“Rails is magic.” That’s what I’ve been told, and I tend to agree, because I still find myself struggling to understand what’s going on behind the curtain frequently.

Thankfully, however, if you’re like me and you really enjoy using Ruby and want to use it for web development, Rails isn’t your only option. Sinatra and Padrino tend to be easier to get started with.

Now, when people choose non-Rails frameworks, it’s for a few reasons:

  • They want a minimalist site that doesn’t require much effort.
  • They want to build a Ruby-based web site but have a working knowledge of Rails.
  • They are attracted by the speed of the framework’s ability to serve requests.

All of these are fine reasons, and Rails, when you understand what is actually happening, sure seems like magic. It is more concerned about helping you get your application up and running, having made a lot of decisions for you. It might not be as fast as other frameworks, but it doesn’t have to be, because that’s not the point.

On the other end of the spectrum is Sinatra. It’s a very lightweight framework for building web applications that don’t need the complexity of Rails. For learning how Ruby works with web requests, this is a great starting point. There are still complexities (like middleware), but it feels good to just get a Ruby-based website up and running with little hassle.

Don’t be fooled, though, because while Sinatra is a great starting point, you’ll quickly find yourself need more. It’s a common issue, though, as once you get past the basic needs of a web site, it’s easy to find yourself bolting on libraries to accomodate the missing featureset of Rails. At that point, you should consider something more.

So when you want something like Rails, but know Sinatra, there is still a large step between them, and it’s a doozy. Thankfully, that’s where Padrino comes in. It’s built on top of Sinatra, so it will be familiar, but it adds in support for Rails-isms that you’ll eventually be working with, like code generation, and database migrations.

Personally, once I’m understanding the magic that happens in Padrino, and it becomes a science instead of a spell, then I’ll feel more confident working with Rails. Because right now? Rails still feels like wizardry.