What Is the Difference Between Front-End and Back-End Development?

Originally published February 9, 2017, updated Feb. 27, 2019.

Front-end developers work on what the user can see while back-end developers build the infrastructure that supports it.

Both are necessary components for a high-functioning application or website.

It’s not uncommon for companies to get tripped up by the “front-end versus back-end” divide when trying to navigate the development of new software.

After all, there are a growing number of tools on the market aimed at helping developers become more “full stack” oriented, so it’s easy for non-technicians to assume there isn’t a big difference between front-end and back-end specialists.

Front-end and back-end developers do work in tandem to create the systems necessary for an application or website to function properly. However, they have opposite concerns.

The term “front-end” refers to the user interface, while “back-end” means the server, application and database that work behind the scenes to deliver information to the user.

The user enters a request through the interface.

It’s then verified and communicated to the server, which pulls the necessary data from the database and sends it back to the user.

Here’s a closer look at the difference between front-end and back-end development.

What is Front-End Development?

The front-end is built using a combination of technologies such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Front-end developers design and construct the user experience elements on the web page or app including buttons, menus, pages, links, graphics and more.

HTML

Hypertext Markup Language is the core of a website, providing the overall design and functionality.

The most recent version was released in late 2017 and is known as HTML5.2.

The updated version includes more tools aimed at web application developers as well as adjustments made to improve interoperability.

CSS

Cascading style sheets give developers a flexible, precise way to create attractive, interactive website designs.

JavaScript

This event-based language is useful for creating dynamic elements on static HTML web pages.

It allows developers to access elements separate from the main HTML page, as well as respond to server-side events.

Front-end frameworks such as Angular, Ember, Backbone, and React are also popular.

These frameworks let developers keep up with the growing demand for enterprise software without sacrificing quality, so they’re earning their place as standard development tools.

One of the main challenges of front-end development – which also goes by the name “client-side development” – is the rapid pace of change in the tools, techniques and technologies used to create the user experience for applications and websites.

The seemingly simple goal of creating a clear, easy-to-follow user interface is difficult due to sometimes widely different mobile device and computer screen resolutions and sizes.

Things get even more complicated when the Internet of Things (IoT) is considered.

Screen size and network connection now have a wider variety, so developers have to balance those concerns when working on their user interfaces.

What is Back-End Development?

The back-end, also called the server side, consists of the server which provides data on request, the application which channels it, and the database which organizes the information.

For example, when a customer browses shoes on a website, they are interacting with the front end.

After they select the item they want, put it in the shopping cart, and authorize the purchase, the information is kept inside the database which resides on the server.

A few days later when the client checks on the status of their delivery, the server pulls the relevant information, updates it with tracking data, and presents it through the front-end.

Back-end Tools

The core concern of back-end developers is creating applications that can find and deliver data to the front end.

Many of them use reliable enterprise-level databases like Oracle, Teradata, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, EnterpriseDB and SAP Sybase ASE.

There’s also a number of other popular databases including MySQL, NoSQL and PostgreSQL.

There are a wide variety of frameworks and languages used to code the application, such as Ruby on Rails, Java, C++/C/C#, Python and PHP.

Over the last several years Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) providers have been maturing into a viable alternative.

They’re especially useful when developing mobile apps and working within a tight schedule.

What is Full-Stack Development?

The development of both the back- and front-end systems has become so specialized, it’s most common for a developer to specialize in only one.

As a general rule, full-stack development by a single programmer isn’t a practical solution.

However, at times a custom software development company will have developers who are proficient with both sides, known as a full stack developer.

They powerful team players because they have the breadth of knowledge to see the big picture, letting them suggest ways to optimize the process or remove roadblocks that might be slowing down the system.

To find out which database and framework to use on your next project, read our article “What is the Best Front-End/Back-End Combo for an Enterprise App.”

If you’re ready to see how we can put our knowledge to work for you, set up a free consultation today!

