The Difference Between Front-End and Back-End Development

The Difference Between Front-End and Back-End Development

If you’re new to the world of coding and software engineering, you may be confused by terms like front end, back end, and full-stack development. Your head may swirl at the sight of programming languages like Ruby on Rails and Javascript. Front-end developers work on what the user can see while back-end developers build the infrastructure that supports it.

So let’s take a quick poll. Raise your hand if you find yourself asking, “What does it all mean? What’s the difference between front end and back end?” We get it, we were there once too.

Today, we’re demystifying the difference between their development

First of all, website development is the process of building websites and applications. Unlike UI UX Design, web development focuses more on coding and making sure a website functions well. It’s essentially the usability aspect of websites and apps. But where do terms like front and back end come in? Front end development and back end development are the 2 different types of web development.

So let’s dive in and get acquainted with these web development styles!

Front-end developers work on what the user can see while back-end developers build the infrastructure that supports it.

Both are necessary components for a high-functioning application or website.

It’s not uncommon for companies to get tripped up by the “front-end versus back-end” divide when trying to navigate the development of new software.

After all, there are a growing number of tools on the market aimed at helping developers become more “full-stack” oriented, so it’s easy for non-technicians to assume there isn’t a big difference between front-end and back-end specialists.

Front-end and back-end developers do work in tandem to create the systems necessary for an application or website to function properly. However, they have opposite concerns.

The term “front-end” refers to the user interface, while “back-end” means the server, application and database that work behind the scenes to deliver information to the user.

The user enters a request through the interface.

It’s then verified and communicated to the server, which pulls the necessary data from the database and sends it back to the user.

What is Front-End Development?

The front-end is built using a combination of technologies such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Front-end developers design and construct the user experience elements on the web page or app including buttons, menus, pages, links, graphics and more.

Front end developers build elements like:

  • Buttons
  • Layouts
  • Navigation
  • Images
  • Graphics
  • Animations
  • Content organization


Hypertext Markup Language is the core of a website, providing the overall design and functionality.

The most recent version was released in late 2017 and is known as HTML5.2.

The updated version includes more tools aimed at web application developers as well as adjustments made to improve interoperability.


Cascading style sheets give developers a flexible, precise way to create attractive, interactive website designs.


This event-based language is useful for creating dynamic elements on static HTML web pages.

It allows developers to access elements separate from the main HTML page, as well as respond to server-side events.

Front-end frameworks such as Angular, Ember, Backbone, and React are also popular.

These frameworks let developers keep up with the growing demand for enterprise software without sacrificing quality, so they’re earning their place as standard development tools.

One of the main challenges of front-end development – which also goes by the name “client-side development” – is the rapid pace of change in the tools, techniques and technologies used to create the user experience for applications and websites.

The seemingly simple goal of creating a clear, easy-to-follow user interface is difficult due to sometimes widely different mobile device and computer screen resolutions and sizes.

Things get even more complicated when the Internet of Things (IoT) is considered.

Screen size and network connection now have a wider variety, so developers have to balance those concerns when working on their user interfaces.

What is Back-End Development?

The back-end, also called the server-side, consists of the server which provides data on request, the application that channels it, and the database which organizes the information.

For example, when a customer browses shoes on a website, they are interacting with the front end.

After they select the item they want, put it in the shopping cart, and authorize the purchase, the information is kept inside the database which resides on the server.

A few days later when the client checks on the status of their delivery, the server pulls the relevant information, updates it with tracking data, and presents it through the front-end.

Back end web developers work on tasks like:

  • Building code
  • Troubleshooting and debugging web applications
  • Database management
  • Framework utilization

Back-end Tools

The core concern of back-end developers is in creating applications that can find and deliver data to the front end.

Many of them use reliable enterprise-level databases like Oracle, Teradata, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, EnterpriseDB and SAP Sybase ASE.

There are also a number of other popular databases including MySQL, NoSQL and PostgreSQL.

There are a wide variety of frameworks and languages used to code the application, such as Ruby on Rails, Java, C++/C/C#, Python and PHP.

Over the last several years Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) providers have been maturing into a viable alternative.

They’re especially useful when developing mobile apps and working within a tight schedule.

What is Full-Stack Development?

The development of both the back- and front-end systems has become so specialized, that it’s most common for a developer to specialize in only one.

As a general rule, full-stack development by a single programmer isn’t a practical solution.

However, at times a custom software development company will have developers who are proficient with both sides, known as full-stack developers.

They are powerful team players because they have the breadth of knowledge to see the big picture, letting them suggest ways to optimize the process or remove roadblocks that might be slowing down the system.

Front end vs. back end: what’s the difference?

Still thinking, “Front end vs. back end…what’s the difference?” Now that you’ve gotten an overview of both front and back end, let’s discuss their differences. There are 4 main distinctions that set front and back end development apart.

