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.
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
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
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.