Front End vs. Back End: What’s the Difference? ​

Programming skills can open the door to some of the most lucrative career choices, but the prospect of mastering the languages to get there can scare people from starting the journey into web development. MySQL, CSS, Python, JavaScript  — what do they mean? If you want to enter the world of programming, you’ll have to know the differences between front end and back end development, and enroll in boot camp courses to gain hands-on experience. So, how do they stack up against each other in the front end vs. back end debate? 

A front end developer is responsible for what users see when they visit a website. They are the difference between a website that is inviting and one that looks like it’s stuck in 1980. Often referred to as the client- or front-facing side of the programming world, front end developer jobs are responsible for a website’s style, colors, images, and navigation menu. The front end is how a page looks, responds, and appears when a user opens up a website. This isn’t just confined to browsers; the website also has to look good and react well on smartphones and tablets. 

Back end developers are responsible for creating, maintaining, testing, and debugging the entire “server,” or back end of a website. This includes the core application logic, databases, data and application integration, and other back end processes. It is their code that helps add utility to what the front end developer creates. Back end developers also ensure websites work properly when users browse, download, or upload content.

Both sides are equally important to the overall look, feel, and functionality of a website, and they need to communicate with each other for successful web development. Front and back end developers operate together to create and improve the functionality and user experience. 

Most Used Programming Languages

“Je ne sais pas coder” (I don’t know how to code) may be lost on you — especially if you don’t know French. If you want to master communicating in France, Haiti, or Quebec, you’ll have to learn the language fluently. The same is true for programming languages, and the languages a front end developer uses can be different from the languages used by a back end developer. Each has to be fluent in the coding languages they use regularly, in either the front or back end of the job. 

Popular programming languages like HTML, CSS, Ruby, Python, and JavaScript are some of the languages front end and back end developers use most in their craft. Intensive coding boot camps or other training courses with similar coding curricula help those looking to learn programming languages like a native (coding) speaker

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Front end languages 

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is how you are reading this right now because it is responsible for the layout of the words on a website. HTML is the standard markup language for documents designed to be displayed in a web browser. So, if you’re reading this: Hello world!

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) simplifies the process of making web pages presentable. CSS allows you to apply styles, colors, fonts, etc. to a web page. CSS can work independently of the HTML and is intended for use in the aesthetic components of web pages.

The interactive graphics on a website are created through the programming language JavaScript. Some may say it’s where the front end developer adds the magic of the website, especially for those who love to game. JavaScript helps a website function smoothly when users run interactive games and web-based software. What makes JavaScript unique is that this language is used in both the front and back end. 

Back end languages

Back end programmers are like the behind-the-scenes stage managers who ensure the front end functions well. The most commonly used programming languages in back end development are Ruby, PHP, and C++.

An image highlighting the three common back end languages mentioned in the article.

The Ruby programming language is an open-source, object-oriented scripting language designed with simplicity in mind. Many programmers like this simplicity, primarily because it is known for building online applications quickly. 

Ruby can run on different platforms like Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix. Its flexibility, simplicity, and speed have made it popular among web application development professionals. 

Like Ruby, PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) is open-source. PHP is a general programming language geared toward web development. The PHP programming language is used by many developers because it is easy to learn and isn’t platform-dependent; it runs on Mac, Windows, or Linux.

C++ is a computer language that gives developers more control over memory and system resources. It’s also been used to teach new programmers how object-oriented programming works. Its scalability can be used to develop a broad range of software, applications, browsers, operating systems, and games. The language also allows developers to create programs that can run on different operating systems or platforms.

Front End vs. Back End Skills 

Different skills are required to be successful in front end development vs. back end development. Though some skills overlap — like adapting, analyzing, and understanding logic, math, and science — some skills are more specific to either the front end or the back end. 

Which programming skills can you learn or hone to help you become a front end vs. a back end developer? We’ll explore both below.

Front end developer skills

Since the front end developer creates users see in website development, they need to have skills that go beyond knowledge of coding languages. Yes, they need hard skills like being well-versed in graphic design applications like Adobe Illustrator and understanding SEO (search engine optimization), but soft skills are also crucial to their jobs. Front end developers are considered the client-facing programmers, so interpersonal and communication abilities go a long way.

Front end developers design and create web pages, but they also have to understand the user experience (UX) and the user interface (UI). UX is a moving target, but a skilled front end developer can align themselves with how a user sees and engages with a website. With that perspective, front end developers then pivot or make modifications to heighten the experience for users. The user interface (UI) combines programming, psychology, and creative design to craft intuitive controls for software and hardware. UI facilitates a seamless and efficient user experience. 

