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Front-End vs Back-End Development

by Iwan Price-Evans on Web technology • March 1, 2022

The terms front-end and back-end refer to layers of web development programming. The combination of front-end and back-end web development is the process of building websites and applications; it's not just about the design of the website, rather it's all about coding and programming. 

The functionality of a website or web application relies on various layers: a front-end, otherwise known as the client-side, and a back-end, otherwise known as the server-side. Learn more about client-side vs server-side.

What is the front-end?

The front-end of a website refers to everything that the user experiences directly. It's what you see and interact with within your browser. Things like web page layout, fonts, colors, menus, and contact forms are driven by the front-end.

A website that has content that stays the same is called a static website. In this scenario, the necessary information that determines what's on the page is contained within the front-end code itself.

Is HTML front-end or back-end?

  • HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, is the fundamental coding language that creates a web page so that it can be displayed in a browser. You can think of HTML as containing the basic building blocks of a web page. These blocks are referred to as HTML elements. HTML is the part of the website that the user interacts with and so it makes up part of the front-end layer.
  • CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, is used to style the HTML elements in a web page. CSS is used to define the web page layout, colors, and fonts.
  • JavaScript is another language that can make up part of the front-end. JavaScript is used for the more interactive elements of a web page such as dropdown menus, modal windows, and contact forms. When used as a front-end language, JavaScript runs (or “executes”) in the browser.

These three languages are used to create everything that is visually presented to you when you visit a website.

Learn more about the best front-end frameworks for fast performance.

What is the back-end?

The back-end of a website is all about what's going on behind the scenes – this may also be referred to as the server-side. The back-end is the part of a website that the user doesn't see in their browser. 

It's responsible for storing and organizing data and ensuring that everything on the front-end works as expected. It does this by communicating directly with the front-end. 

On a website that wants to allow its customers to interact with it, the website must be made dynamic. A dynamic website has content on the page that can change based on the user's interaction with it combined with what is stored in the website's database. 

For example, a user might be looking for a navy blue jacket when they typed in the search box in the front-end of a shopping website. The front-end then looks through all the product data stored in the database or the back-end.

The backend returns the relevant information in a form of data and the front-end then creates HTML code dynamically and displays it in the browser. So, in this case, it would display a filtered list of navy blue jackets which are available in the store.

To make a dynamic website you need a database to manage all the customer and product information. This information is stored on the website in a way that makes it easier to organize, retrieve and edit. 

What are examples of back-end languages?

Back-end development relies on back-end languages. Some common languages are:

  • Ruby - Used to create the server-side web application framework Ruby on Rails, or Rails.
  • PHP - A widely-used server-side scripting language used in many popular web applications such as WordPress and Drupal.
  • Python - A highly readable scripting language that uses English keywords.
  • Java - A simple general-purpose language used for web applications.
  • JavaScript - An interpreted language that allows client-side and server-side implementations.

Early JavaScript was only able to be used as a front-end language but it has also been introduced as a back-end code. It's now possible to code the back-end purely in JavaScript using server-side JavaScript libraries, or components, such as Node.js. Node.js is a JavaScript server-side environment, which means it's possible to run JavaScript code outside of the browser. 

Server-side languages like Ruby, PHP, Python, Java, and JavaScript can be used to build the back-end. These run on the webserver receiving interactions from the front-end and returning data to the front-end for it to display dynamically.

A dynamic website makes use of both front-end and back-end technologies. Front-end languages make sure your website looks great and ensure that it's easy to interact with. Behind the scenes, the back-end holds together all of the front-end components and enables extra functionality such as storing information and product details or creating secure user accounts. Both layers have very different roles but the two must work together for the website to function.

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