Back-End vs Front-End (vs Full Stack) Development

When I was first (properly) exposed to web development, I was surprised by how many different paths one could take in their career. It was very interesting to see that different careers within the web development space had varying skill sets. The three types of development are often referred to as front end, back end, and full stack.

Front End

This is often associated with the stuff you actually see on the website inside the browser (and is often called client-side). This covers the content presented and immediate interactions such as forms, dropdown menus, transitions, and modals.

Front end developers often focus heavily on understanding HTML, CSS, and JavaScript since these languages live in the browser. Familiarity with different frameworks such as Bootstrap, Foundation, Backbone, ReactJS, AngularJS, and EmberJS can be helpful to ensure great-looking content no matter the device. Familiarity with different libraries like jQuery and LESS can be helpful in packaging code into a more useful, time-saving form.

Back End

This is often associated with the “guts” of the web applications which live on the server (and is often called server-side). The focus here is on making sure all the right data gets sent out of the browser. A lot of stuff needs to go correctly to transfer data to and from the front end so it can be displayed and stored.

Back end developers often focus heavily on understanding languages like PHP, Ruby, Python, Java, and .Net to build applications. Understanding tools such as MySQL, Oracle, and SQL Server is useful for finding, saving, or changing data and serving it to the user in front-end code. Experience with PHP frameworks like Zend, Symfony, and CakePHP; experience with version control software like SVN, CVS, or Git; and experience with Linux as a development and deployment system is also encouraged.

Full Stack

These developers are jacks-of-all-trades. While each “end” involves learning a significant amount of information, a full stack developer can comfortable float between the database and browser.

Full stack developers work on the back end of programming, but can transition fluently into front end languages to control how content looks on a site’s user facing side. It’s a combination of the two previous points.

If you have any questions about development and what might be a good fit for you, feel free to message me on Twitter.

I am a Jr. Web Developer, coding bootcamp graduate, and an ex-pro gamer.