If you want to learn coding to start a new career, web development is one of the most in-demand skills in the job market.
However, if you want to become a web developer, you should decide between two specializations:
- Front-end Development
- Back-end Development
In this tutorial, you will learn everything you need to make the right decision. You will know what each role means and what tools you should learn to start a career in either one of them.
Also, we will look at what types of tasks front-end and back-end developers do at work. By the end of this guide, you will feel more confident in choosing an area to focus on.
Free Guide: Contents
- What is coding?
- Intro to programming languages
- Front-end and backend
- How does the Internet work?
- Useful tools for coding
- Computer Science fundamentals
Web dev 101: How do websites work?
To get a better idea about the difference between front-end vs back-end development, let’s start at the basics.
When you know how web-based projects work, it is easier to understand what front-end and back-end development are all about.
Let’s consider a practical example.
Assume you want to create a Twitter account. Here’s how things would work:
First, you find your way to the start page of Twitter. Perfect.
You see a clean homepage with just a handful of helpful links. After a few seconds, you find the right link to click, “Create Account”.
You enter your account details, choose a Twitter handle, and confirm using a sign-up button.
So far, everything you saw and used was designed by front-end developers:
- User interface
In other words, front-end developers take care of the visible parts of a website.
So where do back-end developers step in, then?
The moment you confirm your signup process, things get interesting.
The information you entered during registration is sent to Twitter. Their servers store your details in their database. Of course, all of this happens behind the scenes, so you never actually see what’s going on.
That is the work of back-end developers. They build the systems that are responsible for receiving, storing, and retrieving data.
So when you want to log in, you use your username and password. The system checks it against the data you gave during the registration. If it’s a match, your login is successful and you can see your Twitter feed.
Summing it up: Back-end developers create the non-visible parts of a website.
- Front-end developers build everything you see in your web browser, or the client side.
- Back-end developers create data-driven features and systems on the server-side.
Both areas work hand-in-hand. Front-end developers need to make sure that the visible elements on a web page are linked properly to the features built by the back-end developer.
Should you learn front-end or back-end development?
Web development is one of the most lucrative businesses in tech. The job market is booming as the amount of available work keeps increasing.
But if you want to become a professional web developer, you need to choose one are to focus on. At least for now.
True, mastering both areas is possible, too. But you should start with just one. Trust me, you don’t want to learn a dozen languages and tools at the same time.
Be mindful of why you want to learn to code in the first place:
- What do you want to build with coding and web development?
- Are you more interested in what people see in their browser or would you rather take care of how things work under the hood?
To help you get a better idea about both areas, let’s look at front-end and backend development and the tools they use in more detail.
What do front-end developers do exactly?
As we saw above, front-end developers are responsible for the part of a web page you interact with directly. They create and determine the final layout and all the colors and fonts for it, for example.
Front-end developers also make sure a website matches a given brand identity and emotional experience that a business wishes to convey to its end users.
A day at work for a front-end developer
A typical day for a Front-End Developer would probably look something like this:
- Team meeting with other user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers.
- Exchanging ideas between front-end and back-end teams.
- Testing new design and layout ideas, conducting user surveys.
- Hunting for the latest design trends and brainstorming new ideas for UX improvements.
- Sketching ideas, building wireframes and prototypes to present to others.
Front-end developers focus on the creative part of a web project.
More than anything, they make sure users don’t get confused or lost on a website.
What you need to learn for front-end development
If you want to become a front-end developer, you need to learn a few programming languages and tools to start with.
But don’t worry! Front-end tools are some of the easiest, most beginner-friendly languages you can learn.
And what’s even better:
You can find heaps of helpful tutorials and courses online – even for free.
As a front-end developer, you need to learn at least three languages:
- HTML (HyperText Markup Language):
Used for creating the structure and content of a website: sections, columns, text, images, links, tables, etc.
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets):
Used for styling HTML content to look pretty.
Used for breathing life into a static HTML/CSS website: animations, transitions, interactivity.
I know, three languages sounds like a lot. But here’s the deal:
You can learn the basics of HTML and CSS in just a few days. The best way to learn HTML and CSS is to build your own small websites from scratch.
So, as you’re going through your first web development course, you’ll be building lots of small projects on the side.
Further front-end development tools
The most popular ones are:
Each library and framework helps you streamline your workflow. You can take advantage of their ready-made tools to speed up your work.
