Web development is soaring in popularity, both as a career choice and an added skill for computer scientists. The term “web development” is very broad—it can cover many different styles of development.
Typically, these are separated into two categories: front-end development and back-end development. Figuring out which kind of development to learn is a very common question asked by developers when they start out. Let’s take a look at the differences and see which one is right for you.
Front-End vs. Back-End
Let’s break down the specific differences between these two forms of development. Before getting specific the two styles really boil down to this:
Front-end development is coding to build the side we interact with on websites and web apps we use every day. Front-end developers decide how they’re designed, how they’re styled; how they actually work when people use them.
Back-end development is coding to build the server-side of websites and web apps. Back-end developers create the technology that stores information on servers and loads information onto web apps.
The “front end” of a website or application is the layout and design you see when you view it. Take a look at the presentation of this article, the buttons, menus, colors, fonts, and navigation. Everything was programmed to create the finished product you see.
This is front-end development, using code to create website structure and layout.
Front-end developers typically have a sharp eye for design and User Experience (UX). Not necessarily to the mastery of a web designer, but those who have a passion for both coding and design will find a nice middle ground.
Languages and Tools
HTML is the backbone of all web development so developers of both front-end and back-end should be comfortable with it. You can get off the ground pretty quickly understanding basic HTML code.
Typically, front-end developers use text editors to program. They may also use browser consoles to test layout and UX, or a free UI/UX design tool like Adobe XD.
Aside from programming, front-end developers can benefit from branching out to learning other skills. Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, code testing tools, static website builders, and even some back-end knowledge can improve overall abilities.
Think about your banking apps, social media, or a news website. Every time you log in or visit these apps, you’re given current information.
For example, your banking app always loads your current balance when you log in and can be refreshed in real-time. You might come back to this post in a month and see new comments that a reader typed up. Programmers aren’t typing up new code for every piece of information, so where does it come from?
This information comes from servers that load information from a database into a web app. Back-end developers create the logic that allows this to happen in real-time, whenever a change happens.
Back-end programmers are tuned in to the logic of apps, comfortable with databases and delivering information from web servers.
Languages and Tools
While front-end developers typically work in the same three languages, back-end developers have a little more flexibility in choosing a web programming language.
Many high-level languages can be used to work with servers. Ruby, PHP, Scala, Python, and C# (.NET) are examples of languages you can use to code the back-end. If you’re comfortable with a language already, you’ll find a nice entry into coding techniques.
Back-end developers don’t just work with servers, they work with databases as well. Databases hold the information that servers send to websites, and are coded with a database language. Languages such as SQL, SQLite, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL.
Working with full-scale languages is easier on an integrated development environment (IDE) like Visual Studio or XCode.
Back-end developers should have a strong understanding of software architecture. This becomes important as projects become larger. Coding a small blog is simpler than coding an app for an international banking service with millions of customers.
Strong working knowledge of databases is important, some developers choose to work exclusively with databases.
Many developers are choosing to learn cloud programming, which is becoming just as popular as traditional server-side programming.
Which Is Best for You?
As you’ve read through the breakdown you may have already decided which path sounds more appealing. Maybe the thought of grand colorful designs and smooth layouts gets you excited to code. On the other side, you may be inclined to engineer server code and leave the UX to the designers.
There are plenty of career options available in both fields.
The front-end path will take you through jobs such as:
- Front-End Developer
- UX Designer
- Web Designer
- Freelance Developer
Meanwhile, the back-end path gives you options as well:
- Back-End Developer
- Database Administrator
- CMS Engineer
- Cloud Engineer
- QA Tester
- Freelance Developer
If you’re feeling like both fields appeal to you, you’re not alone. Some developers elect to dabble in both, either for the experience or career advancement. The term for developers who are knowledgable in both is full-stack developer.
Your Next Steps in Web Development