Differences between Frontend and Backend Web Development


Robyn Oglesby


February 10, 2022

Differences between Frontend and Backend Web Development

Defining the two elements of website development

Even though I’ve been around various types of web development for almost two decades now, I have been confused about the difference between front-end and back-end development. What are they? How are they different? How are they alike? How to both contribute to the creation of websites and enterprise systems? This article will explore all the ins and outs of front-end and back-end web development.

When you hear the word design, you are sometimes infected with the mental image of colors, sketches, and other artsy elements. While defining those elements for a website are important, the truth is that’s not all it takes to build a website. In order to build a stable, secure, stylish website, you need both the front and backend. These two elements are defined by the ‘presentation layer’ and the ‘data access layer’ within the software development world.

While they intermingle quite a bit, but they are very different entities. Sometimes the easiest ways to separate the two elements is through the technologies they use. Both sides utilize version control tools such as Git, Mercurial, or Subversion and they are both responsible for understanding file transfer tools and protocols such as FTP or rsync. Beyond that, the technologies end up being very different.

Front-end Focused Technologies

With front-end development, you utilize a lot of tools that are visually-based. The role of this type of developer ends up working with markup and web languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The front-end developer is also responsible creating responsive web designs, ensuring cross-browser compatibility, and search engine optimization. They also end up addressing accessibility concerns and addressing the site’s performance. In addition to these skills, a front-end developer does end up working with image editing tools such as Photoshop.

One thing to realize is that a front-end developer (or development in general) is not always a graphic designer. The front-end development a website is responsible for applying a created design to a web interface, but they aren’t necessarily the creator of the original design system. That ends up falling to the creative director or a general graphic designer. That role pulls together brand designs and style guides for the front-end developer to utilize.

In general terms, the front-end development of a website is what drives the user experience. That’s why you want to look for a UI/UX specialist (User Interface/User Experience) to manage this side of your website. They will look for ways to enhance a user’s journey on your site beyond what they see.

Backend Focused Technologies

The technologies that are utilized for backend development deal with the framework of a website. If front-end development is the paint on your wall, then backend development is the frame, insulation, and drywall that holds the wall together.

The developer responsible for the bones of the website is well-versed in scripting languages such as PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl, Node.js, or Compiled languages like C#, Java or Go. They also utilize testing frameworks for the language being used. The backend development is responsible for database administration, scalability, and the software architecture of a site.

Final Comments

There is a clear distinction between the two types of website development and the technologies behind them. The important thing to realize is that you need both types of development to make a website 100% functional and user-friendly.

One of the easiest ways to think about front and back end development is like a stage production. The actors are what you see, but there are dozens of people behind the scenes that you never see that make the production work. The actors are the front-end, or what you see, and the behind the scenes individuals are the backend, or how it’s built.

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