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.
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.
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:
- 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
Related Reading: Cutting Edge CSS Features You Can Use Today
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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 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:
- 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
Related Reading: Java vs. Python: Complete Guide
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?
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.
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
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.
Thank you so much for the informative post.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Nice article best wishes for you….
so its right to say that front end is the design while backend is the development, right?
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.
Have a good time 🙂
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?
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.
This has been quite a great article, I learned a lot in five minutes!
Front-end developer ~Architect
Backend ~ Engineer
This is awesome. Nice article, wonderful and explanatory. Thanks
Nice Article Josh.
This helped me to explain front-end and back-end stuff to fresh graduates.
It works for them too 🙂
Thank you so much for this! Really cleared it up for me.
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
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!
this helped me a lot .i don’t understand when people talk about these terms.thank you so very much .
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.
Wow thanks! This broke the whole thing down for me. It doesn’t sound so abstract anymore!!
The real question is how would you classify Neo?
Just blew my mind with that. Maybe a virus of some sort that was destroying the blueprint of the matrix.?
does web hosting is mentioned here as back end??
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?
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.
Thank you very much for this very much clear picture of the situation!
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?
Graphic design? just focus on front end theres alooot there trust me
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.
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/
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?
Html5,CSS3,Java script all these languages are enough to become front end developer
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.
Dude, back-end is everything. EVERYTHING
He did not ask “which one is more important”, he asked “which one brings more customers and money”. Most of the time these two questions have opposite answers
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?
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.
This is an excellent article. Thanks!
Hey Josh this helped to understand these terms.
I’m glad it helped David! Thanks for reading:)
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!
Thats all u got? 20 milion sperm and you where the first one?
OK, I´ll do that, thanks!
Totally agree with you Michael..! PHP should be considered front-end..!