Front End vs. Back End: Learning Skills and Tools

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Aspiring computer or software developers have the choice of working on the front end or back end aspects of development—or both. Learn more about them in this guide.

[Feature Image] A man works at a desktop computer.

If you’re looking to pursue a career in computer programming, typically you will need to choose between two professional paths: the front end or the back end. Front-end developers work directly with the client to create a look and feel for a website that solves problems in creative, inventive ways. Back-end developers are behind-the-scenes, making sure servers, applications, and databases function smoothly and quickly. 

The first step on either path is understanding the differences between job duties and necessary skills to become competitive in the marketplace and complete projects with success. In this article, you’ll see the different programming languages, frameworks, and responsibilities for both back-end and front-end development.

A closer look at front-end vs. back-end development

The computer technology industry is similar in design to the restaurant industry: Both businesses have a front and a back. The front end is forward-facing toward the customer (both even use the term “host”), while the back end is where the technical work gets done—whether that’s chopping onions or crafting code.

Perhaps a person’s preference between waiting tables and working as a sous chef is a more straightforward decision based simply on personality. If you are a tech-savvy and creative individual interested not in food but website design, it’s not always as clear.

Both front-end and back-end developers require specialized training, digital skills, and a working knowledge of current best practices. Even though there are several overlapping skills, many students and professionals interested in the computer tech industry at some point in their educational journey decide to focus on one path.

The front end of a website is what visitors see and interact through an interface. That interaction only works because a server, application, or database written in code provides the information the visitor seeks. To return to the restaurant analogy, the back end orders up the sustenance and the front end provides service to the customer.

To determine which one—front end or back end—is right for you, start by learning the job duties, languages, and frameworks used in each career path.

Understand the role of front-end developers

The job of front-end developers comes down to four letters: UI and UX. That is, they create (or work with design teams who work together to create) the UI, or user interface, in an effort to provide a smooth, functional, easy-to-navigate, and aesthetically pleasing design. The goal is an excellent UX or user experience.

Job duties

On the front end, developers are responsible for interacting with clients and project managers who have a vision for their website—or at least an idea of what they’d like. Your job is to use your experience and training to provide solutions to their digital problems. That often includes some of the following daily tasks. 

Interact with clients

Before developing anything, the front-end developer must know what the client seeks for the project. It is crucial to practice listening closely and asking the right questions so that the first draft won’t be time wasted.

Create a visual design for the website

For larger projects, front-end developers will work with a digital designer responsible for creating a graphic design for the site. Other times, it’s the developer’s role in picking color schemes, fonts, layout, alignment, photo placement, buttons, forms, and all the other pieces that go into the look and feel of a website. 

Check for problems

Front-end developers must also be ready to test websites and resolve bugs that stop elements from working as they were intended. The testing process may include checking the function of content management systems or personalization tools.  

Languages

To show clients how a website will look and how the visitor can navigate the information presented, you’ll need to know the programming languages of front-end development. Some of the most common are: 

HTML

Short for Hypertext Markup Language, HTML is the technology that creates a structure to display websites on web browsers like Firefox or Chrome. It contains text, images, and hypertext. It allows for navigation from page to page while providing a user-friendly platform for formatting documents.

CCS

Short for Cascading Style Sheets, CCS is the language that allows developers to customize the look of a website. CSS may include the fonts used for the wording, the color schemes, and the organization of the text. 

JavaScript

Websites aren’t static documents, and JavaScript is the computer programming language that allows for interactive elements and effects on a page. If a client wants an animated image, embedded media, or other active content, you’ll need to learn this critical skill.

Frameworks

Thankfully, front-end developers won’t have to start from scratch with every project—especially if they learn JavaScript frameworks. A framework is a pre-written library of code and helps with common tasks and basic features found on many websites. These frameworks include, among others:

  • React JS

  • Ember.js

  • Sass

  • AngularJS

  • jQuery

  • Flutter

  • Semantic-UI

  • Foundation

  • Backbone.js

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Learn the role of back-end developers 

Back-end developers make it possible for the front end to function by providing data storage and power. As a back-end developer, you build, test, maintain and, debug the technology that makes the software or website function.   

Job duties

Since the back end has completely different functions, back-end developers must use different tools to accomplish the client's goals. As a result, the job duties can look very different from those of a front-end developer.

Ensure functionality

Because the back end contains coding that allows the website to function through developed algorithms and logic, developers on this end are responsible for everything operating as it should. These include databases, API, core application logic, and other processes.

Streamline the process

The simpler, the better—but most back-end developers know it’s not that easy. Part of creating an effective back end is to streamline the process. Efficiency can mean fewer problems for the client and customers alike. 

Work with a team

While back-end developers don’t always work directly with clients, they often work as part of a team of other developers, digital designers, and project managers. Introverted persons attracted to computer technology also need to practice workplace skills like collaboration, accepting critiques, and delegating tasks.

Languages

The languages used for the back end will depend on what you are interested in building. For example, creating a server requires different tools from mobile app development. These tools may include:

  • PHP

  • C++

  • Ruby

  • Python

  • JavaScript

  • Java

Frameworks

Like with the front end, there are also frameworks that back-end developers can learn to expedite tasks. Popular frameworks for the back end include:

  • Django

  • Rails

  • Express

  • Spring

  • Laravel

You may have also heard of Node.js, which is an open-source platform that’s neither a language nor a framework. It is used to let different applications work together for a complex goal.

How to learn developer skills 

Whichever you choose in the debate of front-end vs. back-end development (or both), you’ll always have an opportunity to learn new skills to improve the performance and look of your projects. Computer technology is an ever-evolving industry with new programs and skills constantly entering the marketplace. If this field interests you, consider yourself a life-long learner.

Certifications and online courses can help you stay competitive and up to date in the industry. IBM's Full Stack Cloud Developer Professional Certificate is one option. You can also browse the computer programming offerings on to gain new skills that can often translate quickly to real-world jobs.

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Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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