Site icon Treehouse Blog

Front-End vs. Back-End: The Complete Guide

backend vs frontend

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.

Free trial on Treehouse: Do you want to learn more about back end and front end web development? Signup for a free trial on Treehouse.

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

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:

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:

Are you ready to start learning?

Learning with Treehouse for only 30 minutes a day can teach you the skills needed to land the job that you’ve been dreaming about.

Start a Free Trial

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:

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:

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.


Anyone can be a developer.
Earn a Techdegree and get the job-ready skills you need to launch your new career in tech.
Exit mobile version