Why do so many in InfoSec really dislike Ruby? Some Thoughts

infosec, ruby

It is no secret that there are many people in the InfoSec community who are very vocal about the fact that they really do not like the Ruby programming language. You can often see this sentiment on Twitter, Reddit, or simply by searching for “ruby” on popular InfoSec Discord servers. Oddly, these individuals can never really articulate just what it is about Ruby that they dislike so much or are misinformed.

In this blog post I will investigate the common reasons for this vocal and generalized disdain for Ruby within the InfoSec community. I also hope to debunk some of these commonly held reasons.


For The Record, the purpose of this blog post is not to shame anyone, nor is to silence any legitimate criticism of Ruby. If you have legitimate and well researched criticism of Ruby, that is not based solely on opinion or personal preference, then by all means share it as that is generally how we improve things. Nor is the purpose of this blog post to force you to like Ruby. If you do not like Ruby, then simply do not use it.


Background: I have been a Rubyist for more than ten years now, have written many Ruby libraries and tools, even written a few sort-of-popular Ruby Security related tools (ex: spidr, ruby-nmap, and bundler-audit). I have also seen and received my fair share of “Ruby hate” from hackers and InfoSec professionals over the years. I used the term “Ruby hate” because in the past other’s disdain for Ruby has crossed the line into repeated trolling and harassment.

Reason #1: Everyone Else Is Doing It

Probably the most simple explanation of why there’s so much general disdain directed at Ruby in InfoSec spaces, is that everyone else is doing it. You can see a similar behavior in the programming world, in how programmers love to complain about Perl, Java, or XML, despite the fact that most programmers under 40 have never actually worked with Perl, Java, or XML. They are merely complaining about these things because they see others complain about them, and want to fit in with programmer culture.

New members in a group, or members who question whether they “belong”, will be more likely to mimic the behaviors they see from established or long-time members. Thus, if others in InfoSec communities are constantly bemoaning Ruby (despite not having much experience or understanding of it) then new members will be more likely to mimic that behavior to show that they are “one of the team”.

Reason #2: It was Over-Hyped, Once

Back in the late 2000s - early 2010s, Ruby On Rails was the “new hotness”. Slashdot, Digg, Reddit, HN, Twitter, were full of blog posts about Rails. All of the hip new startups and consultancies were building their apps with Rails. Ruby On Rails helped put Ruby on the map, when it previously was seen as an experimental scripting language.

When anything becomes over-hyped there is inevitably a backlash due to over saturation. People became annoyed with constantly reading about Ruby and Rails, or developed a grudge against Ruby or Rails for stealing the spotlight away from their favorite programming language or web framework.

However, technology marched on. Scala and then Clojure briefly became the hot new programming language. Node.js came on to the scene and promised to allow JavaScript developers to write backend code; for better or worse. Then Google released Go, which allowed you to write safe(r) system utils that compiled down to native code. As a result Ruby and Ruby On Rails has cooled down.

Ruby is no longer the “it” language, just yet another language one can use if they want to. People still like and use Ruby, but not because of it’s hype, but because it has features that some people still enjoy. Yet there seems to be some grey beards in InfoSec who still think Ruby is over-hyped, despite all of the other programming languages that have stolen the spotlight since then, and are still bitter about it for some reason.

Reason #3: Misinformation

Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation floating around about programming language features and performance. Some of it is simply outdated information that keeps being repeated because no one bothers to verify if it’s still true or correct the person repeating it. Other times it’s people just making assumptions. Yet other times it’s from those websites that compare programming languages or other software, but who’s comparisons read like they were generated by some Machine Learning text generator bot and are full of inaccuracies.

Once the misinformation is out there, people will continue believing and repeating it, making it very difficult to correct.

