Ruby on Rails 2.2 to be Thread Safe


Tucked inside the somewhat innocuous announcement that a new committer has joined the Rails core team (Josh Peek, who had worked on Rails via the Google Summer of Code) was the surprising revelation that Ruby on Rails 2.2 will be thread safe. Even more surprising was the statement:

The actual thread safety won’t really matter much to most people, but it’ll surely look nice on your enterprisey check list of Features Your Framework Must Have To Get Play Around Here.

Huh? Thread safety not important? As much as I sometimes feel nostalgic about 1990's CGI programming (ah, signing bonuses...*sniff*), statements like that are just plain embarassing, and don't do much to promote Ruby or Ruby on Rails. And before anyone counters that stable versions of Ruby still don't use native (kernel) threads, think again: JRuby does. It may well turn out that JRuby + RoR 2.2 will be the the power combo for Ruby developers in 2008 and beyond...those that are serious about concurrency, at least.

Charles Nutter has put an excellent Q&A on his site regarding the impact of RoR thread safety (esp. on existing Ruby implementations). A good read.

Where does he say that thread safety is not important? He says that thread safety "won't really matter much to most people". Because thread safety *is*, in fact, made much of in the community -- hence Merb -- I think he is making a comment more about the average Rails developer and the typical Rails prototype project than about the actual importance of thread safety in the enterprise. Were thread safety regarded as "not important", I doubt the effort would have been made.

As far as your assertion about his statement not doing much to promote Ruby or Ruby on Rails -- well, I'm not sure how much RoR needs. I signed up as a poster on a Rails forum and received two job notifications the next morning. Rails seems healthy. And let's not forget that Ruby is a language, not an implementation. JRuby is 100% compatible with 1.8.6, right? It seems as though his comments have something more to do with the standard Ruby distribution, and not with Ruby itself.

I'm not sure equating thread safety with some "enterprisey check list" feature (with a heavy dose of sarcasm) comes across as serious (to me at least). Rails may be a hot framework, but there is still a substantial camp of skeptics that are going to be put off by the appearance that a fundamental concurrency issue is not being taken seriously. Threading is not just some "backend" enterprise technology that web application developers can afford to ignore. If anything, web applications are the poster child for why you need good concurrency. If you need to scale to a million hits a day on your "social networking" site, do you really want to be running a separate process for every request?

10(+) years ago, Java was heavily criticized (esp. by the C++ crowd) for being slow and inefficient. Sun took it seriously and set about fixing the problem. Today, Java even surpasses C++ on certain benchmarks and--guess what?--you don't hear any criticism any more about Java's performance. The Ruby community collectively needs to do the same with concurrency.

Today, Java even surpasses C++ on certain benchmarks and--guess what?--you don't hear any criticism any more about Java's performance.

You know a whole group of people I've never met then, and vice versa. I am battling that old assumption almost every time I bring Java up in conversation.

Well, urban legends sometimes die hard...

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