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Front-end vs back-end development: What's the difference?

Oct 08, 2021 - 8 min read
Erin Schaffer

Front-end development and back-end development are two very important pieces of the software development world. These two components work together to improve the functionality of websites and web applications. While the front end and back end work closely together in web development, these two development types involve different things. Today, we’re going to dive deeper into both types of development and discuss skills you need to excel in both areas, along with their respective tools, languages, and potential job opportunities.

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Fundamentals of Web Programming

What is front-end web development?

Front-end development focuses on the client-facing aspects of a website or web application. This includes designing and optimizing the user interface, working on important visual aspects of web pages, and taking care of any website debugging issues. Front-end code and front-end languages help developers implement complex and effective web design. In order to become a successful front-end developer, there are certain languages, tools, and frameworks that you need to become familiar with.

Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental tools of front-end web development:

Front-end languages

Front-end developers primarily use Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and JavaScript to code websites and web applications. We use HTML and CSS to create and format web pages. These two languages allow us to build basic websites and web applications. HTML is the first layer of the website, and it renders the framework for our sites. CSS is in charge of dictating the presentation of the HTML on a given page.

JavaScript allows us to add more functionality to our web pages. It’s a runtime language for web browsers, and it allows our web pages to interact with and respond to user activity in real-time. With JavaScript, we can add interactive elements to our sites, such as pop-ups, tabs, image sliders, and much more.

Front-end frameworks and JavaScript libraries

Front-end frameworks give us a prepared template or structure to use for our JavaScript code. They group together JavaScript libraries to make the coding process more efficient. There are many different frameworks to choose from. Popular frameworks include:

JavaScript libraries, such as jQuery, allow us to plug the library’s code into our front-end website code.

CSS preprocessors

CSS preprocessors are scripting languages that take one type of data and convert it into another type of data. They allow us to efficiently write clean, clear, organized, and stable code. Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets (SASS), is a popular scripting language and CSS preprocessor that adds new features and tools on top of default CSS to help us write more maintainable CSS code.

Front-end development job outlook and average salary

The demand for front-end developers is high, and the demand is projected to continue growing. Top tech companies such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Lyft are looking for skilled front-end developers to join their teams. The national average salary of a front-end engineer in the United States is around $125,501.

What is back-end web development?

Back-end development focuses on the server-side aspects of a website or web application. This type of development is concerned with website architecture, scripting, and communication with databases. Back-end code enables the communication between browsers and information from databases. Back-end developers focus on how a website functions, which means they might work with APIs, code that interacts with databases, libraries, data architecture, and more. Back-end development works together with front-end development to provide users with a functional and interactive experience.

Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental tools of back-end web development:

Back-end programming and scripting languages

There are two different kinds of back-end programming languages: functional languages and object-oriented (OOP) languages. Functional languages use declarative syntax, and they have an emphasis on expression. They create pure functions and avoid shared states and mutable data. Object-oriented languages use classes and objects. This allows us to structure our programs into simple, reusable pieces of code. We can use those pieces of code to create individual instances of objects.

Popular back-end languages include:

  • Python
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Ruby
  • .NET

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Fundamentals of Web Programming

Back-end frameworks

Back-end frameworks make it easier and more convenient to build consistent and stable back ends. Popular frameworks include:

  • Django
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Flask
  • Asp .NET
  • Spring Boot

Back-end databases

The back end of a website consists of servers, applications, and databases. Databases are important because they allow websites and applications to handle user data. Database management systems (DBMS) acts as an interface between the database and its users. A DBMS allows users to access, update, and manage information. There are two main types of databases: SQL and NoSQL. SQL databases are structured, and NoSQL databases are not structured. Popular databases include:

  • MySQL
  • MongoDB
  • Redis
  • PostgresSQL
  • Oracle

Back-end development job outlook and average salary

Similar to front-end developers, back-end developers are in high demand. Top tech companies like Salesforce, Apple, Twitter, and Stripe are looking for talented back-end developers. In general, back-end developers can expect a slightly higher salary than front-end developers due to the complex nature of the work. The national average salary of a back-end engineer in the United States is around $126,880.

Front-end vs back-end development

Together, front-end and back-end development help us create web applications and websites. But as a specialty, they focus on creating different sides of a site.

In a web application, front-end development renders the client side, while back-end development renders the server side. The client side refers to whatever a user sees when they access a site in their web browser, and is concerned with the visual components of the site. The server side involves programming the web server and database supporting the web site. These involve factors the client can’t see, but inevitably affect parts of the user experience (e.g. loading times).

Front end vs back end: Comparison chart

Front end vs back end

Front end

Back end

Side of application

Client side


Server side (server)

Aspect of website or web application




Overall: Accessibility, UI

Specific concerns include SEO, images, content, cross-browser functionality

Overall: Scalability & security

Specific concerns include database administration, user authentication, business logic


Web & markup (e.g. HTML, CSS, JavaScript)

Programming & scripting (e.g. .Net, PHP, Python, Ruby, Java)

Frameworks & technologies

Frameworks include React, Angular

Design tools include Figma, Photoshop

Frameworks include Django, Flask

Database technologies include SQL, MongoDB

What is full-stack development?

Full-stack development combines front-end and back-end development. This means that full-stack developers can create entire websites and web applications. They work on client-side, server-side, debugging, and database work. Full-stack web developers can program browsers, servers, and databases.

As a full-stack developer, you need to have solid experience with front-end and back-end development tools. Full-stack developers work with web development stacks. These stacks include all of the essential parts of a modern web application or website, including front-end tools, back-end tools, and the database. Some stacks include application frameworks or state management tools.

Popular stacks include:

  • LAMP: JavaScript, Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP
  • LEMP: JavaScript, Linux, Nginx, MySQL, PHP
  • MEAN: JavaScript, MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, Node.js
  • Django: JavaScript, Python, Django, MySQL
  • Ruby on Rails: JavaScript, Ruby, SQLite, Rails

Full-stack development job outlook and average salary

The demand for full-stack developers is very high because a developer that can do both client-side and server-side work is a valuable asset to any company. Companies such as Amazon, Walmart, Boeing, and Deloitte are looking for full-stack developers. The national average salary of a full-stack engineer in the United States is around $106,274.

Wrapping up and next steps

While the two are very different, front-end development and back-end development work closely together to help create accessible, functional, and efficient websites and applications. Front-end developers work more closely with client-side components, while back-end developers work more closely with server-side components. Both types of development are highly important in the world of software engineering. While we covered a lot today, there’s still much more to learn about web development, such as:

  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Font stacks
  • Network fundamentals

To get started learning these concepts and more, check out Educative’s learning path Fundamentals of Web Programming. In this hands-on learning path, you’ll learn about front-end tools such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, along with back-end fundamentals. By the end, you’ll be ready to advance your learning and tackle more in-depth web development topics.

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYErin Schaffer

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