The ability to deliver a high-quality digital experience — usually in the form of a website or an app — is becoming increasingly important, no matter your audience or industry. This means that developing the website or app itself is a key part of the business plan.
Any way you look at it, developing a good website or app will be vital for the success of a business. In discussions of building websites and apps, you often hear a lot about backend vs. frontend web development. You might wonder, what is frontend and backend web development? What purposes do they serve? How do they work together?
Let us explain. Below, we’ll take a dive into frontend vs. backend web development and explain the roles they serve and cover some of the frontend and backend technologies that exist today.
Frontend and backend development have different aims. Frontend development works on the parts of a website or app that the user can see or interact with. The backend technologies support the experience you see and interact with on the frontend. The backend maintains the servers, databases, and other resources that are needed for the frontend to perform its functions.
The frontend is the side of a website or app a user can interact with or experience directly. It’s the visuals, sounds, menus, search bars, pages, fonts, controls, shopping carts, and more. If you can see it, hear it, click it, or interact with it in some way, it’s part of the frontend experience. This is broadly a part of designing the User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).
With frontend web development, you make sure all of these experiential and interactive elements come together and perform well. To achieve this, a frontend developer might employ a wide range of different technologies.
HTML: This is the core language for building a website. It’s what a frontend developer would use to build the basic framework or basic design of a website.
CSS: Cascading style sheets (CSS) is a programming language used to set rules for the presentation of different elements of a design.
The backend is the nuts and bolts of how a website or app works. It runs the servers and databases that make the services happen on the frontend. Most users would never see any elements of the backend when they use a site or app. If all goes well, all the user will know is they made an action in the app or on the website and it returned the desired response.
Just like the frontend, backend development works with a range of technologies and programming languages that make things happen for the user. Some of these include Python, PHP, and Ruby.
Python: Python is a programming language that is popular for server-side development. Part of its popularity comes from the fact that it’s shorter and easier to understand. This means you can build out more features with fewer lines of code and iterate faster with Python.
PHP: PHP is a scripting language that is made exclusively for backend development. It can be used for database management, dynamic content control, session tracking, and more.
Ruby: This is a general-purpose programming language that’s popular for building web applications. Part of what makes it popular is the syntax is so high level that it’s about as close as you can get to coding in English. It’s also popular for its programming framework, Ruby on Rails.
These are some of the more common backend programming languages. Beyond that, you also have a range of backend technologies that might come into play. Since much of the backend is about delivering data to the frontend, you may need to work with database solutions like Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft SQL, or PostgreSQL.
It isn’t so much frontend vs. backend – the two work together to deliver an experience to the users of apps and websites. You have the frontend of a site or app that a user can see or interact with, and a backend that makes it happen behind the scenes.
An example of how this dynamic might work is with a menu on a webpage. The menu and the page as a user sees them are parts of the frontend. When the user clicks on a menu option, the response they get is handled by the backend. Another example is the search bar; the user might type in the query on the frontend, but it is the backend that fetches the data and returns the results to the user on the frontend.
When it comes to building a new website or app from the ground up, you might consider whether to build the frontend or backend first. The question of which to develop first usually comes down to the particulars of the project and the preferences of the web development team.
In most cases, most people would recommend developing the frontend first. This is especially true if you are talking about a site or application that depends heavily on the user experience. In most cases, it’s easier to work the backend to meet the needs of the frontend instead of following the process in reverse.
One of the only times it would be better to start with the backend is if you are building a service that is particularly complex or novel. In that situation, you might need to build the backend first in order to see if this complex or novel application is possible before you build the frontend.
So the frontend is what the user can see and experience, and backend web development powers that experience. While you do have full-stack developers who work both backend and frontend, most projects would have different developers working the different sides of the project.