Career AdviceFront-End vs. Back-End: The Complete Guide

Jason Gilmore

Jason Gilmore
writes on August 7, 2022

When you first decide to begin your coding journey — and maybe even pursue a career in web development — it can be difficult to understand industry terms like front-end, back-end, and full-stack. What are these different web development roles? And which one is right for you?

Read on to discover the key difference between front-end and back-end development, the skills required for various web developer roles, and how you can get started with coding today.

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TL;DR: Key Differences Between Front-End vs. Back-End

  • Front-end developers focus on the user-facing aspect of a web application.
  • Back-end developers handle the application logic and data management.
  • In general, it’s easier to get started with front-end development first.
  • The average back-end developer salary tends to be higher than that of a front-end developer.
  • A full-stack developer has knowledge of both front-end and back-end development.

What is Front-End Development?

Front-end development is the process of turning a mockup or wireframe into a functioning website or web application. The “front-end” is the part that end-users see and interact with — which is a combination of design and user interface elements.

In general, a web designer uses Photoshop and other tools to create the graphics, typography, and visual layouts for websites or web apps. Front-end developers use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to bring these designs to life for users. They’ll build user interface elements like drop-down menus, buttons, transitions, sliders, contact forms, and other dynamic features.

Since users interact with the front-end of web applications using web browsers, developers are limited to the scripting and markup languages that browsers like Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari support. The core front-end tech stack includes:

  • HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to define the structure of web pages (markup) and how they link to each other (HyperTest) to form the content layer of the website or web app. HTML files describe the content in terms of headings, paragraphs, bulleted lists, links, and images.
  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to define the style of a web page in terms of fonts, colors, backgrounds, and more. CSS forms the presentation layer that controls how web pages look for various devices, screen sizes, and resolutions.
  • JavaScript is the scripting language used to make web pages dynamic. This behavior layer enables functionality like navigation, search bars, buttons, forms, and other interactive elements. JavaScript is also used to communicate with the back-end (usually through APIs) for more advanced functionality.

Most front-end development teams choose a framework or set of libraries that makes it easier to build a new web app. For example, developers will use Angular or React rather than developing basic UI elements from scratch. This helps development teams get the front-end up and running much faster, so they can focus on building the unique aspects of their web app.

Front-End Developer Skills

Front-end developers (also known as client-side developers) focus on the user-facing aspect of a website or web application. Here are some technologies and skills you need to learn front-end development successfully:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • Communicating with APIs (Application Programming Interfaces)
  • Front-end web frameworks like Angular.js or React.js
  • Cross-browser optimization
  • Knowledge of user experience (UX) design for websites or web apps

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What is Back-End Development?

Back-end development involves working with applications, databases, and servers to handle the application logic and data management functionality of a web application. These technologies interact with the front-end, often using APIs, to form a full technology stack.

The back-end application handles the business logic necessary for buttons, forms, and other interactive functionality on the front-end to actually work. For example, when a user submits their username and password to log in to a web app, this information gets sent to the back-end for authentication. Then the back-end would check a database containing user credentials to verify the login information was correct, and send a confirmation response to the front-end.

Back-end developers build APIs that front-end developers can use to integrate the client-side with the server-side. Unlike front-end development — which is typically JavaScript-based — the back-end can be built in many different programming languages, from compiled languages like Java to interpreted languages like PHP, Python and Ruby.

Back-end developers also need to interact with database management systems like PostgreSQL, SQL Server, or MySQL. This usually requires knowledge of Structured Query Language (SQL) to read, write, modify, and delete data. In addition, back-end developers usually understand at least the basics of structuring data, whether they’re using a relational database system or a NoSQL database like MongoDB.

Web applications and databases are typically deployed on a server (such as Apache or NGINX), which provides the computing resources, data storage, and other capabilities for running the app. Maintaining back-end servers typically requires the ability to troubleshoot problems and a basic working knowledge of the Linux operating system.

Similar to front-end development, back-end developers usually choose a framework as a starting point. Back-end frameworks like Django or Flask offer the basic capabilities for accepting HTTP requests, building web page templates, and more.

