Front-End vs. Back-End Developer (Main Differences)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A front-end and back-end developer are two different roles that both conduct technical processes for creating websites and web applications. These two jobs have similarities, such as their scope of developing efficient applications, but their procedures and job responsibilities vary substantially. Exploring the difference between these two web development roles can help you determine which one interests you the most. In this article, we explore the role of a front-end vs. back-end developer, detail their differences and similarities, define a full-stack developer job role and share several tips for choosing which web development position may be right for you.

Front-end vs. back-end developer

When exploring the differences between a front-end vs. back-end developer, it's usually helpful to identify their primary job responsibilities. A front-end developer typically focuses on the client side of an application. They ensure an application's user interface operates as intended. They focus on the visual aspects of an application to ensure a positive user experience. A back-end developer focuses on the application's architecture, database and server. Application users don't see the products of back-end development but indirectly use them when interacting with an application's user interface (UI). Below, you can explore more details on each job role:

Front-end developers

A front-end developer's primary responsibility is usually to ensure an application's users can interact with the application as intended. They use web and program languages, such as JavaScript, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to code an application's UI. The UI is what users interact with to perform an application's varying functions. For example, a drop-down menu on a website is a UI that users interact with to explore different web pages. A front-end developer may code this drop-down menu to appear when users hover their cursor over the menu.

Besides UI functionality, front-end developers may also consider the design and user experience of the UI. They may ensure the UI design is engaging and reflects the organisation's brand image. These responsibilities can depend on the skills and job description of the front-end developer. It can be helpful to understand that there are other job roles specifically for UI design. Some development teams may incorporate user experience (UX) and UI designers for these specific tasks, allowing a front-end developer to focus on the UI coding.

Related: What Does a Front End Developer Do? (And How to Become One)

Back-end developers

A back-end developer creates an application's functions that users don't see but indirectly use. The back-end features of an application typically refer to the architecture, server and database. These features collaborate to perform an application's functions. An application's UI is essentially how users access these functions. For example, management applications often incorporate an internal or cloud-based database. When a user inputs data into the application, that data transfers into the database. If the user wants to review that data later, the application withdraws the data from the database.

You might consider the back end of an application as the framework that allows the front end to perform its function. For example, a social media platform has a UI that allows users to create a profile. The user enters their details, such as their name and email address. When the user clicks on the ‘Create new profile' button, the data representing the email address and name transfers to a database. The database validates the email address and name, which approves the user's profile creation. A back-end developer creates the codes that transfer and validate this data.

Related: What is a Back-End Developer? (With 5 Steps on How to Become One)

Differences and similarities

Below, you can explore the differences and similarities between back-end and front-end developers:

Differences

Here, you can examine how front-end and back-end development differ:

Program languages

While both roles use programming languages, the languages they use differ. Programming language essentially allows humans to communicate with computers. Program language usually represents symbols that make up a code. A computer can register these codes to perform a specific action. Each programming language uses a unique style of coding. Front-end developers typically utilise HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Back-end developers use program languages such as C++, Java, Ruby and Python.

Related: What Is a Coder? Everything You Need To Know

Unique responsibilities

A back-end and front-end developer both develop applications, but their specific responsibilities differ. A front-end developer creates and maintains a user interface, while a back-end developer creates and maintains an application's database, server and framework. While both roles test application functions, identify bugs and enhance an application's performance, they focus on different services and components. A back-end developer may identify and resolve issues relating to data transfers and server requests, while a front-end developer may test interface responsiveness and identify content layout issues.

Varying skills

It's usually important to understand that front-end and back-end developers share many interpersonal and soft skills, but their technical skills may differ extensively. For example, a back-end developer may have excellent skills in creating algorithms, managing and using databases, integrating application components and implementing architecture frameworks. A front-end developer may possess extensive skills in graphic design, user experience, search engine optimisation (SEO) and responsive design.

Related: 8 Beneficial Computer Programmer Skills That Are in Demand

Similarities

Below, you can explore some similarities between back-end and front-end development:

Product goals

Front-end and back-end developers may have substantially different responsibilities and tasks, but their overall scope and goals are often the same. Both roles develop, test and maintain an application to ensure it meets client expectations, satisfies customers and performs its function efficiently. They often collaborate as part of the same development team. This means they have the same client and business expectations. Regardless of the front-end or back-end application components, both roles focus on improving the functionality of the application and ensuring users have a positive experience.

Related: What Does a Web Developer Do? (With Salary and Skills)

Market research

It's typical for both front-end and back-end developers to research markets to identify user expectations and demands. For example, a front-end developer may identify trending content layouts and UI designs to ensure customers have an excellent experience when using an application. A back-end developer may research markets to determine new and innovative software components, features and microservices that can improve a user's experience with optimal functionality.

Related: Importance of Research Skills (With Examples and Tips)

What does a full-stack developer do?

A full-stack developer is essentially a professional with the skills, qualifications and expertise to conduct both back-end and front-end development duties. Full-stack developers often have extensive experience in the application development industry, as this role can require substantial knowledge of program language. A full-stack developer usually possesses an extensive skill set, including skills in front-end and back-end programming language, architecture framework and graphic design.

Below, you can explore some of the primary duties of a full-stack developer:

  • Using creativity and computer science knowledge to develop websites and applications

  • Liaising with clients and senior executives to define project development parameters and deliverables

  • Identifying software features, components and services that meet project deliverables

  • Using testing procedures and logical thought processes to resolve software issues and inefficiencies

  • Implementing front-end and back-end programming languages

  • Validating processes and databases through back-end programming languages

Related: How to Become a Full Stack Developer

Tips for choosing back-end of front-end development

Here, you can examine some tips for choosing between front-end or back-end development as a career path:

Gain insight into each role through online courses

An excellent method for identifying which career might be best for you can be to gain insight into their working environments and typical responsibilities. You can usually achieve this by completing short online courses specific to front-end or back-end development. Completing a course can outline the typical duties and also provide you with some level of experience. A short online course can help you experience front-end and back-end development without committing to a university degree or gaining employment in a full-time job role.

Related: How to Become a Web Developer

Determine your strengths and weaknesses

Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, one career might suit you more than the other. For example, if you're creative but don't have the most in-depth knowledge of database management or software architecture, you might consider a front-end development role. It's usually important to understand that you can always develop your strengths and weaknesses. If you don't have the right skill set to become a back-end developer, it doesn't mean you can't develop your back-end skills to become a suitable candidate.

Related: Interview Question: “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?"

Consider a full-stack position

If both front-end and back-end development roles interest you, you can always decide to become a full-stack developer. It might require more experience and training to qualify, but it can allow you to perform both job roles. There might also be more job opportunities, as both front-end and back-end job opportunities may become available.

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