Front and back end developers work on different sides of a website

Front end development is programming which focuses on the visual elements of a website or app that a user will interact with (the client side). Meanwhile, back end development focuses on the side of a website users can’t see (the server side). They work together to create a dynamic website to allow users to make purchases, use contact forms, and any other interactive activities you might participate in while browsing a site. Some examples of dynamic websites are Netflix, PayPal, Facebook, and the Kenzie Academy site you’re currently on.

Front and back end developers have different strengths

According to RealMensch, different developers have different strengths. But it’s essential to keep in mind that one side of the development process isn’t harder or more important than another. In fact, they’re equally important in creating a dope website that users will enjoy interacting with.

So what pays more, front end or back end?

With differences in strengths, there are also differences in pay. Mid-career front end developers rake in an average annual salary of $76,929 in the U.S., according to Glassdoor. Meanwhile, U.S.-based, mid-career back end developers bring in an average of $101,619 annually.

Though there are differences in what you can earn, depending on if you specialize as a front or back end developer, it all comes down to your unique talents, passions, and abilities. You may find you prefer one side of development over another. If you’re deciding between the two, it’s best to also think about which one brings you more fulfillment and satisfaction as a developer rather than solely focusing on salary projections.

Front and back end developers work in different languages

When you’re coding, you’ll use a programming language. Much like human languages, these languages allow programmers to communicate with their computers through a series of symbols (referred to as code). Very simply, it’s like giving your computer instructions. Front end developers work in languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

  • HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. It’s the standard markup language for creating webpages.
  • CSS is short for Cascading Style Sheets. While HTML is used to create structure on a site, CSS is used to bring style and flair. It defines a site’s colors, fonts, and the style of other site content.
  • JavaScript is a language that can be used to make a site interactive and fun. You can use it to run a game on your site, to name one example.

Front end also works in its own set of frameworks and libraries. Here are just a few of the frameworks and libraries a front end developer would work with:

  • AngularJS
  • React.js
  • jQuery
  • Sass

Back end developers work in languages like PHP, C++, Java, Ruby, Python, JavaScript, and Node.js. Here’s a bit more on a few of these languages:

  • PHP is a server-side scripting language.
  • Java is a highly popular platform and programming language.
  • Python is a general-purpose coding language. It’s different from some of the others we’ve mentioned here because it can be used for other kinds of software development and isn’t limited solely to web development.

Back end frameworks include:

  • Express
  • Django
  • Rails
  • Laravel
  • Spring

Front and back end developers work together to create awesome applications

While there are some similarities between the two sides of web development, it’s easiest to think of them as sides of a cassette tape. They are both necessary parts of the web dev process that are used to create functional, visually appealing websites and applications. So if you’re considering a career as a web developer and aren’t sure which side of the development cassette you’re interested in jamming to, you could consider becoming a full stack developer. Full stack developers get the best of both worlds and their work consists of both front and back end elements. It’s like getting to listen to the whole flipping cassette every day.

Front end vs. back end? Why not both?

If you’re interested in a career as a front end or back end developer, then you may want to consider attending a coding bootcamp or technical school. At Kenzie Academy, we offer a 12-month, full-time Software Engineering program that teaches learners the skills to succeed at both front end and back end development. You’ll learn from industry practitioners to get tech skills, get soft skills, and get hired. Learners spend the first 6 months learning the ins and outs of front end development, then spend the second 6 months becoming proficient at back end development. Here are a few things you’ll work on in Kenzie’s Software Engineering program:

Front End Skills: 

  • Break apart interesting problems, as well as design engaging solutions.
  • Design, create, and modify static web pages that conform to HTML5 specifications.
  • Analyze the client-side performance of a webpage to better understand the consumer experience.
  • Imagine, create, and deploy interactive and mobile-friendly applications for the web using the latest web technologies, including HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript (ES6+), and React.
  • Pair those skills with back-end technologies like databases and Node.js, as well as developer tools like Bash, Git, and automated tests.
  • Understand how to effectively work and collaborate on a software project, and also how to interview confidently.

Back End Skills: 

  • Level up with a second, popular programming language (Python 2 & 3), as well as its own most common web framework, Django. Also use language features like lists, sets, and dictionaries appropriately for simple algorithmic tasks.
  • Become adept at interacting with behind-the-scenes technologies, like databases and servers, and also at solving more complex sets of problems.
  • Identify and fix performance bottlenecks in a web application. Additionally, propose a viable fix to a specific bottleneck in a provided sample application.
  • Learn to make applications faster, more secure, more stable, and more capable.

Our learners graduate with a full-stack certification, so they can work as front end developers, back end developers, or full stack engineers, in addition to a number of other roles. In the program, you’ll get acquainted with languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, as well as Python, Django, and SQL.

While learning to code and work within these languages, you’ll gain more insight into which tasks you prefer as a developer and can come to a better understanding of if you have a preference for one side of web development over another (or if you want to rock it as a full stack engineer).


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