We’re going to talk about the differences between a front-end developer, a back-end developer, and a full-stack developer. but first, we need to go on a journey back in time.
Picture it: It’s 1995. You’re a fresh-faced youth ready to head off for freshman year of college. But, of course, you’ll need your textbooks first!
You kick off your chunky Steve Madden slides or your Doc Martens, boot up your Gateway Solo 2000 (running Windows 95, of course), and wait for the sweet, sweet sound of your dial-up service connecting. You shout out to your parents that no one can use the phone for the next hour because you’ll be online.
You click on the Internet Explorer 1.0 icon and navigate to a little-known website called Amazon. You heard from your friends, while drinking Sobe at the mall food court, that you could find your textbooks for cheaper than at the bookstore and get them delivered directly to your house!
Three business days later, the homepage finally loads. You gasp in awe. It’s beautiful! This is the future! You can’t imagine a more magical experience online! We have reached the peak of humanity’s technological skill, and it looks like this:
Obviously, we’ve come a lot further than that. Now, you can buy textbooks AND fancy French soaps AND dog food by shouting at a weird cylinder named Alexa that stores your credit card information.
That’s all thanks to the work of web developers who understand that aesthetics and know-how can combine to create functional, beautiful online experiences that put the OG Amazon to shame.
The task of designing and developing websites is split into two categories: front-end and back-end. Together, they form the experience you get to enjoy on all those websites you use to kill time until you can finally go home and do the same thing, but on your couch.
Front-End Web Developer
Remember The Wizard of Oz?
In the movie, home-spun farm girl Dorothy goes on a wacky adventure with a rag-tag group of buddies during which they experiment with opiates, are accessories to murder, and learn that the real treasure is the friendships we made along the way.
Most importantly, when said criminals head into the Emerald City, they meet the titular Wizard, a giant green face with an aggressive voice and very little patience.
That Wizard is the “front-end” of the whole operation. It’s what the clients– be they scarecrows, lions, or tinmen– are able to interact with.
Websites work the same way. Your visitors are presented with a simplified interface that they can understand and that doesn’t get into the dirty details about what’s going on behind the proverbial curtain.
You can expect a front-end developer to create:
- Graphics and animations
- Layout and navigation
- Typography, like color and font
- Data, graphs, and tables
Back-End Web Developer
Let’s head back to the Emerald City for a moment.
When Dorothy (yet again) allowed her savage beast of a dog to roam free, causing havoc like some kind of small Godzilla, he yanked back the curtain to reveal that behind all the glitz and glamour was a sweaty old man putting in the real work.
That sweaty old man is your back-end development.
What the client or visitor can’t see is anything going on the server-side, where data is stored, arranged, and presented according to the instructions created by your back-end developer.
Basically, back-end code helps everything on the front-end run smoothly by ensuring that data is stored safely, that all logical requirements are met, and that the client-side can successfully communicate with the server.
The coding languages for this phase of website development will typically include PHP, Python, and C++.
You can expect your back-end developer to:
- Build and maintain servers
- Manage cloud integration
- Manage API integration
- Ensure data security
- Create and maintain databases
- Run operating systems and frameworks
Full-Stack Web Developer
Once more to the Wizard!
Technically, the sweaty old man would be considered a full-stack developer. He does a little bit of everything, maintaining the behind-the-scenes while putting on a show for any trespassing runaways who might wander into the magical wizard den.
Like your favorite local taqueria, a full-stack developer offers the whole enchilada. They can do both jobs with finesse, which offers the added benefit of creating a more cohesive final product.
I know we’re working with a lot of metaphors here, but I promise this is the last one.
Let’s say you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so you hire a peanut butter expert and a jelly expert.
They send emails back and forth about what kind of bread they’ll be using, the amounts of their respective ingredients they plan to apply, and if they’ll cut your sandwich into triangles or rectangles for the final product.
In that process, some things get lost in translation. They agree to a pillowy, classic white bread, but one of them bakes homemade while the other splurges on Sara Lee.
They decide on the (vastly superior) strawberry-crunchy combo, but the peanut butter expert doesn’t account for the jelly expert opting for preserves over jam, leading to overapplication of peanut butter in the center of the sandwich, leaving little room for the juicy bits of the berry of squish around within the confines of the bread.
Meanwhile, it turns out you hate strawberry jam, crunchy peanut butter, and white bread, so none of it mattered anyway. Sorry about your lunch, bro.
On the other hand, a full-stack web developer (or sandwich maker) will be making the entire thing from start to finish, which means that there is little room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Now, you have a perfectly delightful afternoon treat and a website that functions exactly how you’d expect it to while looking just as delicious.
At NATIV3, we’re both expert PB&J artists and full-stack developers. Our team has the expertise to cover your build on every level, making the website development process, as Bruno Mars would say, “smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.”