In other words, UX design determines how people interact with a website, and UI design creates the interface’s look and feel. 

Back end developer skills

The back end developer’s skills are almost all hard skills because these professionals manage databases and machine learning, and are not client-facing. Sure, they will work alongside front end developers and managers, so they should have strong communication skills; but what drives back end developers are behind-the-scenes tech, machine learning, servers, and data analysis skills.

Though they care about the site’s appearance, they’re more interested in whether it’s secure, stable, and fast. For instance, when a user makes a request through the front end, the back end developer ensures that a program can deliver any requested data or information. Back end developers’ skills and responsibilities also include maintaining core databases, managing application program interfaces (APIs), and testing and debugging the back end processes so a program functions smoothly and effectively at all times.

Front End vs. Back End Careers 

Once you’ve gotten your training at a coding boot camp, you’re ready to apply that knowledge to one of the many lucrative web development careers. Whether it’s based on your passions, aptitude, or compensation needs, the front end vs. back end choice is yours to make.

Regardless of which you choose, the industries that need you are vast: healthcare, finance, tech, and gaming are just some of those industries. The front end developer vs. back end developer career question won’t stifle your options because both specializations have the benefit of working across many verticals — and the possibilities are vast and lucrative.

The career outlook for web developers looks bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for web developers in 2020 was nearly $80,000 a year. Additionally, Burning Glass Technologies has the role’s projected growth at +6.9% in the next ten years. 

Front end developer careers

If you’re the sort of person who goes to a website and thinks about how to make it read or look better, choosing a career in front end development may be the way to go. Before you suit up and apply for the first job listing you see for a front end developer role, you should know the front end developer job description.

In your first junior web developer job, you will likely be expected to aid members of the more senior web development team to create the UI and interactive aspects of a website. 

Your duties may include testing site code or handling the UX aspects of design and development projects, which could mean preparing visual elements using code and image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign. In addition to websites, junior front end developers may code and test mobile and web applications.

Back end developer careers

Like front end developers, back end developers will probably start out as junior developers. Though they are expected to work with other web developers on the team and need to have strong communication skills, back end developers generally handle the more technical aspects like debugging, maintaining databases, and other logistical aspects of web development.

Using the programming code they learned through coding boot camp, junior back end developers make sure the sleek look of the website that the front end developer designed will click through and work for the user. 

In your junior role, you may be expected to write testable and efficient code to enable all phases of the website’s development life cycle, identify bottlenecks and bugs to propose solutions, and ensure the overall system health through testing and monitoring.

Those drawn to the technical aspects of web development will most likely go the back end development route.

Learn Front End and Back End Development Today

As the need for skilled programmers grows, the demand for both front end developers and back end web developers does too. The specialized, sometimes nuanced skill set developers need may be part psychological and part analytical. It’s also part quality training. Today, those who want to take charge of their programming future can earn certificates through coding boot camps that can get you coding within 12 to 24 weeks. 

Those who earn certifications through coding boot camps can take advantage of the ample job opportunities available, as well as the high starting salaries.

Front End vs. Back End FAQs

Want answers to your questions but don’t have time to do lots of research? Here is a quick list of the most asked questions — and answers — related to front end and back end development.

Front end web development is the practice of using a programming language to facilitate what users can see and interact with when viewing a website. Front end development ensures that a user will see the information on a site in a format that is easy to read. This extends to different platforms like smartphones or tablets with varying screen sizes.

A front end developer builds the front end of websites and web applications. The front end refers to the parts of the website or application that users actually see and interact with. A front end developer creates websites and applications using web languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. 

As there are different specializations developers can choose, how much a front end developer makes depends on which industry or field they work in. According to Burning Glass Technologies, a front end developer working as a web designer can earn more than $73,000 a year, and front end web developers have a median annual salary of $91,938. 

Back end web development refers to the server-side of development primarily focused on how the site works. Unlike front end development, back end development cannot be seen by the user. 

Back end developers write code that focuses on the functionality of a website or application. Making updates, fixing bugs, and monitoring the site’s functionality are main responsibilities of a back end developer. Back end developers also maintain databases, servers, and apps.

Like with the front end, back end developer salaries may differ depending on job title and industry. Per 2021 data from Burning Glass Technologies, a back end developer with the title computer scientist has a median annual salary at $91,472. Burning Glass Technologies also lists a computer programmer’s median salary at $76,267.

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