Web development is a broad field that’s typically separated into two different specialties: front end and back end development. For those who are interested in becoming a professional Web Developer, it’s vital to learn the difference between the two so that you can make an informed decision on which career path to take. The purpose of this guide is to provide you with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding front and back end development, including:

  • What are front end and back end web development? How do they differ?
  • What languages does each specialty use?
  • What skills are required to become a Front or Back End Developer?
  • What jobs and salaries are available for Front End and Back End Developers?
  • How do I know which concentration is right for me?
  • How do I become a Front or Back End Web Developer?

Front End Web Development

Front end web development involves coding all of the client-side elements of a website. A Front End Web Developer is responsible for creating everything that the user sees and interacts with, making sure that the website is not only beautiful and user-friendly but that it runs seamlessly as well.

Common Front End Development Languages

There are three primary coding languages used in front end development. They are:

HTML: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the standard markup language used to create documents that will be displayed on a web browser. HTML instructs the browser on how to display data on the page. These instructions often cover the layout of the page, fonts, colors, headings, title, tables, and graphics. HTML5 Boilerplate is the most popular HTML framework in use today.

CSS: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is a language that’s used to style the text, color, buttons, and tables of a website plus structure how its pages are laid out. CSS allows for content and formatting to remain separate so webpages can adapt to different types of devices of various sizes. Some of the most frequently used CSS frameworks are Twitter Bootstrap, Tailwind CSS, Bulma, Foundation, Skeleton, UI Kit, Pure, Semantic UI, and Materialize.

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JavaScript: JavaScript is a language used to program the behavior of web pages, making them more dynamic and interactive to engage the user. For example, JavaScript can be used to play audio or video, display animations, progress through a slideshow of various pictures, and alter a button’s colors when a mouse hovers over it. Vue.js, Angular, and Svelte are the most common JavaScript frameworks used in front end web development. The most popular JavaScript library in use today is React, which was created by Facebook.

Necessary Skills for Front End Development

The job of a front end developer is to build all the user-facing elements of a website while ensuring that it’s easy to interact with and functions smoothly. Though there are some Front End Developers who also handle the design side of website building, most base their work on mockups created by a Web Designer. Some of the key skills necessary to become a successful Front End Developer are:

  • A solid understanding of the programming languages used in front end development
  • The ability to track and control changes that have been made to the code
  • Knowledge of user experience (UX) principles
  • The capability to build a website that’s aesthetically pleasing, responsive, functional, and user-friendly
  • Familiarity with a variety of tools used in front end development such as libraries, frameworks, version control systems, and content management systems (CMS
  • A good grasp of quality assurance testing to detect and eliminate bugs
  • Soft skills like flexibility, time management, problem-solving, teamwork, and the ability to listen attentively
  • Optional: an understanding of graphic design principles and the ability to create mockups

Front End Development Jobs and Salaries

Front end development skills can open up opportunities in a variety of industries. For example, Front End Developers are needed in the tech, retail, government, education, marketing, media, transportation, healthcare, and finance fields, just to name a few.

When looking for a job, you could search for general roles like Web Developer or Front End Web Developer. In the United States, salaries for these positions typically run between $70,000 and $104,000 based on your education, qualifications, experience, and location.

Alternatively, you could specialize in a specific language by becoming a JavaScript Developer. Developers working in this role tend to earn around $109,000 per year; that’s almost twice as much as the average salary in the United States, which was $56,310 in 2020.

Back End Web Development

Back end development deals with all the behind-the-scenes technology that users don’t typically see, such as servers, databases, and applications. It’s the responsibility of Back End Web Developers to create, test, debug, and maintain all of these components which support the front end of a website and allow it to function.

Common Back End Development Languages

Back end web development requires knowledge of more advanced programming languages, such as:

JavaScript: One of the three core programming languages for front end web development, JavaScript is also used on the back end. More specifically, Back End Developers use a JavaScript Runtime Environment (RTE) called Node.js to handle updates from the client side of the website and build expandable network applications capable of processing multiple user requests simultaneously. Node.js has become a popular tool for the back end because it’s fast, efficient, lightweight, and capable of managing heavy workloads. Some of the most popular JavaScript frameworks used on the server side include Express.js, Next.js, Mocha.js, Meteor.js, and Nest.js.

