For most entrepreneurs, building a website is a complex battle between frontend vs backend development where the developers use lines of code to magically create a user interface and the functionality behind it.
And, like most entrepreneurs, you might think how can knowing the difference between frontend and backend development help your business? The short answer is effective communication.
If you want a dream platform, you need to understand how development works, what are its limitations and how to best communicate your needs to your developers so their deliveries are on par with your expectations.
So, what is the difference between frondent and backend development? The most common definition is – the frontend is what a visitor sees and the backend is what is going on on “the other side” of a website.
Technically that is true… though it’s not that simple.
But don’t worry! In this article we will help you understand:
- The difference between frontend vs backend development,
- Can we have one without the other, and
- How can you use this knowledge to better build your dream web or mobile apps?
Let’s get started!
1. What is Frontend Development?
Many people think that frontend development is everything that users see when they use a website or app. But frontend means so much more than that – it is not only the visual aspect but also how users interact with the website, and how the app reacts to user actions.
And the more technology evolves and our users become more tech-savvy, the frontend becomes more focused on a balance between user interface – what you see – and user experience – what you can interact with and how intuitive that is.
Take a popup for example. You probably have experienced popups that were triggered by you pressing a button, you scrolling to a certain point on the page, trying to leave the page and even just staying on the page for a specific amount of time.
The way that popup looks, what it does, and when or how it gets triggered is determined by frontend code. Similarly, the way a website responds to different screens – a.k.a. mobile responsiveness – is also determined by frontend.
1.1. Most popular Frontend Technologies
In frontend development, there is something called a triad of languages and markups that every website in the world uses, and have been used for decades.
1. HTML or HyperText Markup Language (the builder), is the standard markup language for documents designed to be displayed in a web browser. It’s the content, text, images and link.
2. CSS or Cascading Style Sheets (the artist) is a style sheet language used for describing the presentation of a document written in HTML. Meaning that CSS gives colours, fonds and is positioning the content from HTML.
1.2. What Happens When Frontend Brakes?
You might ask – how can my front end break? It is not electrical equipment that breaks after 2 years of use.
Well, actually frontend can break even faster than that, usually because:
a. The technology you used – usually a JS library – becomes depreciated
Naturally, without support, these libraries will become obsolete quickly, so if you used one in your development, your frontend will follow suit.
b. Your frontend was built wrong, to begin with
Building your frontend is like painting a house – there is a system that you need to follow, otherwise, the paint will chip off your walls. An example of a broken frontend is slow page loading times, different or the wrong font types, broken buttons, or broken images.
However, if you’re not a frontend expert, you can’t really be sure what is wrong, as it can be anything from too large media files slowing down the loading times to your style sheets being heavy and unorganized, or having redundant code left behind.
So, if you see that your website doesn’t work or look like it should, it is time to ask for help.
2. So if Frontend is what we see and interact with, what is Backend Development?
Backend development is everything that’s hidden from the view and powers the entire functionality of the website, stores data, allows connection with third party services such as payment gateways, and so on.
In a nutshell, the backend is the one connecting everything and facilitating the communication between the hosting server, the application itself and the database (or databases), as the three pillars required for the operation of any application.
So, a backend developer is responsible for:
a. Database architecture
Every website is unique, and usually, websites don’t have just one database. So, backend developers have to map out what and how data needs to be stored, what types of databases they should use, and how the databases communicate with each other.
They are also responsible for implementing security steps to keep your users’ data safe once the data has been stored in your servers.
b. Building functionality and finding the right third-party APIs
A website’s functionality comes from APIs or Application Programming Interfaces which are blocks of code written for specific functionality, such as login. Depending on the feature, backend developers have to either write the APIs from scratch or find the right third-party APIs to use.
To give you a better idea, let’s look at that login example. Most websites have two options where they allow users to create an account within the system or login/signup with a social account like Google or Facebook:
- For the users created inside the system, your developers build an internal API that collects all of that data and stores it in your database. When the user comes back and logs in with their user name or email and personal password, the API checks the data with the database and grants access if the database confirms the data.
- For those logging in with Google or Facebook account – a.k.a. Social login – developers use Google’s or Facebook’s APIs to grant access to the user. But they still have to store some information, like the user’s email address so the system recognizes a recurring user. Other data such as their purchase history, profile details, and other data the user volunteered, will also be stored within your systems.
In both situations, once an API is ready to connect with the frontend, the backend developer simply provides a link and presto! The website’s new feature is ready to be tested. Always test new features.
2.1. Most popular Backend Technologies
Like Frontend developers, Backend developers also rely on many different programming languages and libraries in their day-to-day job to build your functionality and make sure the website run smoothly.
The most common technologies in the work of back-end developers are PHP, NodeJS, Python and Ruby, and our team at Wiredelta relies heavily on PHP for our WordPress websites customization and NodeJS because it’s just awesome.
As for databases, some of the most popular choices in 2022 are MySQL, which stands behind almost every WordPress website, PostgresSQL, one of our favourites, and MongoDB.
2.2. What Happens When Backend Brakes?
Are you wondering what happens when something goes wrong with your backend? Nothing. Quite literally, you will see NO page!
So, if your backend goes down and your backend development team does not interfere, a good interface remains an empty shell. We were not kidding when we said the backend drives your functionality. You might have some interaction front the frontend, but with no connection to the databases, that’s just a stress toy now. Press away.
So what do you do if your backend goes down? You call for help and make sure that, if you don’t have your own developers on retainer, whatever team you bring in, they are very familiar with your technology specifically. A good developer doesn’t necessarily know how to fix your website.
Simply put, a Python developer can be amazing at what they do, but when it comes to NodeJS backends, they are pretty much useless. And vice-versa.
3. Frontend VS Backend – Can We Have One Without The Other?
But what if you’re restricted by time, budget, angry stakeholders and you have to choose between frontend vs backend, which one do you choose? Both. By now you should have a good understanding of how they work together to provide a full experience and that you simply can’t have one without the other.
Frontend and backend work towards the same, one thing. Think of it as an apple pie, where your frontend is the apple and your backend is the crust. You can’t have apple pie without the apple, but you also can’t have a pie without the crust.
Instead of trying in vain to compromise between your frontend and backend development, start with a simple Minimum Viable Product and build on top of it as time goes on. An MVP requires minimum functionality and a basic UI, so low cost and low involvement.
It also means that you can launch your digital platform quicker on the market and collect feedback from actual users early. This will help you build the right solution for your users, and save money with iterations in the long run.
So, frontend vs backend – should you choose one or the other? Absolutely not. You need both your fronted with the aesthetically pleasing, user interface with great user experience and your backend with its well-defined database architecture, great APIs and awesome functionality.
Ok, but which one is more important? How do you know how to prioritize and allocate your budget and time correctly? Simple, talk to your developers. When our team does estimations for our clients, we consult with our developers, and we make sure they understand the scope of the project so they can give us the most accurate estimations possible.
Any good developer, regardless of their role, will know a complex backend with a simple UI will need more backed time. Similarly, a simple backend with a complex, dynamic UI requires more budget for the frontend.
We hope that this article helped you better understand what the difference between frontend vs backend is, how each of them works together to provide your users with the best experience possible, and what happens when one or the other breaks.
And if you need more help, remember that you can always book a free consultation with our expert team, and discuss your business needs with us. Our experienced project managers and developers are here to help!