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How are front-end development and back-end development different?

In terms of a consumer-facing website, how do developers distinguish between front-end development and back-end tasks?

Front-end development and back-end development work in tandem to create a website or application for users. In simple terms, front-end development is what is used to create the visual display that the end user of a website experiences. Back-end development is what makes the presentation of front-end development possible. When a user attempts to access an application via the front-end interface, the relevant information is verified via the back-end database, and the proper information is then presented to the user via the back-end Web server.

The front end typically includes the HTML, CSS and JavaScript that creates pages, menus, buttons and everything else that forms the basis of what the user sees in his or her Web browser. So someone working as a front-end developer would be familiar with code that focuses on display, and may also have Web design skills with tools like Photoshop.

The back end generally includes a Web server that hosts an application (built with code like PHP, Python,  Ruby on Rails, C/C#/C++ , .NET, or Java), which communicates with a database (using something like MySQL or Microsoft Access) to serve up the information that the front-end presents. Back-end developers have expertise in building applications that can efficiently locate and deliver data. Increasingly, companies are turning to Backend-as-a-Service vendors who can make this processing faster, particularly for mobile application development.

Back-end development is what makes the presentation of front-end development possible.

As an example of how front-end and back-end systems work together, consider a website that has different content that is accessible to users with different permissions. When a user visits the website and attempts to access a certain page, he or she will be asked to log in; that login information will be authenticated via a database lookup, and then the back-end application communicates with the front end (sometimes via an intermediary program) to display the proper page to the user.

Most developers specialize in either front-end development or back-end development, though there is often crossover between the two areas. There are also what's known as full-stack developers who handle both the back-end application and database code and the front-end presentation code.

Editor’s note: This answer was compiled from content contributed by various community members and experts on our sites, including Stephen Popp, Dan Oliver and Margaret Rouse

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This was last published in October 2014

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