LearnI Don’t Speak Your Language: Frontend vs. Backend


Josh Long
writes on September 25, 2012

“I Don’t Speak Your Language” will give you a quick overview of tech terms in our industry. Knowing these terms will help you in your communications and allow you to build better products more efficiently. This week we’re discussing the questions of what is the backend and what is the frontend.

There has been a lot of discussion in the blog comments lately about what constitutes design and development when it comes to the web. I’m trying as best as I can to help you, our dear readers, in your journey to becoming the best web professional you possibly can.

Our goal is to listen to you and create content that is relevant to the discussion and the challenges that you face, so I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight the differences between design and development. My goal here is to lay the foundation for further discussion and see if we can define the lines together.

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The differences between design and development actually lead to more of a discussion around frontend and backend web work. What is backend? And what is frontend? Let’s start with the frontend…

What is Frontend?

When we discuss the “frontend” of the web, what we’re really talking about is the part of the web that you can see and interact with. The frontend usually consists of two parts: the web design and frontend web development.

In the past when someone discussed development it usually referred to the backend, but in recent years there has been a real need to differentiate between designers that worked strictly in Photoshop and those that could code HTML and CSS. It went even further when designers crossed the lines to working with JavaScript and jQuery.

So now when we discuss the term “web design”, we’re really talking about those that work with Photoshop and Fireworks, and those that code using HTML, CSS, JavaScript or jQuery (it might be important here to state that jQuery is a compiled library of Javascript).

Everything that you see when using the web is a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript all being controlled by your computer’s browser. These include things like fonts, drop-down menus, buttons, transitions, sliders, contact forms, etc.

Now to make all of this become a reality and to store the information that you put in the frontend elements, we need technology to make it happen. Enter the backend…

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What is Backend?

The backend usually consists of three parts: a server, an application, and a database. If you book a flight or buy concert tickets, you usually open a website and interact with the frontend. Once you’ve entered that information, the application stores it in a database that was created on a server. For sake of ease, just think about a database as a giant Excel spreadsheet on your computer, but your computer (server) is stored somewhere in Arizona.

All of that information stays on the server so when you log back into the application to print your tickets, all of the information is still there in your account.

We call a person that builds all of this technology to work together a backend developer. Backend technologies usually consist of languages like PHP, Ruby, Python, etc. To make them even easier to use they’re usually enhanced by frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Cake PHP, and Code Igniter that all make development faster and easier to collaborate on.

Many web professionals that are just getting into the field may have heard a lot of people talking about WordPress. WordPress is a good example of the frontend and backend working together because WordPress is an open-sourced framework built on PHP that you have to install on your server with a database. Designers then customize the look and functionality of WordPress sites using CSS, jQuery and JavaScript.


I hoped this helped many of you get clear on when people are talking about the frontend and the backend of the web, as well as knowing when they’re talking about design as opposed to development.

The lines between design and development seem to get more and more blurred on a daily basis, but fundamentally they are still very separate.

In order for everyone to carry on great discussions and to collaborate on great products it’s very important that we’re clear on what part of the product we’re really talking about.

What are your thought on design and development, and the frontend versus the backend? Please join the conversation by commenting below. Cheers!

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48 Responses to “I Don’t Speak Your Language: Frontend vs. Backend”

  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 🙂

  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?

    • 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?


  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!

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

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