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Distinguishing Front-End and Back-End Developers

The world of website development is shrouded in mystery for most non-developers. You may have heard the terms front-end and back-end developer, but have no clue what the difference between them is. In this post, we will clarify the difference between front-end and back-end developers, and also explain how those differences are beginning to blur thanks to new technologies.

Front-End Developers

Front-end developers focus on how a website looks. They take the design and build in the images, styles, and structure to give it a consistent and attractive character. They work on the appearance and user interface of a website. This includes everything a visitor experiences on the site—the text colors, buttons, navigation, and so on.

Front-end developers use a few key languages in their work: HTML (used for structure), CSS (used for styling), and Javascript (used for interactivity). These developers are also responsible for making a website responsive—so it looks good no matter what size or browser the website is viewed on—and accessible to all users. Finally, they may also be responsible for website performance in terms of speed. This can include properly sizing images and not loading images until a user scrolls down the page. 

Back-End Developers

Back-end developers focus on how a website works, dealing with the communication between the database and the browser. They are the ones who integrate the site into a CMS (Content Management System) and build custom CMS plugins if special functionality is needed. Historically, back-end developers have used PHP, Ruby, Python, MySQL and many other languages to do their work. Back-end development deals with your business logic and integrating data. If front-end developers focus on looks and user-experience, then back-end developers work on everything website visitors don’t see.

The Blurring of the Devs.

In recent years several Javascript frameworks have gained popularity. These frameworks—including Vue.js, React, and Angular—allow a “front-end developer” to perform what were traditionally back-end jobs: fetching and manipulating data, talking to APIs, and so on. What does this mean? We can now build websites using only front-end languages.

This places new responsibility on front-end developers. They may now be in charge of the whole development process of a website. However, the distinction between front- and back-end developers has begun to solidify again with the “front of the front-end” developers and the “back of the front-end” developers. There are front-end developers who don’t write much JavaScript, while others almost exclusively write JavaScript. 

Despite the constant flux of technology, there will still often be two types of developers: those who work on the functionality side (traditionally Back-End developers) and those who work on the appearance side (traditionally Front-End developers). Their titles may change, but all the work remains necessary to build and maintain robust websites.