Front-End vs. Back-End Developers: What’s the Difference? 👥

  • Engineering, Dev & IT
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Considering a career in web development? We’ll explain the differences between front-end versus back-end developers.

A sleek, functional website is vital for any business aiming to make a strong first impression. Updated info, modern design, and strong branding make all the difference when enticing potential clients. But incorporating these elements is easier said than done.

Building and maintaining a website is a complex balancing act between various programming languages, online platforms, and website requirements. These aspects are handled by various web developers with their own areas of expertise. We’ll break down the differences between front-end vs. back-end developers and offer insight into hiring or becoming a developer.

What are front-end and back-end development? ✋🆚🤚

A website is more than a single piece of code. It delivers an interactive experience through various programs and languages developed in unison. These facets are divided into two categories: front-end and back-end. Front-end development dictates the presentation layer (what users see), whereas back-end development is concerned with the data access layer (what’s going on underneath the hood).

Front-end developers ensure a smooth and straightforward client-side interaction with a website. They are often called user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) developers. On the other hand, back-end developers are concerned with how a site finds information, what it does with that information, and how the foundations of a program or site implement the front-end interface.

Web design is another discipline that often intersects with web development. Although a web designer and front-end developer may work very closely, the designer is more concerned with graphics, layout, and other visual elements rather than the site’s functionality. Some savvy developers may be experts in all web design and development aspects, known collectively as full-stack development.

No matter their discipline, a web developer is a programmer responsible for delivering a glitch-free, intriguing online experience. Here’s a more detailed look at the distinct responsibilities of front-end and back-end developers:

Front-end developer 🖼️

A front-end developer ensures each click takes the user to the appropriate landing page and makes certain a page’s cosmetic features don’t impede functionality.

Front-end developers require the following skills and expertise:

  • Front-end coding languages: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Javascript, and HyperText MarkUp Language (HTML) are among the most used and reliable front-end coding languages in a web developer’s toolbox. Each language allows a developer to implement different functions and features on a web page.
  • Understanding of multiple browsers. Not all web browsers interpret code the same way. A front-end developer must accommodate these differences in their programming. In addition, the website needs to adapt to different screen sizes and devices, often including an alternate mobile version.
  • Creativity. Although not a designer, the front-end developer will work with a site’s many branded and creative aspects. Some familiarity with design principles is required to ensure smooth technical function and appropriate aesthetic presentation.
  • Communication skills. A front-end developer maintains close contact with the client, ensuring their website needs are met and that any problems with the web development process are communicated in a clear and timely manner. 

Back-end developer 🔩

The back-end developer builds the server-side foundations of a website, implementing code and accessing databases to provide a basis for the UX aspects of a site. The back-end developer works behind the scenes to create a framework that will support the needs of a client’s site or business.

Here are some essential software engineering and back-end development skills:

  • Back-end coding languages. Although back-end development tools are more varied, Python, Ruby, and Java are among the most popular “general purpose” programming languages. A back-end developer’s code must be efficient and easy to maintain. 
  • Problem-solving. Unlike a front-end developer, back-end design can often start from square one, with no frameworks or pre-existing code to draw upon. A back-end developer must be able to understand the eventual needs of a website and select the appropriate languages or templates to create a solid foundation.
  • Attention to detail: After a website has been constructed, back-end developers often work alongside project managers and front-end devs to perform quality assurance testing, troubleshooting, and ongoing maintenance. Having an eye for the little things comes especially in handy here.
  • Communication skills. As with the front-end developer, a back-end web developer benefits from solid communication skills. It’s vital that a back-end developer asks questions and listens closely to precisely understand their client’s end goal.

Front-end vs. back-end: What’s your choice? ⚖️

Now that we’ve established the primary difference between front-end and back-end developers, aspiring web developers can make a more informed choice. Independents looking for inspiration can find numerous front-end and back-end developers on Contra's Discover feed. These profiles can give you an idea of where you might fit in this fascinating, fast-growing industry.

You may prefer front-end development if you possess the following traits:

  • Appreciation for art and design. Front-end developers work with the visual aspects of a site or brand. Developers who are also interested in design do well as front-end developers.
  • Visual aptitude. Understanding how a page should flow and how graphics, text, or other website features should look on a page is part of the purview of a front-end developer.
  • Interest in user experience. Perhaps driven by their own experiences online, a front-end developer is heavily invested in a website working in a predictable, intuitive way that drives customers and grows business.
  • Bothered by unresponsive sites. Most front-end developers likely find few things more irritating than an unresponsive website. Such frustrating experiences may motivate prospective developers to do better.

On the other hand, you may prefer back-end development if these experiences sound familiar:

  • At home in libraries and archives. Back-end development involves interacting with, and sometimes creating, dedicated libraries and archives for a website to draw upon. Those who enjoy organizing and archiving information may find this aspect of the career rewarding.
  • Enjoy coding. If the languages used to create websites fascinate you, back-end web development might be the right fit. Back-end developers use programming languages, web frameworks, and APIs to create the websites we know and love.
  • Fascinated by website architecture. If you’re interested in the dynamic ecosystem of languages and frameworks that interact to create a website, back-end development might be a good fit.
  • Engage in logic and decision-making. Those who enjoy complex puzzles and logical decision-making processes will find great satisfaction in working with the algorithms and programs of back-end development. Constructing a website from the ground up requires clarity, precision, and a love for problem-solving.

Develop the web you want to use 👷

If our explanation of front-end versus back-end developers piqued your interest, Contra is the perfect place to start your journey as an independent web developer. Our commission-free platform provides numerous tools to help freelancers and ensures they’re paid fairly. The Contra Slack community is an excellent resource for coders to get inspired, meet fellow professionals, and find new clients.

Need a website built? We can help with that, too! Contra offers advice and tools to help clients craft an irresistible opportunity and understand best practices for working with Independents. If you want to update your online presence, you can hire a front-end developer or back-end developer on Contra.

Aluce x Cory 💻 Web Development

Independent webflow developer, Corey, worked with agency owner and freelancer, Roy, on webflow assets and website development
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