Snakes and Rubies in Chicago
On Saturday, December 3rd 2005 the Chicago Area Ruby Group and the Chicago Python Users Group presented Snakes and Rubies, talks by Adrian Holovaty, one of the creators of the Django framework for Python, and David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails framework. The talks were given at DePaul University. These web development frameworks are shining examples of web 2.0 technology brought to life.
Adrian won the coin toss and started the talk on Django. The Django project was first introduced to the world at PyCon 2005 and was open sourced shortly afterword. Django is a framework that grew out of real world website development needs while the authors were working on sites like Lawrence.com, as well as journalism sites like washingtpost.com. Adrian gained some notoriety himself by using some of the pre-Django framework to develop sites like chicagocrime.org.
Django is a framework that allows for the rapid development of highly interactive websites. The results are stunning and sublime. The amount of code needed to get things done is minimal, and all is driven by the quest for beauty. Adrian started his talk out with a quote by Richard Feynman:
When something is true, it is usually so beautiful it is easy to recognize its truth. This quote sums up the philosophy behind Django, and the Python language that Django is built on. Although I have worked with Python, I have not yet used Django for any projects. Adrian majored in journalism, and he described the process that led to the creation of Django as 'journalism principles applied to website development', or 'developing code with journalism deadlines'. The sites Adrian showed us were examples of every object knowing about its relations to the other objects in the system. The components were also loosely coupled, so it was easy to replace or update any one part without affecting other parts.
The examples Adrian gave, as well as the insights to developing and deploying a simple web app have convinced me to find an excuse to use Django sometime in 2006.
David Heinemeier Hansson's talk dealt with a little more of the mechanics of Rails. He assumed that most of the people attending were already familiar with the framework and did not need a high level introduction like the one Adrian gave for Django. David also pointed out that one of the driving philosophies behind rails was a quest for beauty and simplicity.
David's talk quickly focused on the ease of development with rails, and how complex matters like Object Relational Mapping between object oriented languages and relational databases is handled automatically in the Rails framework. He gave an example of code just added to the latest development tree of Rails that will make handling models with has_and_belongs_to_many relationships easier for developers to deal with by abstracting the relations to a higher level using the new acts_as_taggable descriptor. David showed how this could drop the amount of code needed to specify the complex relations between models from over one and a half pages down to just a few lines. The solution to a complex problem has been rendered beautiful and simple.
While many might want to see a rivalry between frameworks like Django and Rails, the competition seems more friendly than negative. Any master craftsman needs multiple tools in his workshop to get the job done, and these are two of the tools all web crafters should learn. These web 2.0 development frameworks make more traditional frameworks seem rusty and outdated. Both Django and Rails were developed as real world applications and show how users can build tools that meet their own needs better than the big software providers can.
This talk was recorded, so keep an eye on the Snakes and Rubies site for a recording to be made available.
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