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Explaining Back-end and Front-end Development.

What are the key tech stacks and what do they mean for software development projects? This blog post distils down the tech stacks known as front-end and back-end development to provide clarity and deepen understanding for those who may be unfamiliar with these concepts.

Tech stacks are a programmer’s bread and butter. They comprise a combination of programming languages, frameworks and tools that developers use to build their websites, tools, apps, etc. Tech stacks are broken down into two main components; the client-side (frontend) stack, and the server-side (backend stack) which work in tandem behind the scenes to create all the websites and apps we know and love, ensuring that they are able to run smoothly and seamlessly.

These tech stacks, what they consist of and their role in the whole software development operation can understandably seem a bit confusing to those outside of the world of software development, so we will try to define them and provide an overview of how they work together in web development projects.

Frontend and Backend, what are they?

The ‘front-end’ side of development is the side which the user sees and interacts with, as part of the user experience. The ‘back-end’ instead refers to the server, application and database that work behind the scenes to deliver information to the user.

These two components communicate with one another by HTTP requests sent through the internet which connects these two ‘ends’ and allows them to work together.

When a user requests an action through the front-end interface, the internet then sends this data request to the back-end server, where the action can be carried out and the response or output is then sent back to the front-end for the user to see. We sometimes like to call this the ‘world of magic,’ and at a very basic level, this is how an online platform works.

Let’s go into the frontend and backend components in a little bit more detail and start to examine the frameworks and languages used in each stack.

Frontend

A guy working on the front end development on his desktop computer

The front-end, which deals directly with the user interface, is the fastest developing part of programming. The front-end stack is the client’s side of the application, referring to anything that a user can interact with on their screen. This can include anything visible on a website, from its design, structure and layout, to the written and visual content. The frontend is an essential component of web design as it is the first impression a user gets of the brand or company in question, therefore it is important that the website or application has logical navigation, is easy to engage with and is up to date with current design trends as user’s needs and expectations are constantly evolving.

The main front-end programming frameworks are CSS, HTML and Javascript which are used in combination on a web page to create on-screen visuals.

What part does each of these frameworks play on the frontend side?

HTML

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and refers to the first layer of any website. It creates the coded version of a wireframe on a website, forming the website architecture of each page. HTML is a language that tells a web browser how to display text, images and other forms of media on web pages. However, it is not particularly intelligent and is unable to capture information on its own, just render the scaffolding of webpages.

CSS

CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets is what brings style to webpages by interacting with the HTML framework, allowing it to look like more than simply a white background with plain text. CSS helps to flexibly customise the appearance of site elements, used for describing the presentation of a web page including colours, layout and fonts. If HTML is the foundation of a hose, then CSS is the interior design, bringing the webpage to life.

Javascript

Javascript or JS is a programming or scripting language that allows frontend developers to implement more complex webpage features. It is used for moving elements on pages and is necessary every time you want to display more than simply static information on a site. Its uses include for timely content updates, animated graphics and other multimedia which are all coded in this scripting language. For a more in-depth look into Javascript, check out our blog post on the topic.

Front-end development also includes a host of other tools and frameworks, these include:

SPA frameworks - These are frameworks for single pages applications such as Facebook etc examples include, Angular, React and Vue js.

Version control systems - These are a class of systems that help manage changes to programs and sites etc. E.g. git, svn

Project assemblers - these tools help change assembly language source code into binary programs E.g C++ etc

Package managers - shop of libraries, tools and established pieces to help you in your work e.g. jquery, use for javascript

IDE - environments for hosting your programming languages - e.g PyCharm, Eclipse

Backend:

A woman working on her computer on the back end, with the word "back end" written on the bottom right corner

The backend or server component of the tech stack refers to the inner workings of the software that are invisible to other users. This is where the ‘magic’ happens. The backend is a combination of applications, servers and databases, where code written by backend developers helps browsers in communicating with, reading, updating or deleting data from a database.

There are three types of databases;

Relational databases, store data in rows and columns like a spreadsheet. These store and provide access to data points that are related to one another

Non-relational databases, which aren't structured in this way and instead store data in a way that doesn’t conform to a predefined schema, are great for organisations seeking to store more semi-structured or unstructured data.

And finally, cache, which supplements the primary databases by removing unnecessary pressure off them, usually in the form of frequently accessed read data.

So how exactly does backend development work?

To answer that question we will examine the main programming languages used in backend development and the functions they perform.

The main programming languages we use are:

Java

Java is an enterprise language for long-term projects, (often projects can last between 2-5 years). Java is used to create applications in various fields: from websites to computer games, from mobile applications to full-fledged programs for corporations and even for scientific purposes. The framework can be used cross-platform and allows for multithreading. Java’s cross-platform capabilities and security mean it is a favoured language among software developers; Amazon, LinkedIn and eBay all use Java as a backend.

.Net

.Net is an enterprise web application framework for building robust mobile, website and cloud applications. Developed by Microsoft to build and run Windows applications, the .Net framework consists of developer tools, programming languages and libraries to build applications. .Net’s backward compatibility, cross-platform utility, good security mechanisms, memory management and multithreading functions mean it is a useful and popular framework among programmers.

Python

Python is used by both enterprise companies and on a much smaller scale for start-ups and entrepreneurs. It can offer multithreading and is a popular language for machine learning. It is also highly comprehensible, relatively speaking due to its simple syntax that is similar to English. Its ease of use and extensive libraries offered for backend development means it is highly useful. Python can be used to create web and mobile applications as well as cross-platform shell scripting and quick automation. However, development can often be slow with a lot of problematic code, so it is hard to write for large scale projects. Companies that use Python as a backend include Uber, Mozilla and Spotify.

PHP

PHP is a widely-used, open-source scripting language used for both enterprises and startups, offering fast and easy development. PHP is a general-purpose language, meaning that it is broadly applicable across application domains and PHP can be embedded directly in the HTML code of the application. PHP also receives regular updates to keep up with technology trends. However, this language needs a lot of extra support due to coding problems, which means it is often a poor choice for big projects. Websites that run on PHP include Facebook, Wikipedia and Viber.

Conclusion

Like a Michelin-star restaurant, the frontend and backend components of web development work in perfect harmony to create your web page. If the website is a kitchen, then the code is the constant feedback between the members of each station, working hard to provide the most pleasurable, hassle-free customer experience.

There are many languages and frameworks in software coding and they all have their part to play whether that be on the client-side, anything a user can interact with on-screen or the server-side, the invisible inner workings of the software.

When used together, these components can be the basis for incredible software creations that allow us to buy, sell, message and interact with the world almost instantly.

So tech stacks, they’re pretty important.

For expertise on software development across the board, check out cogify’s software development services or contact us at hello@cogify.io.

For more articles like this one and many more, check out blogify, our software blog.

Otherwise, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for news and updates on the world of software, our blog and more.

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