Some popular misinformation about Ruby:

  • “Ruby is dead *links to TIOBE Index*” The TIOBE Index just tracks Google Search results for programming language names, and doesn’t factor in other popular frameworks/libraries, cache.ruby-lang.org downloads, rubygems.org downloads, or daily visitors to ruby-doc.org or rubydoc.info. TIOBE is a imprecise metric at best. Also, programming languages rarely ever die, with the rare exceptions of Flash’s ActionScript and Microsoft’s SilverLight. If COBOL and Fortran are still around, I don’t think Ruby is going to disappear over night.
  • “Ruby’s Encoding/Regex/Threading is garbage” - Ruby’s character Encoding engine uses libiconv, like everything else. Ruby’s Regex engine uses libpcre, like everything else. Ruby’s Threading uses Native POSIX Threading Library (NPTL), just like everything else.
  • “Ruby/Rails can’t scale”. Scaling has more to do with the architecture of your application or infrastructure. Database normalization, replication, load balancing, background job processing, distributed workers and messaging queues, are far more important than what language you pick.
  • “Ruby is like Perl”. Ruby has very little in common with Perl. There many be some similarly named methods, but that’s about it. Ruby’s Object Model is inspired directly from Smalltalk and it’s support for closures is heavily inspired by LISP.
  • “Ruby is slow”. Ruby has roughly the same performance characteristics as any other dynamic interpreted scripting language. If you want native performance, then use a modern language which compiles down to native code, such as C++11, Go, Rust, Zig, Nim, or Crystal.

Reason #4: Lack of Hands On Experience

When you haven’t had hands on experience with a tool or technology, you tend to view that tool or technology as strange, foreign, untested, experimental, risky, or a liability. Worse is when people will implicitly accept and repeat other people’s opinions about that tool or technology without doing their own testing.

If you asked someone who strongly dislikes Ruby whether they actually tried learning Ruby, have they visited ruby-lang.org, have they visited try.ruby-lang.org, have they read any guides or tutorials, watched any screencasts, tried writing any Ruby, popped open irb (Ruby’s interactive console), or do they know that Ruby supports most all of the same features that Python supports and then a few extra ones, the answer will usually be “No”.

Simply put, most people who dislike Ruby don’t actually know why they dislike it. They most likely looked at some example code and thought it looked weird or heard other people complaining about Ruby.

Reason #5: Bad Experiences

A common bad experience I see people having is when someone wants to install or setup a complex Ruby/Rails app, but lacks the sysadmin/DevOps knowledge, or didn’t take the time to read the instructions, or Google for the answer, and get frustrated. They are unfamiliar with how to install ruby (fyi: sudo apt install -y ruby-full on Ubuntu), or how to install gems globally (ex: sudo gem install <gem>), or how to install gem dependencies locally using bundler (fyi: bundler install --path vendor/bundle), or that some rubygems need to compile C extensions against system libraries/headers (ex: sqlite3 gem requires libsqlite3-dev/libsqlite3-devel to be installed). When your learning a new set of tools and getting frustrated, it’s easy to blame the tools, instead of taking a step back, cooling down, and trying to Google or ask for help.

Another common bad experience I frequently see people on InfoSec Discord servers struggling with, is how to get some random Ruby script working. Usually the Ruby script in question is a 3rd-party MSF module they found on exploit-db or packetstorm. In most cases, the person is struggling with how to install the script’s dependencies, installing Metasploit, trying to run the MSF module as a standalone script (which Metasploit does not support), or have hit a bug in the Ruby script / MSF module.

A less common bad experience that shapes people’s perception of Ruby is having to setup a legacy Ruby/Rails app that hasn’t been maintained for a while and has it’s own issues. These legacy apps will have outdated dependencies that need updating, might require a specific older version of Ruby (a bad practice, imo), it might not have a bootstrap or setup script, and it probably won’t have a Dockerfile. Let’s me be blunt, legacy apps regardless of which programming language they are written in are always a PITA to install and setup. My advice is to ask for expert help or use another app that’s better maintained.

If people witness enough bad experiences and read enough horror stories, they will try to pinpoint the lowest common denominator that all of the bad experiences and horror stories have in common: the programming language. They will then associate the programming language with errors and frustration.

The unfortunate truth is you can write buggy code or have unmaintained legacy apps in any language. It is the developer’s and maintainer’s responsibility to keep bugs out and keep projects up-to-date. No programming language will do that for you.

Reason #6: First Time Programmers

Any programmer who has learned their first language will insist, that their first programming language is the coolest and most awesome-est programming language ever created. A programmer who has learned more than one language will admit that both programming languages are kind of similar, just with different syntax and different ways of doing things.

