I have been using Groovy for a little while now and am researching the possibility of using Grails for an upcoming project. At the time, I did not no much about Grails but I had dabbled with Rails a bit and got a feel for how it works.
The .NET community created a project called nant, the .NET port of ant. I’m also familiar with all of the various XUnit variants like JUnit for Java, NUnit for .NET, etc… I just figured Grails was a the Rails application for Ruby ported over to Groovy.
This was not the case at all. Both Rails and Grails are “coding by convention” web frameworks for the Ruby and Groovy languages respectively but they have very different design points. I was familiar with how ActiveRecord works in the Rails world and figured Grails would work the same. ActiveRecord takes a database schema and builds the Object model from the database. In Grails, Object Relational Mapping (GORM) instead using hibernate under the hood.
This article gives a really good summary of the differences in the design approach between Rails and Grails:
Ruby on Rails: RoR uses the bottom up approach where you define your model at the database schema level and RoR builds the model to match using naming conventions. You don’t even have to add the properties to your domain classes as RoR will add them based on the naming conventions of the db schema.
Grails: Grails uses the model-down approach where you define your model and it (or Hibernate technically) builds the schema for you. As I mentioned I don’t like this as a matter of taste since I don’t have as much control over the underlying model. To Grails’ credit, you can fine grain control the database schema by using Hibernate’s mapping, but what a pain.