Ruby on Rails upgrade eyed

Ruby on Rails 2.1, a planned upgrade to the popular open-source Web framework, could be released as soon as this weekend, the creator of the framework, David Heinemeier Hansson, said on Tuesday.

Highlights of the release including caching improvements, capabilities to establish time zones in applications, and extending the platform via Gems dependencies. The goal is to release the upgrade by the end of the RailsConf conference, which is being held in Portland, Ore. Thursday through Sunday. "We're just aiming for it," Hansson said.

Also at the conference, Hansson plans to speak about the Rails "surplus" in productivity and even tell developers to not work so hard.

With version 2.1 of Rails, which is currently in a release candidate state, caching support is to be beefed up, including closer integration with the Memcache platform.

"Caching is just important in general because it means that things you can cache you don't have to compute," Hansson said.

Another improvement pertains to the Gems dependencies enabled in the Ruby language that forms the basis of Ruby on Rails. With RubyGems, developers can bundle improvements to the language in a piece of software called a Gem. But sometimes applications are installed on a new machine that lacks the right version of the library to handle the Gem capabilities. Version 2.1 fixes this.

"We've now codified this by making it possible to say, 'My application depends on these Gems,' " Hansson said. For example, a developer could stipulate that an application depends on a Gem featuring capabilities for the OpenID identity system, he said.

Setting of time zones in applications is another improvement area in Rails 2.1. Accommodations are to be made to deal with this problem, which has been accentuated by Web applications being used by people all over the world in multiple time zones, Hansson said.

Rails 2.1 also will feature many small tweaks. Hansson attributes the polishing of Rails in this way to its open-source development process, which enables many developers to examine and have input into the platform.

Hansson during his own keynote presentation at the conference plans to talk about the "surplus" of productivity that he says is offered by Rails as opposed to mainstream environments. "The surplus is not going to last forever," with other tools either catching up to Rails or Rails and similar environments becoming the mainstream choices, he said. Rails offers productivity benefits saving developers from having to work 14 hours a day, he said.

In what is sure to be an eyebrow-raising part of his presentation, Hansson plans to advise programmers to not only spend more time reading technical books but to get more sleep and not overwork themselves.

"Programmers have an unnatural and unhealthy obsession with the hero syndrome," he said.

By giving it 110 percent all the time, developers lack the capacity to deal with a situation that might need a little extra care, said Hansson.

Commenting on Rails advantages, Hansson said Rails offers benefits over languages like Java or C# because Rails emphasizes convention over configuration. With this concept, default settings enable developers to tweak only a few settings particular to their application rather than having to configure massive XML files, for instance, he said.

Hansson acknowledged Rails has been criticized for lack of scalability but insisted this is a criticism that has been levied against all new platforms. When C and Java came around, people said they were too slow in relation to previous platforms, such as assembly language, he said. "Now it's Ruby on Rails's turn," Hansson said.

"We've been using Ruby on Rails for five years. Tons of organizations are scaling it massively to billions of page views," said Hansson. While some Rails sites may have scalability problems, that is not necessarily the fault of Rails, he said.

"Scaling is a matter of architecture," not frameworks and programming languages, Hansson said.

The most recent major upgrade to Ruby on Rails was version 2.0, which was released in December and featured REST (Representational State Transfer) Web services and security enhancements.

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