There’s never been a better time to pursue a career in web development. Last time I checked, there were over 940 million pages on the internet, but that number is probably much higher by now. 

website stats

Source: Internet Live Stats

Employment of web developers was forecasted to grow 20 percent over the 10 year period from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Despite the proliferation of websites and web developers, how many of us really know what these people do? What's the difference between front-end development and back-end development? How do they relate to each other? 

Here’s a simple breakdown.

Let’s compare building a website to building a house. The owner of the house ultimately decides the overall purpose, style and décor; the designers and copywriters create the ‘furniture’; back-end developers actually build the house, and front-end developers take responsibility for interior design.

Front-End Developer

The front end of a website is everything that users interact with, from fonts and colours to dropdown menus and sliders. All of the code and architecture of the website’s user experience is coded by front-end developers using a combination of   HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that is controlled by your computer’s browser.

Languages, Skills and Tools

To achieve a positive and immersive user experience, front-end developers must be adept at three main languages: HTML, CSS and Javascript.

They also need to be familiar with frameworks (such as Bootstrap, Foundation, Backbone, AngularJS, and EmberJS) which ensures the content looks great on any device, and libraries, such as jQuery, which package code into a more convenient, time-saving form. Lots of our clients also look for front-end developers with experience using Ajax, a technique you can use with Javascript that lets pages dynamically load by downloading server data in the background.

Using these tools, front-end developers work closely with designers or user experience analysts to take mock-ups, or wireframes, from development to delivery.  Strong front-end developers can also pinpoint specific issues in the user experience and provide codified solutions to improve the design.

Back-End Developer

The back end of a website consists of a server, an application, and a database. A back-end developer builds and maintains the technology that powers those components which, together, enables the user-facing side of the website to exist in the first place.

When you arrived to this website, our servers sent information to your computer or mobile device, which translated into the page you’re seeing right now. That whole process if the result of a back-end developers work. In addition, if you apply for a job and upload your CV, the storage of your personal details is also credited to the back-end developer.

Languages, Skills and Tools

In order to make the server, application, and database communicate with each other, back-end developers use server-side languages (such as PHP, Ruby, Python, Java, and .Net) to build an application, and tools like MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server to find, save, or change data and serve it back to the user in front-end code.

Job openings for back-end developers often call for experience with PHP frameworks like Zend, Symfony, and CakePHP; experience with version control software like SVN, CVS, or Git; and experience with Linux as a development and deployment system.

Back-end developers use these tools to create or contribute to web applications with clean, transportable, well-documented code. But before writing that code, they need to collaborate with business stakeholders to understand their particular needs, then translate those into technical requirements and come up with the most effective and efficient solution for architecting the technology.

A developer that does both front and back end work is often referred to as a “full stack” developer. They are like the jack-of-all-trades in the web world, and relatively rare to find. 

When defining technical roles a lot of it comes down to nuance, and every company will look for a slightly different skills set and personality when hiring developers. But hopefully the next time you meet a web developer you won't just be smiling and nodding out of politeness - you'll actually know what these people do for a living!

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Written by Izzy Griffin-Smith