Most programming languages can be classified as Dynamic or Static Typed, Interpreted or Compiled, Imperative vs Functional, or Object Orientated vs Functional. When one branches out from their first programming language, they will notice that most Object Orientated languages have some concept of Classes and Inheritance. Most Imperative languages have some kind of if, else if, else, case, for, and while statements. Most compiled languages have a build system, in addition to the compiler. Most Interpreted languages have a REPL (aka console), debugger, and possibly a package/dependency manager.

For most new people getting into InfoSec, Python is either the only general purpose scripting language they know or their first programming language all together. Anytime someone new to InfoSec asks which programming language they should learn, Python is usually the first recommendation. Predictably many in InfoSec think Python is the greatest thing since sliced bread, because they haven’t really explored the wider ecosystem of programming languages. Some people take this even further and interpret any discussion of any programming language besides Python as a threat to their favorite programming language.

I only know of an elite dozen or so Rubyists in the InfoSec community (obligatory “There are dozens of us. Dozens!”) and rarely see anyone recommending to learn Ruby; and if they do there’s always a few people who will chime in to remind everyone how much they dislike Ruby which likely discourages people from trying to learn Ruby.

With Ruby being in the minority and Python in the majority, you inevitably get this Ford vs. Chevy tribalism, but about Python vs. Ruby.

Reason #7: Ford vs. Chevy Tribalism

In the tech world there is no shortage of endless tribal debates over which thing is better than the other thing. Tabs vs. Spaces, Vim vs. Emacs, Linux vs. Windows, Linux vs. macOS, BSD vs. Linux, GNU vs. BSD, Chrome vs Firefox, Intel vs. AMD, NVIDIA vs. AMD, QWERTY vs. Dvorak, and yes even Ruby vs. Python.

The Ruby vs. Python debate is incredibly pointless, once you realize that both languages share a lot in common:

  • Both are General Purpose Programming Languages.
  • Both are Interpreted scripting languages.
  • Both Dynamically Typed languages; Python Type Hints are not the same as Static Typing.
  • Both are Object Orientated Programming languages.
  • Both support the basic primitive types (Class, Null type, Boolean types, Integers, Strings, Arrays, Hash-tables, Sets)
  • Both support function “Currying”.
  • Both support Closures.
  • Both support “Generators”.
  • Both support “Opening Classes”.
  • Both support defining a catch-all method.
  • Both support “meta-programming”.
  • Both support eval().
  • Both have a Global Interpreter Lock (GIL), which prevents any two threads from running simultaneously on different CPU cores.
  • Both support threads; despite the GIL only allowing one thread to run at a time.
  • Both support some type of “Green Threads”.
  • Both have a Garbage Collector (GC).
  • Both have a byte-code VM.
  • Both support Asynchronous IO.
  • Both support C Bindings using libffi.
  • Both have an interactive console.
  • Both have a package manager and package repository.
  • Both have CLI and GUI toolkit libraries.
  • Both have Database ORMs.
  • Both have Web application frameworks.
  • Both have “virtual environment” managers for creating isolated dev environments.
  • Both were created in the early 1990s.

Where the two languages differ:

