Developing a website is an intricate process, with as much work going into the visitor-facing elements as into the behind-the-scenes underpinnings which act as a framework for the overall experience.
Web development is typically talked about in these two terms, with frontend and backend duties remaining distinct even if they ultimately pull towards the same end goal.
So what are the key differences between these two disciplines, and what does this mean for those businesses and individuals that aspire to run a website of their own?
Understanding frontend web development
Frontend web development is easiest for most people to grasp because it is a specialism that delivers the interface and user experience aspects of sites with which we are all familiar.
Key aspects like the menus systems and the fonts available, along with the formatting of the content and the inclusion of multimedia elements like images, will be covered by frontend developers.
In terms of web development costs, this may be the area in which you are willing to spend the most money. And certainly from a brand-building perspective, splashing on the flashier, eye-catching aspects of the site make sense. However, without solid foundations beneath it, your site’s frontend will be a flimsy façade.
Getting to grips with backend web development
The backend of a website consists of a combination of the server hardware and software that prop up the pages and additional functionalities they contain.
A database is typically at the heart of a site’s backend, with platforms like SQL Server providing a repository for information which can be sent and received to create the desired user experience on the frontend.
For example, if a user enters a search term on your website, the backend server will be scoured for the item they are seeking, creating the hand-in-glove relationship that keeps sites of all sizes ticking over.
The more ambitious your aims, the more complex the backend infrastructure needs to be, factoring in not only database resources but also tools for managing APIs and other aspects to achieve the desired client-side capabilities.
What about web design?
Another important concept to grasp when looking into this issue is the difference between web design and web development.
Designers make use of the building blocks provided by frontend and backend developers to piece together the desired look and feel of a site. So as you can see, this is often a team effort, especially on larger projects. Some developers will fulfill all roles if budgets are small or the scale of the site is modest, so keep this in mind as well.
Web development languages explored
So what about the programming languages that are used to define the frontend and backend features of a site? HTML is arguably the most important and high-profile of the bunch, being used to ensure that the content of a page is displayed as you want it in a web browser.
CSS ties in with HTML to set the stylistic elements of a site in stone, encompassing things like fonts, colors and formatting.
For the backend side of the equation, SQL is used for database organization, while programming languages like Python, Ruby and PHP will determine what web apps do and how they harness the data at their disposal.
Who needs frontend and backend development?
As suggested earlier, whether you need frontend development, backend development or both will depend on the scope of your project and the size of your budget.
For more basic sites with static information and content, the only thing that really matters is frontend development, since a basic backend will suffice. For sites that aim to offer advanced web apps and other dynamic capabilities, thinking about and investing in the backend to make sure it is adequate and tailored to your needs will be necessary.
Should you foster skills in frontend or backend development?
You may be thinking of acquiring the abilities that will let you tinker with the user-facing or server-side features of a website, whether for your own purposes or to build a career in web development.
It is certainly true that some developers choose to embrace all aspects of this work and learn to master HTML and CSS as well as SQL and Python, although this is not a route that suits everyone, and specializing might be more sensible.
Broadly speaking, frontend development is more grounded in getting the aesthetics right, while backend development is more technically-focused and data-driven.
Whichever you choose, simply being aware of the ins and outs of each discipline will put you ahead of the curve, and should streamline your work with other developers as well as further your own goals.