When comparing Scheme vs Ruby, the Slant community recommends Scheme for most people. In the question“What is the best programming language to learn first?” Scheme is ranked 2nd while Ruby is ranked 5th. The most important reason people chose Scheme is:
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A *formal* specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern. Ultimately, everything looks something like this: (func a b c) This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow: (if cond then-clause else-clause) or even primitive operations like `define` and `set`: (define foo 10) (set! foo 11) This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Simple syntax
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A formal specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern.
Ultimately, everything looks something like this:
(func a b c)
This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow:
(if cond then-clause else-clause)
or even primitive operations like
(define foo 10) (set! foo 11)
This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Pro No Magic - it's clear how everything works
Scheme has far less built into the language itself, helping students see that things like OOP are not magical: they are just patterns for organizing code. Everything in Scheme is built up from a very small set of primitives which compose in a natural and intuitive fashion.
Having a language that does not accord many things special status helps keep students open minded. This will help students later go between different languages and paradigms from procedural to object-oriented to functional.
Pro Great at teaching fundamental programming ideas
Scheme teaches the important, fundamental ideas immediately without the distraction of unnecessary syntax or language features.
Pro Great, well known textbooks
There is a set of very strong textbooks introducing CS and programming using Scheme. These books are available for free online.
The most famous example--and one of the most famous CS books full stop--is Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs usually known as SICP. This book introduces fundamental ideas in computer science and covers an incredible amount of material quickly and clearly without requiring any prior knowledge.
However, some people find SICP a bit challenging as a first text. Happily, there are other more introductory texts as well. Simply Scheme is a book designed to be read before SICP, easing beginners into the language as well as CS and programming in general. How to Design Programs is another text used in introductory college courses.
Pro Robust metaprogramming
The quotation functionality of Lisp allow for extremely powerful, yet syntactically straightforward metaprogramming via macros. This is more powerful than the C preprocessor while being less involved than something like Template Haskell or F# quotations.
Using macros to properly decompose a problem domain teaches new developers good habits, improving composibility and reliability when tackling large programs. Scheme metaprogramming also serves as a gentle introduction to domain specific languages.
Unlike most languages, Scheme actually accords both functional programming and imperative programming roughly equal status. Many other languages like Python and Java are staunchly imperative while SML and Haskell are primarily functional; Scheme is a nice middle ground.
Additionally, since Scheme syntax is extremely flexible, it can easily be re-purposed for teaching non-deterministic and logic programming. There is no need to learn a new language like Prolog when the same ideas can easily be expressed with Scheme syntax.
This gives students a good perspective on different ways to think about and organize programs, which makes it much easier to move forward to other languages and technologies.
Pro Multi platform
GNU/Linux, OS X, and Windows versions available.
Pro Clean syntax
Ruby has a very clean syntax that makes code easier to both read and write than more traditional Object Oriented languages, such as Java. For beginning programmers, this means the focus is on the meaning of the program, where it should be, rather than trying to figure out the meaning of obscure characters.
presidents = ["Ford", "Carter", "Reagan", "Bush1", "Clinton", "Bush2"] for ss in 0...presidents.length print ss, ": ", presidents[presidents.length - ss - 1], "\n"; end
Pro A large ecosystem of tools & libraries
Ruby has a large ecosystem of tools and libraries for just about every use. Such as ORMs (Active Record, DatabMapper), Web Application Frameworks(Rails, Sinatra, Volt), Virtualization Orchestration(docker-api, drelict), CLI tools(Thor, Commando), GUI Frameworks(Shoes, FXRuby) and the list goes on. If you can think of it, there is probably a gem for that ( and if not you can create your own and share with the community).
Pro Widely used
Ruby is one of the most popular languages for developing web sites. As a result, there's an abundant amount of documentation, sample code, and libraries available for learning the language and getting your project up and running. The most popular features are just 'gem install' away. Additionally, it is easier to find Ruby jobs because of this.
Pro Ruby on Rails
Lays out an easy to follow and opinionated MVC pattern that teaches best practices through necessity.
Pro Newbie-friendly community
Pro Hugely object oriented
Object oriented programming is one of the most important concepts in programming.
Pro Test Driven Development, #1
It's the fore-runner and trend setter for TDD.
Con Little Job Market
There are little to none jobs searching for a Scheme programmer. The ones that exist are more related to Research in Maths or Artificial Intelligence.
Con Fragmented ecosystem
Scheme is an IEEE standard, not an implementation. Unfortunately, the standard is too minimal and practical implementations have diverged--they had to expand on the standard to get anything done, but did so in incompatible ways.
The later de facto standard R6RS tried to correct this, but lost Scheme's minimalist elegance in the process. The newer R7RS standard takes the best of both worlds with an elegant minimalist core and a practical standard library.
Con Very different semantics from mainstream programming languages
Con A language that is purely academic
If someone said "I am starting a project in Scheme" then they are either talking about their homework or they are starting a joke.
Con Its ecosystem is limited outside of web development
If you're looking to host, generate, manipulate or secure a website, Ruby is your language. There's also some great support here for infrastructure as code work via Chef. However, it just doesn't have the depth and breadth that Python does. Things like native UI development, high performance math, and embedded / small footprint environments are barely supported at all in Ruby-space.
Con Meta-programming causes confusion for new developers
The ability for libraries to open classes and augment them leads to confusion for new developers since it is not clear who injected the functionality into some standard class.
In other words, if two modules decide to modify the same function on the same class can introduce a number of issues. Mainly, the order in which the modules are included matters. Since you more or less can't tell what kind of "helper" functions a module might write into any class, or for that matter, where the helper function was included from, you may sometimes wonder why class X can do Y sometimes but not at other times.
Requiring a library can change the rules of the language. This is very confusing for beginners.
Con No docstrings
It's hard to access Ruby's documentation from the REPL (irb), unlike Python, Lisp, and Smalltalk which let you ask functions how to use them, which is a great benefit to the beginner, and which also encourages you to document your program as you code it.
Con Arcane grammar based on Perl
Ruby is too complicated for beginners:
- arcane Perlisms;
- semi-significant whitespace;
- parentheses are not necessary around method arguments, except for sometimes they are;
- control constructs could be elegantly implemented with block like Smalltalk (Instead they're baked into the grammar.);
- verbose block syntax, unless it happens to be the last argument. (proc lambda).
- There are too many exceptional cases and arcane precedence rules.
Con More than one way to do it
A problem inspired by Perl. The core API interfaces are bloated. There's at least four different ways to define methods. More is not always better. Sometimes it's just more.
Con Dynamic type system
Majority of bugs could be resolved with types.
Con Viewed as a web development language
Despite its flexibility and performance, Ruby is often seen as being unsuitable for other tasks by those who are not familiar with it. As such, a lot of discussion about it centers around Rails, which is not at all relevant if you're using Ruby for something else, such as game development.
Con Does not teach you about data types
Since Ruby is a dynamically typed language, you don't have to learn about data types if you start using Ruby as your first language. Data types being one of the most important concepts in programming. This also will cause trouble in the long run when you will have to (inevitably) learn and work with a statically typed language because you will be forced to learn the type system from scratch.
Con Focus on Object-Oriented Programming (OOP)
Focussing on OOP in a beginner stage is an easy and popular plan, but not the best one.