  • Python philosophy is “There Is One Way To Do Things” or “Explicit over Implicit”, where as Ruby’s philosophy is “Programmer Happiness” (read: it lets you take shortcuts and stays out of your way). Although, there are examples in both languages where they fail to abide by these philosophies.
  • Python is whitespace sensitive, where as Ruby doesn’t care. Instead of the Ruby language enforcing style guidelines, the Ruby community has a bunch of suggested style rules, such as two space indentation, which you can choose to ignore if you need to vertically align some code.
  • Python requires parenthesis in function/method definitions, even if they accept no arguments. Ruby allows omitting the parenthesis if the method does not accept any arguments.
  • Python Strings are immutable, where as Ruby Strings are mutable; unless you explicitly freeze them. Ruby also supports [Symbols][Symbol], which are like Strings, but immutable and mostly used as identifiers.
  • Python has a separate type for binary Strings called bitstring, where as Ruby just has String which can contain UTF-8, ASCII, or any other weird character encoding (ex: UTF-7).
  • Python supports Regular Expressions via the re library which parses a regular expressions as strings. Where as in Ruby regular expressions have special inline syntax (ex: /[0-9a-fA-F]+/) which returns a Regexp object.
  • Python’s join function is backwards (ex: " ".join(list)), where as in Ruby join is a method of Array. (ex: [1,2,3].join(' '))
  • Python calls their Array type list, where as Ruby calls them Array.
  • Python calls their Hash Table type dict, where as Ruby calls them Hash.
  • Python supports Tuples, Ruby only has Arrays, Hashes, and Sets.
  • Python Dictionaries raise an error if the requested key is missing, where as Ruby Hashes returns nil; but you can use the fetch method which can raise KeyError unless you also give it a default value to fallback to.
  • Python supports List Comprehensions, Ruby does not. However, Ruby does support lazy chainable Enumerators.
  • Python lambda’s are parenthesis-style callable (ex: mylambda(1,2,3)), where as in Ruby lambdas are really Proc objects and have to be called via the call method (ex: mylambda.call(1,2,3)). See Ruby is NOT a Callable Oriented Language (It’s Object Oriented) explaining the trade-offs of having an explicit .call() method.
  • Ruby supports closures with explicit syntax (yield 1,2,3 and foo { |a,b,c| ... }).
  • Python has special semantics for Generator functions, while in Ruby any method can be passed a closure block and yield data to that closure block, or explicitly return an Enumerator if no closure block was passed to the function.
  • Python supports top-level functions (ex: len()), where every function is a method belonging to an Object. Even “top-level” methods in Ruby are simply methods defined in the Kernel module.
  • Python has the top-level range() function, where as in Ruby you just type in 1..10 and gives you a literal Range value.
  • Python has special syntax for selecting a range of elements from a list, where as in Ruby you can either call [Array#[]] with index and length arguments (ex: array[3,2]) or a literal Range value (ex: array[3..5]).
  • Python supports decorator functions by defining inner functions and passing in a function object. Ruby supports passing in closure blocks to methods that yielding control or data which allows the method to wrap around other code. You can also pass in methods as closures (ex: array.map(&method(:some_method))). Or you can use Module#prepend to inject a modules above the class allowing the module to intercept method calls before they reach the class or it’s superclass.
  • Python supports namespaces, where as Ruby uses explicitly nested modules; oddly this is an example where Ruby is more explicit than Python.
  • Python supports multiple-inheritance, where as Ruby only supports inheriting from one superclass, but you can include as many other Modules as you like.

As you can see, both languages have very similar architectures, but slight differences in the language semantics. Arguing over which 30yr old language has slightly better semantics is a waste of time. Both languages could probably benefit from changing or removing some of their legacy features that have accumulated over the decades. Ultimately it’s up to your personal preference whether you want a strict programming language or a programming language that gives you lots of tools and shortcuts to get things done.

Reason #8: Obsession with Uniformity

There is this persistent misconception within Tech that if we all used the same OS, the same text editor, the same programming language, and worked on the same projects, then we would be super productive! This is so incorrect for two reasons:

  1. No one can agree on the one true OS, text editor, programming language, etc.
  2. Trying to coerce everyone to conform to one standard set of tools creates friction, limits creativity, reduces productivity, and leads to monoculture and stagnation.

Everyone has different preferences on tools or programming languages, and they tend to also form communities around those preferences (ex: the Linux Python developer community and the macOS ObjC developer community). People also tend to be more productive using the tools or programming languages they like and are familiar with. Some of the tools and programming languages might also actually have some nice features, get certain things right, or solved certain problems in novel ways. By learning from and studying the tools and programming language of other communities, one can help improve their own community’s tools and programming languages. This is called “Cross Pollination”.

Instead of chasing the impossible dream of rigid standardization, just let people research and pick their own preferred tools and programming languages.

In Conclusion

I hope you, the reader, now understands the common reasons why some people in the InfoSec community have an oddly strong dislike of Ruby. I also hope that I have debunked many of these reasons and shown that it is a waste of time/energy to continue complaining about Ruby.

If you do not like Ruby, then simply do not use it. Problem solved. You do not have to constantly remind everyone that you do not like something. Also, please do not troll or harass other Ruby programmers, simply because they like a programming language that you do not. Use whatever programming language you prefer and enjoy it.

If you don’t know about Ruby or haven’t tried it yet, check it out and form your own opinions.