Originally published February 9, 2017, updated Feb. 27, 2019.
Front-end developers work on what the user can see while back-end developers build the infrastructure that supports it.
Both are necessary components for a high-functioning application or website.
It’s not uncommon for companies to get tripped up by the “front-end versus back-end” divide when trying to navigate the development of new software.
After all, there are a growing number of tools on the market aimed at helping developers become more “full stack” oriented, so it’s easy for non-technicians to assume there isn’t a big difference between front-end and back-end specialists.
Front-end and back-end developers do work in tandem to create the systems necessary for an application or website to function properly. However, they have opposite concerns.
The term “front-end” refers to the user interface, while “back-end” means the server, application and database that work behind the scenes to deliver information to the user.
The user enters a request through the interface.
It’s then verified and communicated to the server, which pulls the necessary data from the database and sends it back to the user.
Here’s a closer look at the difference between front-end and back-end development.
What is Front-End Development?
Front-end developers design and construct the user experience elements on the web page or app including buttons, menus, pages, links, graphics and more.
Hypertext Markup Language is the core of a website, providing the overall design and functionality.
The most recent version was released in late 2017 and is known as HTML5.2.
The updated version includes more tools aimed at web application developers as well as adjustments made to improve interoperability.
Cascading style sheets give developers a flexible, precise way to create attractive, interactive website designs.
This event-based language is useful for creating dynamic elements on static HTML web pages.
It allows developers to access elements separate from the main HTML page, as well as respond to server-side events.
Front-end frameworks such as Angular, Ember, Backbone, and React are also popular.
These frameworks let developers keep up with the growing demand for enterprise software without sacrificing quality, so they’re earning their place as standard development tools.
One of the main challenges of front-end development - which also goes by the name “client-side development” - is the rapid pace of change in the tools, techniques and technologies used to create the user experience for applications and websites.
The seemingly simple goal of creating a clear, easy-to-follow user interface is difficult due to sometimes widely different mobile device and computer screen resolutions and sizes.
Things get even more complicated when the Internet of Things (IoT) is considered.
Screen size and network connection now have a wider variety, so developers have to balance those concerns when working on their user interfaces.
What is Back-End Development?
The back-end, also called the server side, consists of the server which provides data on request, the application which channels it, and the database which organizes the information.
For example, when a customer browses shoes on a website, they are interacting with the front end.
After they select the item they want, put it in the shopping cart, and authorize the purchase, the information is kept inside the database which resides on the server.
A few days later when the client checks on the status of their delivery, the server pulls the relevant information, updates it with tracking data, and presents it through the front-end.
The core concern of back-end developers is creating applications that can find and deliver data to the front end.
Many of them use reliable enterprise-level databases like Oracle, Teradata, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, EnterpriseDB and SAP Sybase ASE.
There’s also a number of other popular databases including MySQL, NoSQL and PostgreSQL.
There are a wide variety of frameworks and languages used to code the application, such as Ruby on Rails, Java, C++/C/C#, Python and PHP.
Over the last several years Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) providers have been maturing into a viable alternative.
They’re especially useful when developing mobile apps and working within a tight schedule.
What is Full-Stack Development?
The development of both the back- and front-end systems has become so specialized, it’s most common for a developer to specialize in only one.
As a general rule, full-stack development by a single programmer isn’t a practical solution.
However, at times a custom software development company will have developers who are proficient with both sides, known as a full stack developer.
They powerful team players because they have the breadth of knowledge to see the big picture, letting them suggest ways to optimize the process or remove roadblocks that might be slowing down the system.
To find out which database and framework to use on your next project, read our article “What is the Best Front-End/Back-End Combo for an Enterprise App.”
If you’re ready to see how we can put our knowledge to work for you, set up a free consultation today!