Front-End vs Back-End Development: What's the Difference?

March 1, 2021
Emilie Mitchell

Are you new to the programming world? If so, you might have heard the phrases "front-end" or "back-end" used in conversation without knowing what they mean. In general, web development can be broken down into two specializations:

  1. Front-end development
  2. Back-end development

Let's discuss the differences between these two buzzwords.

Front End

Image of frontend development displayed on a computer

Commonly referred to as the client side, front-end development includes everything the user experiences directly. Front ends make up both the user interface, the space where the user and a computer system interact, and the user experience, how the user interacts with and experiences the product.

There are three main front-end languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. While each of these languages serve different purposes, they work together to create the elements that are visible to the user on their webpage.


Standing for Hypertext Markup Language, HTML is a fundamental scripting language used to tell the web browser application how to format and display the content. Some examples of HTML elements include headers, images, paragraphs, and lists.


Next, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is another scripting language that is used for presentation aspects of the website. This language could include details such as style, layout, colors, and fonts.


Lastly, JavaScript is the world's most popular programming language and is used to incorporate interactive elements in your web page. These elements can include timely content updates, interactive maps, animated 2D/3D graphics, scrolling video jukeboxes, etc. This is the language that makes the website functional.

These front-end languages can be compared to the relationship of a house. HTML would be the support beams and structural integrity, as CSS would be the decorations that make the house look good to the eye. Then, JavaScript is like the electricity or the water system, making the house functional.

Back End

Image of backend development displayed on a computer

Also known as the server side, back-end development includes the behind-the-scenes elements that the user doesn't see. Back-end development is in charge of the server and communication between the front end and database. A database is simply where the information is stored so that users can view or interact with it when desired. Overall, the back end works closely with the front end to deliver the final product to the end user.

Four main back-end development languages include Ruby, PHP, Java, and Python. All of these languages are considered to be general-purpose languages, meaning they can be used for a wide variety of development tasks. However, some back-end languages are better at handling a specific task than another, so it is important to consider the tasks at hand before choosing a language. For example, these languages can differ in architecture, speed, universality, scalability, and more.

Even though front-end and back-end development have two separate roles, they must work together for the website to function. A common question is, "Should I learn front-end or back-end development?" Since the two roles will always work closely together, it is good to be comfortable with both. From there, developers can decide where to specialize based on their interests and skillsets.

Full Stack

While front-end and back-end developers are two different roles, full stack developers are developers who are experts at both. One advantage of being a full stack developer is that you get to see web development from multiple angles. Because of this, employers often see full stack developers as more efficient, saving their business time and money.

Now that you understand the difference between front-end and back-end development, you can jump back into those programming conversations more confidently than before.

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