Back-End Developer Skills

Back-end developers (also known as server-side developers) focus on the application logic and data management aspects of a web application. Here are some technologies and skills you need to learn back-end development successfully:

  • Programming in a back-end language (Python, Java, PHP, or JavaScript)
  • Building and maintaining APIs
  • Back-end frameworks like Flask or Django
  • SQL (Structured Query Language)
  • Knowledge of database management systems
  • Common algorithms and data structures
  • Basic server management

Careers in Front-End vs. Back-End

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in web development, you’ll probably want to know which role is right for you. Here’s what you can expect in terms of aptitudes and salaries for front-end and back-end development jobs.

Front-end development is more focused on designing great user experiences, which requires some degree of knowledge in usability principles. This means front-end developers often have an eye for design as well as an intuitive sense for what makes a good user experience. Aspiring web developers that enjoy using their creative and artistic side should consider becoming a front-end developer.

Back-end development involves more data manipulation and complex logic. These types of server-side programming tasks require strong analytical skills and the ability to think abstractly about data and algorithms. Aspiring web developers that enjoy solving complex problems should consider a career in back-end development.

In terms of salary expectations, Glassdoor suggests front-end developers earn about $102,000 on average and back-end developers earn around $117,000. While back-end developers often earn more, it’s important to consider which aspect of web development is a better fit for your talents and passions.

If you choose to pursue either front-end or back-end development based on interest, it’s much easier to stay motivated as you’re learning and it will bring you more fulfillment once you begin your career.

Is it Better to Start With Front-End or Back-End?

In general, it’s easier to learn front-end development because there are fewer technologies you need to understand to get started. HTML and CSS are also fairly straightforward compared to other programming skills. That means front-end developers can quickly learn how to create something visual and interactive with just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Back-end programming tasks — such as building APIs and working with databases — can be more complicated and abstract for a beginner. In many cases, there can be complex math involved or the need to learn about data structures and algorithms. That often means a steeper learning curve for back-end development.

Even if you intend to pursue back-end or full-stack development as a career, it’s helpful to know how front-end development works. You’ll have the knowledge necessary to collaborate with front-end developers, and you’ll have a better high-level understanding of how the different pieces of a web application fit together.

In addition, the JavaScript you learn for front-end development can also be used for back-end development, but other back-end languages cannot be used for front-end development. That means it’s easier to transition into a back-end or full-stack JavaScript developer role later on.

What About Full-Stack?

While front-end and back-end developers specialize in specific areas of web development, a full-stack developer has the skillset to create a web app from end to end. This means full-stack developers are knowledgeable in both client-side and server-side development, which helps them have an intuitive sense for effectively designing and building web applications.

When it comes to full-stack development, there are many different technology stacks that companies choose. A few popular web technology stacks include:

  • MEAN: MongoDB, Express, Angular, and Node
  • LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Python
  • JAMstack: JavaScript, APIs, and Markup

Many software developers choose to become a full-stack developer because it’s a skillset that’s popular and in high demand. In fact, Stack Overflow Developer Survey 2022 found that full-stack is the most prevalent developer role.

Start Your Coding Journey With Treehouse

As you can see, there are many different types of web development roles. That means you have a choice in where you want to start your coding journey and how you want your software development career to progress in the future.

If you’re interested in becoming a web developer, check out the Treehouse Techdegrees for Front End Web Development and Full Stack JavaScript. These online certification programs will help you build the real-world skills you need to succeed as a web developer.


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48 Responses to “Front-End vs. Back-End: The Complete Guide”

  1. Thank you so much for the informative post.

  2. This is a great topic to have learned and I really impress for the detailed explanation on this article. I owe you what I learned today, an very efficient information and I congratulate you for the success of this blog. Keep it up!

  3. Got you. Thanks for the article. We have a big team of IT people at work and whenever people have said “yeah, he cant fix your problem as he works frontend” (or vice verca), I had no idea what to answer.

    Now I do.

  4. you gave a complete details on frontend and backend. it’s really helpful mate. i was confused about those terms but last 1 week i was breakdown all of articles about it. here i learn some of new terms. please can you write complete guide about eCommerce frontend backend web technologies. i think it will be different. or maybe i thinking wrong. please let me clear.

