Front vs. Back End Web Development: Your Ultimate Guide

Web developer‘ is one of those jobs that most people don’t actually understand at all. One reason for that is because the term is such a broad one. ‘Web development’ can entail anything from web design or web content development to network security configuration or even client/server-side scripting. Confused yet? Basically, web developers are the people who build websites, in every sense of the word. But the job can be loosely broken down into two categories; front end web developers and back end web developers. What’s the difference? We’ll tell you. But first…

What Does ‘Front End’ and ‘Back End’ Mean? 

The frontend of a website is the part that is presented to the user; the parts that you see and interact with when you browse the web. The backend is the technology behind that presentation layer that makes everything work, i.e. the server, application and database. Let’s say you’re booking a flight for a vacation. You search the flight schedule and input your credit card details on the front end of the website; in the back end, the application takes your information, stores it in the database (which is created on the server), and sends your order confirmation to your email. Plus plenty more tech stuff that we won’t get into right now.

A few years ago, ‘web development’ pretty much referred to back end stuff only. But now, web designers can not only use design programs like Photoshop to create how a website should look – many can also code it up fully so that all of the elements run like clockwork, easily linking up to all that complicated backend stuff. Hence a distinction between web design, frontend web development and back end web development became necessary.


Front End Web Developers

What do They Do? Front end web developers deal with every aspect of a website that a user can engage with. That involves designing how it looks, coding how it works, creating the user interface (i.e what buttons do when they’re clicked and so on) and developing an optimum user experience (i.e. making the site easier and better for the user to engage with by improving all of the above). Front end web developers can easily create static sites from start to finish – or in other words, websites that just provide information rather than a service. Think a website for a local restaurant or tourist attraction, rather than an e-commerce site that lets you buy stuff online for example.

What do They Need to Know? Front end web developers need to have at least a working knowledge of creative design and will usually be proficient in Photoshop and/or Illustrator. While that is important, it’s more in line with a web designer’s job. Competency in HTML and CSS is an essential ingredient of the job, and modern developers also know JavaScript too – the really good ones also know jQuery and are experienced users of JavaScript or other frontend frameworks.


Back End Web Developers

What do They Do? Backend web developers build the technology that makes dynamic websites, i.e sites that constantly change or update in real time like social media platforms or e-commerce sites. They create the components and features that are needed to give the user an end result on the front end (like processing their online purchase and sending their email confirmation of same). They also maintain and manage all of the above, which can consist of core application logic, databases, data and application integration, API and a host of other backend processes. Testing and debugging is also a big part of the job.

 What do They Need to Know? HTML and CSS are definitely useful and necessary, but not the main focus for back end developers. They’ll typically be experts in C++, C#, Java and maybe one or two other high-level programming languages depending on the particular areas they work in. All dynamic websites have databases, so database expertise is also a must (think Oracle, MySQL etc.). Web services, although more so within the frontend realm, are also very useful.

Full Stack Web Developers

 Wait, there’s another kind too?! Not exactly – full stack web developers are those who can do both front end and back end. The full package, in other words! They can work with databases, code websites with HTML and CSS, and pretty much anything and everything in between. It’s a great thing to aspire to, but for those just starting out we suggest choosing one side for now. Full stack is a lot for a beginner to take on, and most full stack developers have years of experience.

 Which -End is For You?

 That’s something only you can decide. BUT. If you’re creative or people-focused, chances are you’ll be more into front end development. If you’re logical, like building things from scratch and have a head for data, back end may be your thing. The only way to know for sure is do dive in and start learning. Good luck!

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