Summing it up
- Front-end developers create the look and feel of a website or application
What do back-end developers do?
These days, most websites have a lot of technical stuff happening in the background that we can’t see.
You can log into your email account with a username and a password to see your emails only. Or when you use a social network, you only see your own posts and messages from your contacts, not those of other users.
But how does the website know who your friends are? And how can it remember everything you ever posted or wrote on your profile?
This is where back-end developers step into the game.
They build features that allow you to store your data, see more relevant content, and connect with your friends and family.
The most important task for any back-end developer is to improve performance and create efficient, fast programs. The faster the code runs, the quicker their website works.
And since most of us have zero patience online these days, that speed is everything!
A day at work for a back-end developer
A typical day for a back-end developer might look something like this:
- Team meeting to discuss the most recent technical solutions in the industry.
- Analyzing website performance and finding improvement opportunities in page speed.
- Testing and tweaking a new, more accurate search function algorithm for a website.
- Meeting with UX designers to discuss a new website function to allow users to connect with each other through messaging.
- Start working on a structure for the messaging function. Breaking the project down into small, individual steps to solve with code.
Hence, whereas front-end developers make sure a website user has a smooth visual experience, back-end developers build a robust technical foundation to support that in the background.
Back-end development tools
The tools you can use to become a back-end developer are not as straightforward as with front-end development. The foundation for any back-end work is to learn how to create a connection between website users and databases.
That said, back-end developers need to learn at least one server-side programming language and a database management system.
When it comes to choosing a back-end language, the most popular choices are:
Again, you don’t have to know just yet which language you would like to learn.
Recommended article: The Best Websites to Learn Web Development in 2020
On one hand, you should choose a programming language that you enjoy working with. On the other hand, you should make sure there is demand in the job market for it. You don’t want to spend hundreds of hours learning a skill that doesn’t help you land your dream job.
Here’s what you should do:
Do some research about potential employers in your area. Find a few job descriptions to see what skills they are looking for.
If you can’t find any job openings, don’t hesitate to give the most intriguing employers a call!
Summing it up
- Back-end developers are responsible for the logic, infrastructure, and data storage of a web project
- Programming languages used by back-end developers include PHP, Python, Ruby, and SQL
Can’t decide what to learn? How about going full-stack?
I know it may feel too early to make any decisions about your future career at this point. And I don’t mean to put any pressure on you, don’t worry.
But if you find it difficult to decide what to focus on when you start learning, I’ve got some good news for you:
You can learn both areas and combine your front-end and back-end skills. That would make you a full-stack developer. (And also a superhero.)
I mean, it isn’t going to be quick or easy to learn two sets of skills. So just start with either one and go one step at a time.
And if that sounds too demanding for now, I know how you feel. Learning even one set of tools is going to be more than enough work. But your efforts will pay themselves back, I promise!
Summing it up
- Full-stack developers master both front-end and back-end tools for building websites or applications
Final thoughts: Front-end vs back-end development
By now you should have a basic understanding of what front-end and back-end development mean. Perhaps you have a better idea about which area you could see yourself working in?
A good rule of thumb is:
If you are more into design and aesthetics, I suggest you look into front-end development. On the other hand, if logical thinking and more complex, technical systems are your thing, consider learning back-end development instead.
Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong here. Both areas are just as demanding, empowering, and rewarding. Regardless of which one you choose, you will need to work hard to achieve your goals.
If you are just starting with learning how to code and feeling a bit confused about the difference between front-end and backend development, don’t worry.
All that matters with learning to code is that you start. Simple as that.
Once you take the first step and start learning more about one area or the other, you will soon know if you made the right choice. It is never too late to change your mind.
I recommend starting with some basic HTML and CSS by building a simple website for yourself.
The two languages are very easy to pick up on and you will see the results of your code right away. You simply need to open your HTML file in your web browser.
You can start learning right away with these hand-picked HTML and CSS resources I used myself to become a self-employed web developer with no technical background.
Recommended article: Top 5 Web Development Courses for Absolute Beginners
Now that you know how the front end is tied together with the back end, it’s a good time to take a closer look at how the Web works.
In the next chapter, you will learn about the dynamics of the Internet and its infrastructure. This will give you a better idea at what is actually happening when you visit websites and use web applications.