  5. Anthony Will on October 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm said:

    After I read this article, I thought of the concept frontend as the design of a social construct that executes functions based on the infrastructure of the backend. Cities are built this way.

  6. Hello sir,
    Nice article best wishes for you….

  7. Nadeem Alikhan on August 22, 2017 at 12:46 pm said:

    so its right to say that front end is the design while backend is the development, right?

    • Abhishek Nigam on November 6, 2017 at 2:06 am said:

      Web design in its literally means to design, like graphic designing, designing the layout of a website, responsive design (how your layout would look on different screen sizes) and can also include designing animations, effects for a website. Where as front-end development basically means to code the layout the design (that web designer gave) using HTML & CSS. Also front-end development, includes coding interaction with the website using JavaScript or JS libraries/framworks like jQuery, React, Angular, etc

      But as the post mentions, the nowadays the line between web designers and front-end developers is getting blurred.

      Backend development is completely different story though. No web designing, here. It deals with actual programming and in the end as a result pushing out front-end code. All computation, database information retrieval is done here.

      Consider for example Facebook, a web designer gave the design of the facebook possibly in a Photoshop file and tells how it scaled to different screen sized. The front-end developer then coded the design just received in HTML, CSS, and using Javascript to design interaction like AJAX requests to populate the template of design he has made with actual data. Here the actual data is provided by an application coded by a backend developer. This developer is responsible for providing data to the frontend being it form of straightforward HTML,CSS,JS code or it can send data to the frontend in a better way such as XML, JSON and then the frontend and the JS uses this to populate content on the template. Further backend developer is responsible for things like authetication, data retreval and storage.

      Have a good time 🙂

  8. Hello I read in your article that the backend is consists of three parts which is a server (maybe a laptop or an actual physical server) a database and an application, my questions is what kind of application? are you referring to the frontend when you said an application?

  9. I am a new web designer. I got your answer to a question about Front end and backend on facebook. From that answer I get this link and read it. It is very clearly explained. Thank you very much for your great effort.

  10. This has been quite a great article, I learned a lot in five minutes!

    Another question I have though is that is it better to learn as many languages as soon as possible and then learn to do projects later, or do they teach you the languages they want you to know once you get into the job? I have been learning, Python. but I am wondering if I should branch out to Javascript, for example, and then go from there.

  11. Chandan Das on June 26, 2017 at 10:33 pm said:

    Front-end developer ~Architect
    Backend ~ Engineer

  12. This is awesome. Nice article, wonderful and explanatory. Thanks

  13. Nice Article Josh.
    This helped me to explain front-end and back-end stuff to fresh graduates.
    It works for them too 🙂
    Thanks

  14. Thank you so much for this! Really cleared it up for me.

  15. Daniel Codjoe on October 4, 2016 at 11:00 am said:

    I don’t agree with the author on his differences between a front-end, back-end and front-end designer. Front-end developer is almost the same exact same thing as back-end developer. The only difference between the two, is that back-end developers use the server to write their buisness logic and front-end developers use the browser, thats the only difference. Now a front-end designer, does not write buisness logic, that is not their job. Designers are responsible for only look and feel, and layout. They are not responsible for functionality, therefore they do not need to know Javascript, Jquery or any of the frameworks. All they need to know is CSS, HTML5, Photoshop etc….

    • Carlos on May 22, 2017 at 7:47 pm said:

      I think your point is obsolete. Now designers and developers are more open mind in terms of skills. A professional designer understand all technical process and stages putting our hands on a line of code. With that understanding we both should have a clear vision about any project in mind. Be versatile

  16. Thanks for the clear and insightful explanation Josh! Just wanted to be 100% clear on what the differences were and you nailed it. Great examples too. Thanks for sharing!

  17. srinivas tanneru on September 8, 2016 at 11:35 am said:

    this helped me a lot .i don’t understand when people talk about these terms.thank you so very much .

  18. This sure helped a lot. Now I need to study PHP backend development to work with my startup MLM website running on Bootstrap and AdminLTE. Thanks Nick.

  19. edith on May 12, 2016 at 2:37 am said:

    Wow thanks! This broke the whole thing down for me. It doesn’t sound so abstract anymore!!

