Frontend vs. Backend Development: What Is the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Learning web development skills can expand your career opportunities. If you are interested in a career in web development, it is important to understand the differences between frontend development and backend development. The more you know and understand how each works and their core differences, the better you will be able to determine which career path is suitable for you. In this article, we define frontend development and backend development, list the key differences between the two and answer some frequently asked questions about frontend vs. backend.

What is frontend development?

Frontend development is the creation and management of the front end of a website or application. The front end is the part of a site that users see and interact with. Developers ensure the accuracy of the code so that users can have a user-friendly experience when they interact with a webpage. This includes checking fonts for consistency, ensuring the functionality of menus and buttons and creating pages that are easy to navigate.

Frontend development focuses mostly on the look and aesthetic of a website from the users' perspective. Frontend developers often fill roles in web design, user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design.

Related: Front-end Developer Skills: Definition and Examples

What is backend development?

Backend development refers to the creation and maintenance of the back end of a website. There are three components to the backend of a website:

  • Server: servers share data and resources, distribute work and process computations in a variety of use cases.

  • Application: an application is computer software designed to help the user perform specific tasks.

  • Database: a database is used to store and organise data.

Users usually do not see the back end of a website, but its accuracy is important to ensure the proper functionality of the site.

Related: How To Become a Web Developer

Frontend vs. backend

Front-end and back-end development differ in several key areas. These include:

Accessibility

One of the primary differences between frontend and backend development is in their accessibility. While backend learning is arguably easier to start from a technology access perspective, familiarising yourself with frontend development can help you get a website or application started, even if it is a basic design. Depending on your learning style and personal schedule, it can be faster to learn frontend development. Typically, part-time, front-end boot camps take about six months to complete. In contrast, back-end development can take over one year of committed study.

Frontend development is accessible because the steps for learning are relatively linear. Once you understand HyperText Markup Language (HTML), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript or jQuery, you have everything you need to get started. With Backend, there are a variety of languages and frameworks to choose from.

Programming languages

To be a web developer, you need to know various programming languages, depending on what type of web developer you are, including:

  • Front end: front-end consistently uses three languages, including HTML, CSS and JavaScript or JQuery.

  • Back end: depending on your profession, preference and development goals, you can choose from Java, PHP, C#, C++, Python, ASP.NET, Golang, SQL and Ruby on Rails.

Though back-end developers understand HTML and CSS, they work more in other languages.

Related: What is SQL? Definition and Benefits

Frameworks and libraries

Another area where front- and back-end development differs is in the frameworks and libraries they use. In computer programming, a software framework is a pre-assembled package of solutions for common development problems. They can help backend developers create dynamic sites. Libraries are a collection of resources computer programs can use even without access to power. These can include configuration data, help data, pre-written code, classes, values, type specifications, documentation, message templates and subroutines. Front-end and back-end development might use the following frameworks and libraries:

  • Frontend: most frontend frameworks use JavaScript open-source programs. Two popular frameworks, Angular and React are examples. Front-end development might also use extension languages like SASS, which can extend the functionality of an existing CSS.

  • Backend: backend development typically relies a little more heavily on frameworks and libraries because they help developers create web applications that can use a programming language to communicate with the database and generate the final content effectively. For backend work, many popular frameworks adopt a model view controller (MVC) pattern that separates application concerns into clearly defined layers. Popular examples of MVC frameworks for backend development are Django, ASP.NET, MVC, CakePHP and Ruby on the Rails.

Responsibilities

Frontend developers are often responsible for implementing a website or application's visual elements. They create user interfaces, test an application' or websites' usability, troubleshoot coding issues and change interfaces.

In contrast, backend developers might spend their time analysing data, processes and code. They also take part in training to learn about new technologies, collaborate with frontend developers, report data, create functional application programming interfaces (APIs), monitor server status and design user interfaces.

Skills

The skills needed for web developers can differ based on the type of work they perform. For example, frontend developers likely need a working knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript languages. They also need to understand web frameworks, possess responsive design knowledge and know how to test and debug sites. Communication skills, problem-solving skills and experience with web browsers can be helpful for frontend developers as well.

For backend developers, communication and problem-solving skills are similarly important. However, they can benefit from understanding backend programming languages and frameworks, having time management skills and knowing about security compliance standards. Writing, editing and reading code is also an important skill for a backend developer.

Related: Back-end Developer Skills: Definition and Examples

Salary

Salary expectations for these positions can vary too. The average base salary for a front-end developer is ₹6,03,961 per year. In contrast, back-end developers can expect to make a little more with an average salary of ₹7,03,918 per year. Actual salaries can vary based on the company your work for, your geographic location and your overall experiences and skills.

FAQs about frontend and backend development

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions surrounding these two development types:

Is frontend harder than backend?

Backend development can be more challenging to start, but once you understand the languages and processes involved, it can be easier to proceed because there are fewer technologies to learn. On the whole, however, frontend development is typically the easier subject to learn. This is because it requires less knowledge of coding languages. Backend development typically requires some knowledge of both back- and front-end languages and can be less accessible for those just learning to code.

Is it better to be a frontend or a backend developer?

The type of development you pursue depends on your personal goals. If your goal is to make more money, backend developers have a higher average earning potential than frontend developers. Job demand might be higher for backend developers as well. So, in terms of career opportunities, it is arguably better to become a backend developer. However, if your goal is to set up a website or application quickly, becoming a frontend developer can help you get a static site established in a short amount of time.

Which process should I learn first?

While understanding backend development can be important, the front end of a site can give you an actual website to display. Because there are so many technologies available, starting with front-end development can help you keep things simple.

If, however, you are looking to learn more about web development or start a career, backend development can be a fun challenge to understand the logic that makes sites function.

How do I get started learning frontend development?

To get started learning frontend web development, consider building simple sites using HTML and CSS languages. To start, these sites can be static, meaning they are made from fixed code and will not change unless you manually alter them. You can progress to more interactive browser features using JavaScript. Understanding these three languages and practising site builds can give you valuable experience and a useful starting point.

How do I get started learning backend development?

If you are interested in learning backend development, here are some steps you can take to get started:

  1. Learn a backend programming language: when learning a backend programming language, you can choose from options like C++, PHP, Python and Java. Learning a language can help you learn to code and work on the basics of backend website development.

  2. Understand management hosting: when choosing how to host your website, you can choose between cloud-based providers or managed hosting servers. Understanding the best option to fit your needs can help you get started as a backend developer.

  3. Gain experience in version control systems: version control systems allow you to manage changes to your programs, documents, large sites or other information collections. As an important component of software configuration management, understanding these systems can help you develop your skills.

What is a full-stack developer?

A full-stack developer is someone who understands both front- and back-end development. Skilled full-stack developers are often in high demand because they understand every aspect of website and application design and maintenance. While it takes some time to learn all the skills involved, becoming a full-stack developer is a great way to learn more about web design and coding. It can also make you an attractive candidate for employers and improve your career prospects.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.

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