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June 23, 2020

Front-End vs. Back-End: What’s The Difference?

There’s more than one way to be a developer, and so many different reasons to get into the development space.

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From those that adore graphic design and want to take their passion a step further, unleashing their visual creations to a webpage's interface, to those who love snooping around in the underbelly of databases, API's or exploring the inner workings of servers; in other words, everything that users don't see. There’s a huge variety of reasons why someone might want to become a Web Developer.

As such, depending on what they prefer to work on, they might specialise either in the front-end or back-end. Although technology is continuously evolving and the relationship between the two terms is ever-changing and difficult to establish, there is still a significant, inherent difference that separates them. 

The skills needed for either side often overlap, with versatile, general-purpose programming languages becoming more popular across all areas, but front-end and back-end developers use contrasting sets of skills and apply them in diverse ways, pursuing radically different objectives and priorities. Perspective is everything!

Front-end development: tech with its makeup on

As its name suggests, front-end development encompasses the configuration and design of everything that web surfers see when they use a website or app. It's the visual aspect of the job that tends to attract those developers with a keen interest for graphic design. These developers' task is to create interfaces that users will find as attractive as they do intuitive, making the user experience a much more gratifying one.

As such, developers use three main tools, which are HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The latter has been gaining more and more ground in both front-end and back-end development, displacing other technologies such as JQuery, which is becoming obsolete. Other frameworks have even been created within JavaScript, such as React and Angular, which facilitate the job of a developer and can create components that are later replicated in other areas of the platform they’re building.

Front-end development is often considered exclusively technical, but some areas have a strong graphic design component. Like UX/UI specialists, some front-end developers are proficient in other tools not traditionally used by developers, such as image editing programmes (one example might be Photoshop), or platforms such as Figma or Sketch that allow developers to create prototypes, preview navigation through the platform and test different concepts before finalising the development.

Although UX and UI Design are well-defined areas that should not be confused with front-end development, there’s a significant overlap between both. Software development encompasses endless fields and functions; rather than a hard choice between a handful of defined job titles, developers have an unparalleled freedom to construct their own skill profile and forge their own unique professional path.

As a front-end developer, your job is to use all these technologies and languages to construct the visuals and design of the app or website in question, in order to therefore generate a certain feeling among its users so they find the experience enjoyable and seamless, and want to come back. It's no easy feat.

Back-end development: building the architecture

Developers that choose to specialise in back-end development are often those that prefer to configure databases and work out how to optimise website functions, such as server performance (so that these can adequately handle the workload), or use the external resources like third party APIs. Ultimately, these developers deal with everything that's hidden from view to the users that visit a website or app and provide their data to register or make a purchase from that platform.

Back-end developers use many different programming languages in their day-to-day life, from PHP to Ruby, Python, Java or even JavaScript. Their job is to make sure websites run smoothly and improve their response time. The responsibilities and influence of back-end developers have increased with the WORD of Web3 and the transition from simpler, static webpages and apps to more complex and dynamic websites, which are dependent on more resources and require constant updates. On top of this, they are usually well-versed in both relational databases, such as MySQL or Oracle, and non-relational databases, such as MongoDB.

Full stack development: the best of both worlds!

Can’t choose between front-end and back-end development? You wouldn't be the first one. If you enjoy interface design as much as areas like data management, you could steer your career path towards a job in full stack development. Although there's still some scepticism surrounding these profiles, given that it's considered better to specialise and become an expert in one area or another, the truth is that companies are increasingly investing in full stack developers that have a solid understanding of multiple areas and able to bring value to both the interface to be displayed in the browser and the infrastructure hidden below the surface.

If you possess the skills and abilities as well as the wild curiosity needed to acquire the professional expertise in both back-end and front-end development, you might choose to sign up for the Web Development bootcamp at Ironhack. You'll learn about state-of-the-art technologies used in both front-end development, such as HTML5, Canvas, JavaScript or React, and back-end development; become familiar with Node.js; learn how to configure servers with Express, or databases with MongoDB. All these skills are highly sought-after by tech companies, giving you an edge when you come to accessing the job market and the world of development.

Which one gets your development juices flowing? Front-end or back-end? Or perhaps you want to have your cake and eat it too; could full stack development be your calling?

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