelevant; JRuby is Ruby.

I think it's been pretty well proven that the Java VM is well-suited for enterprise development. The majority of enterprise apps out there today are written for or being written for the JVM, and Sun's had whole teams of folks making the JVM run as well as possible for exactly those scenarios. There's no doubt about the JVM's enterprise capability.

So it should follow that Ruby on the JVM, in the form of JRuby, would inherit much of that enterprise-readiness. Does that mean McGovern is right? Should the Ruby community abandon YARV and Ruby 2.0 and the C impl for greener pastures (or in the case of threading, less green pastures)?

No. To do such a thing would be absurd. And there's a simple reason for this: Not everyone wants to run a full-featured VM.

Ruby in its current form has served its users well. It's an outstanding administrative language, great for text processing, network tickling, application scripting. It's even proven itself for small to medium-sized web applications using numerous frameworks, from Camping to Rails. Even more, it has shown its capability for targeted "enterprisey" tasks, like tying together services or generating code and components to be consumed by other systems. Ruby has done its job admirably, and that job isn't going anywhere.

I will fully admit that JRuby in its current form is probably not ideal for heavy command-line use. The minimal runtime that the C implementation starts up is a better fit for quick hit scripts, there's no doubt about that. And for many web deployment scenarios, the C implementation works suitably well, fulfilling its responsibilities without issue. Where McGovern is right is that JRuby is better suited to much larger applications, where scaling across multiple CPUs or multiple machines is an absolute necessity; where resources are quickly consumed by thousands of independent processes; where monitoring, management, and deployment needs can't be addressed by current pure Ruby or C-based options. In short, JRuby fills the medium to large application realm where Ruby has trouble venturing.

Of course I'd love to see JRuby become the best Ruby implementation. What would be the point of working on JRuby if that weren't an ultimate goal? And of course I have a love for Java and the JVM; they've proven themselves in my eyes, and continue to amaze me. But I want JRuby to be part of a larger Ruby world, where programmers run through flower-covered pastures holding hands, objects sing and swirl through the heavens, classes condense, evaporate, and recombine like vapor. Where programming is "fun", like it was when I started BASIC on my Atari 400 25 years ago. Where our time spent writing software produces results, rather than more problems.

None of those things requires Java or the JVM...they just require cooperation within the community and a desire to see Ruby succeed on all fronts. The question that remains, I believe, is this:

Are you with me?


  1. Are you with me?

    As regards McGovern (whose posts, I decided after last time, never again to read), perhaps he has noticed that Ruby has continued to grow in popularity since last he bashed it, and perhaps he has realized that, as An Enterprise Thought Leader, he absolutely has to back the winning horse, and perhaps JRuby provided just the out for him to do so without looking like a flip-flopper.

  2. It is amazing how folks have read into my previous postings. In the past I said that Ruby wasn't enterprise ready and I still stick with this statement. The statement however is different than saying I think ruby is garbage and doesn't add value which of course I don't believe.

    Ruby in its current form is useful for a variety of applications just not enterprise class applications. Not sure what I said that can be factually disproven other than the minor slip in a single, solitary posting done at 3am where I was responding to dynamic languages in general and not Ruby....