Front-End vs. Back-End Web Development: Which Path Is Right for You?
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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.

Front-End Development

The Basics

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

Front-end coders should be experts in modern HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

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 5 Steps to Understanding Basic HTML Code 5 Steps to Understanding Basic HTML Code HTML is the backbone of every webpage. If you're a beginner, let us walk you through the basic steps to understanding HTML. Read More .

CSS is critical in creating the design of a website, so naturally, front-end developers are constantly using and improving their skills with CSS. JavaScript controls dynamic elements on a web page or application, contributing to an interactive experience.

Frameworks exist which make working with these languages even easier, but they only really work when you have a fundamental understanding of the base language. Some examples would be SASS for CSS or React for JavaScript.

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 Adobe XD: The Free UI and UX Design Tool You Can Use Right Now Adobe XD: The Free UI and UX Design Tool You Can Use Right Now Adobe XD is a rapid interface prototyping app for mobile devices and websites. In this article, we introduce you to Adobe XD! Read More .

Helpful Skills

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.

Back-End Development

The Basics

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 How to Choose the Right Web Programming Language to Use How to Choose the Right Web Programming Language to Use Why should certain languages be chosen over others in any given scenario? This article will provide a checklist of questions the programmer should ask in order to choose which language to use. Read More .

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.

Helpful Skills

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
  • JavaScript Developer
  • 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

Now that you’re learning about web development, keep the momentum up! Learn all about JavaScript and how it works What Is JavaScript and How Does It Work? What Is JavaScript and How Does It Work? If you're learning web development, here's what you need to know about JavaScript and how it works with HTML and CSS. Read More , JavaScript is prominent in both front-end and back-end. After that, decide your chosen path and study hard.

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