  20. The real question is how would you classify Neo?

  21. does web hosting is mentioned here as back end??

  22. Hi
    Thanks for the article.
    I’ve a question with no answer for it.
    As I read front-end job ads none of them mentioned the design skills, like Photoshop or Illustrator. I wonder does a front-end web developer just do the code part or he/she needs to do the design part too?
    Thanks

    • Hi. I am a full-stack developer by title, but since I do know graphic design and bootstrap and the adobe CC software, I work frequently on the front-end at work. Basically, designers are great at html and css, but once something requires programming, they turn to me. We work in tandem together to get something going. My project manager is a UX person who does little programming. I hope this helps.

  23. Audrey Hardou on December 16, 2015 at 8:27 am said:

    Thank you very much for this very much clear picture of the situation!

  24. Ck Kennedy on November 26, 2015 at 9:55 pm said:

    I am to learn web designing so that I can expand my boundaries in graphic design. If I am to be a Front End developer should I start with knowing mastering the Back End developing or which one first?

    • Madam craiz on December 19, 2015 at 9:49 am said:

      Graphic design? just focus on front end theres alooot there trust me

      • Alena on May 3, 2016 at 4:16 pm said:

        It is a thing of past that graphic designer knows programming. There is too much to cover in building websites now that GD would come before front end developer. Otherwise you are the developer not graphic designer. Or GD will make a design in photoshop and Developer takes it from there. But in most cases developers are pretty good even in designing.

  25. Cross-browser support doesn’t pose a big challenge to front end coders unless they have to deal with old versions of Internet Explorer. Technology is developing rapidly, while the outdated editions of IE are lagging behind. As a client you sure have the right to demand cross-browser support of your product, but you also need to realize that IE 9, 8 support will take up much more time and as a result money. Read more here: http://lezgro.com/blog/what-can-go-wrong-with-web-front-end/

  26. hi Josh,

    Which guidelines and steps follows when connecting front-end(with user see and interact ). and back-end asp.net 13 c#(coding), in IT industry?

  27. Ravishankar on August 24, 2015 at 8:50 am said:

    Html5,CSS3,Java script all these languages are enough to become front end developer

  28. Which one bring more customers and money ? 🙂

    • Front end. HTML and CSS are a absolute priority for most business/corporate websites. Most users will rate a site based on design and layout rather than some back-end features. Back end features are just additions to add more functionality.

  29. Hello Josh, thanks for the great content I found it very helpful. Just a quick question please, I’ve hired a web developer to create my Ecommerce website. He wants me to pay 40% of the total sum for the frontend and 60% once he’s done with the backend. Is this fair?

    sarah

  30. Hi Josh. Thanks for such a structured way of defining Front-end and Back-end roles. Since many are discussing about the thin line of difference between front-end and back-end when it comes to Javascript Frameworks. I am also in confusion to understand whether MVC based JS frameworks like Backbonejs, Angularjs or knockout js should be added in front-end skill set or in back-end? Considering the business logic and MVC architecture, its not that easy for a front-end Dev. to learn it and grasp it quickly as we can do with jQuery(Javascript for showing effects and DOM manipulation). Would you be able to explain me further. As being a front-end Dev., do i need to learn such JS frameworks since it is more related to what we see on Website? (Well then in php development , back-end guys also use a bit of JS for logic and data manipulation.)

  31. Julian on June 11, 2013 at 8:04 am said:

    separation of front end and back end isn’t always black and white – even if conceptually it may be – it may be just easier for every developer on the project to work on their own modules front through back. here is an example of one of our apps youtube.com/webrenovators – the front end and back end both run in the browser as they should and the back end can call optional webservices developed in your preferred language if you need them.

  32. Tim Morris on June 3, 2013 at 5:57 am said:

    This is an excellent article. Thanks!

  33. David Warner on May 2, 2013 at 4:59 am said:

    Hey Josh this helped to understand these terms.

  34. Great article Brother! But what am I? I write the html and css using the psd file from my AD, i set up the database and make the site work in both wordpress and umbraco. So Im a front back end developer?? 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!
    Dave

  35. Totally agree with you Michael..! PHP should be considered front-end..!

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