Mod_rails and Accepting the Environment

I don’t usually read Fast Company & co, but I found an article in the recent issue pretty inspiring. It’s about a landscaping company called Whole Systems Design which tries to build stuff in a way that takes into account the environment where it’s located. Environment not just in the “compost your pizza leftovers to offset CO2 of your vacation” meaning, but in the “stuff that already exists when you start building” sense. It’s a simple and intelligent approach to design – create something that works with what’s already there. From the article:

[company’s founder, Ben Falk] calls mainstream environmentalism, with its “nihilistic,” minimize-human-impact approach, one of the “largest hurdles we face toward being a good community member of the earth again.” He cites one of his influences, Berkeley architect Christopher Alexander, who asked, “Can a building be just as natural as a tree?” Adds Falk: “Or a beaver dam? … It goes beyond ‘Let’s pretend we’re not there.’ We’re here. Let’s make a good impact.”

This links for me with the release of Phusion Passenger, aka “mod_rails for Apache”. I don’t know how well it works (Dreamhost now offers it, which seems a good sign), but if it works well this may be the most important thing that happened for Ruby on Rails since it was launched.

Rails’ main weakness, in my opinion, was that it did not take into account what was already before it, namely the Apache web server (and also stuff like existing code/DB schemes, but that’s less critical perhaps). It was very slow under Apache, and instead of fixing this the Rails community set out to replace Apache with something else – first lighttpd, then Mongrel, now nginx. But it turns out Apache leads its category, by a large margin, for a reason and that creating a good web server, though it might seem pretty straightforward to begin with, is actually pretty hard.

With mod_rails, Rails deployment may now be as easy as PHP deployment, which will give RoR a chance to compete in the shared server space, which is often looked down upon and yet is far bigger than the dedicated server domain, as seen here (this is based on PHP IP vs Domain stats – very rough but generally the right idea):

Ruby on Rails potential market, before & after mod_rails

It is said that The Velvet Underground were hugely influential even though few actually bought their records, because most of those who did listen to them ended up starting bands. For some time, I was thinking Ruby on Rails is going to end up similarly – myself and many other developers got our initial exposure to MVC and ORM and Convention Over Configuration from Rails, but we often ended up building applications in Rails-influenced frameworks like CakePHP or Code Igniter that implemented these ideas in languages that could be easily deployed with reasonable performance (the key word here is easily. You can get performance with Rails, but it requires leaving your core problem for some time, to specialize on deploying RoR). Now, it may not be this way – provided people are still working on improving the docs :)

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