Python: Python is an extremely versatile object-oriented high-level programming language. Its simple syntax, libraries, frameworks, and adaptability makes Python a popular choice for back end programming where it’s used to build desktop, mobile, and gaming applications. Python is also frequently used in emerging fields like machine learning, AI, data analytics, and task automation. Python frameworks commonly used in back end web development include Django, Flask, Pyramid, CherryPy, Bottle, and Falcon, just to name a few.

Java: Java is a high-level programming language that’s widely used on server side projects. Java is a versatile language and can be used in a variety of contexts, including desktop, mobile, and numerical computing plus business applications and games. Its most common usage is in the creation of applications, which can then be run on any computer with a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed on it. Popular Java frameworks include Spring, Hibernate, Struts, Grails, Play, Google Web Toolkit (GWT), Vaadin, and Apache Wicket.

Ruby: Ruby is a high-level, object-oriented language that’s most commonly used to build web applications. A flexible, general-purpose programming language, Ruby can also be used in a variety of other ways such as prototyping, DevOps, data analysis, proof of concepts, web scraping, automation, static site generation, and more. Ruby is one of the easiest programming languages to learn and works across multiple operating systems including Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X. The most popular Ruby framework is Ruby on Rails; additional Ruby frameworks includeHanami, Grape, Cuba, and Padrino.

PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) is a general-purpose scripting language that’s often used to add functionality to interactive web pages. One of the first languages that could be embedded directly into HTML, PHP is also used for managing databases, performing system functions, encrypting data, handling forms, setting cookies, and restricting page access. Most notably, WordPress—the most popular content management system in the world—is written in PHP.

Laravel, Symfony, Yii 2, CakePHP, Zend Framework/Laminas Project, CodeIgniter, FuelPHP, Slim, and Phalcon, are some of the most commonly used PHP frameworks.

Necessary Skills for Back End Development

The primary function of a back end developer is to create and maintain the server-side technology that allows the front end to operate smoothly. Being an effective Front End Developer requires skills such as:

  • A solid grasp of the most common back end programming languages and frameworks
  • The ability to build and manage web applications
  • An understanding of database, hosting environment, and server management
  • A talent for writing high-quality code plus the ability to detect bugs and track changes
  • The capability to assess the speed and efficiency of existing applications
  • An understanding of accessibility and security compliance
  • Strong analytical thinking and attention to detail
  • Good communication, teamwork, and problems solving skills

Back End Development Jobs and Salaries

Back end web development is an excellent career path with a promising outlook. With approximately 25,500 positions expected to open up each year between now and 2030, the demand for Back End Web Developers is exceedingly high.

That high demand also translates into a high salary; Back End Web Developers earn an average of $118,000 per year in the United States. This rate of pay is partially determined by your location, however. If you live in a part of the country with a high cost of living, like San Francisco, your salary would increase to approximately $156,000 per year. Cities with a lower cost of living, like Louisville, Kentucky, would offer salaries around $112,000.

Back end development skills enable you to work in a variety of fields including healthcare, tech, government, retail, transportation, and education. Instead of working as a Back End Developer, you could choose to specialize in a specific programming language by working as a Python or Java Developer.

Which is Right for You: Front End or Back End Development?

There’s a high demand for both Front End and Back End Web Developers; either one is a lucrative career path, but how do you know which choice is the right one for you?

People who work in front and back end development typically have different strengths and interests. To find out which specialty is right for you, just ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you a creative, visual person?
  2. Do you want to improve how users experience a website?
  3. Are you interested in creating websites that are beautiful, functional, and dynamic?

Answering “yes” to these questions indicates that front end development is a good match for you. If you mostly answered “no,” then let’s determine if back end development is a better choice by answering the questions below:

  1. Are you detail-oriented?
  2. Do you like solving problems and overcoming challenges?
  3. Are you interested in working with servers, databases, and applications?

Positive responses to these questions are an indication that you’re better suited for back end development. If you answered “yes” to both sets of questions, then you might consider working in full stack development, which combines elements of both front end and back end development.

How to Become a Front End, Back End, or Full Stack Developer

The fastest way to become qualified as a Front End, Back End, or Full Stack Developer is to enroll in a web development bootcamp. Bootcamps are intensive programs designed to prepare students for a new career within a few months’ time. With their accelerated schedules and skill-based curriculum, bootcamps are an excellent alternative to university education.

If you want to learn more about web development but aren’t quite ready to commit to a full bootcamp, then consider enrolling in one or two live online web development classes. There is a wide range of options available to help you get started on your programming education; you can take web development courses on front end or back end languages and tools such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Python, Ruby on Rails, Git, and more.