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What is Elm? – A Functional Front-End Alternative

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Elm is a front-end language with an extremely helpful compiler that allows programmers to write scalable, reliable, easy-to-maintain code. Most of the time developers use programming languages with huge communities, looking for support over precision of effort. There’s some sense in wanting to avoid being the first to avoid discovering a bug in a tool. However, sometimes lesser-known languages have something to offer than their better-established cousins can’t. One of these, Elm, is attracting interest even among fans of more proven tools. It’s a lightweight language with a narrow focus but impressive results.

What is Elm?

Elm served as a theses project for its creator, Evan Czaplicki, in 2012. It was designed for building front ends for web apps and websites. Elm is a strictly functional programming language which can be run in the browser and compiles to JavaScript. It’s strongly typed and holds true to its promise to never throw runtime errors. That, as well as its interoperability with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, is its main appeal.

Architecture of an Elm Program

Elm programs are a collection of functions. Everything is inputs and outputs with no states or side effects. As a result, a given input will always return the same output. Elm deals with immutability by having all values immutable. If the developer wants to change data, they have to transform it into something new. This immutability has the benefit of creating fast JavaScript code. There are three parts to Elm programs: model, update, and view.

Model

A record that outlines the form and the state of the application. It is completely immutable; transforming it using the “update” function results in an entirely new model.

Update

Just as its name implies, this function defines how to update the state. Elm assigns a “union type” to lay out what actions are possible. Update is the only place where a model can be transformed.

View

View explains how to render the current state as HTML. Its input comes from the model while its output is the markup for the current state.

What Elm Has Over More Popular Tools

Using Elm, developers can create complex web applications that are easy to refactor and scale well. It’s naturally predictable, like pure programming languages. It also leads to higher performance. This last is mostly due to use of a Virtual DOM and the more efficient JavaScript it produces. A lot of developers describe Elm as “fun” and “easy to work with”. It does have one of the more helpful compilers around. The Elm compiler guides users into considering and specifying all outcomes, including edge cases. In fact, it’s a large part of the reason Elm can live up to its promise of no runtime exceptions. The compiler goes several steps farther by providing more informative compiler errors than tools like React. Instead of simply naming the problem, it states what the error is, where to find it, and even accounts for typos by suggesting what the developer might have meant to type. The compiler can also offer useful hints for error resolution in other contexts, and it does so in plain language that’s easy to understand. Elm’s attentive compiler results in applications which are reliable and easy to maintain. Getting detailed, rapid feedback helps iron out problems that could otherwise lead to issues as the application grows, so Elm is also useful for building scalable applications. There are a few other useful Elm features, including:

Elm Reactor

This utility can live compile as it runs the application in the browser.

Hot swapping

Developers can alter the code and immediately see the new versions of functions being applied.

Tracing

Tracing allows users to view a graphical representation of the history of a given value.

Limitations of Elm

Of course, Elm does have its weaknesses. It isn’t usable for the server side. The build is a little slow, too. Running 300 modules will take about 60 seconds. As a newer language the community is still small, meaning there isn’t the same breadth of experience for new users to draw on when they run into a problem. It also has a steep learning curve, and using it means committing to finding Elm developers for ongoing maintenance.

When is Elm a Good Choice?

Often major companies want a more universally-understood language to make it easier to onboard new team members. However, the helpfulness of that compiler is a serious benefit. Once developers are past the steep learning curve, they often find writing with Elm to be productive and enjoyable. Since the code is robust and easy to maintain at scale, long-term costs are lower as well. Look at the specific project. If the build speed isn’t a major hindrance to the project and there are enough Elm developers available, it might be a great tool for improving application quality from the start. Concepta maintains a wide catalog of technology and skill sets to be sure we can meet the unique demands of every project. Schedule a meeting with one of our developers to find out what your next application could look like!  

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What Is the Best Front-End/Back-End Combo for an Enterprise App?

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Originally published Feb. 20, 2017, updated Aug. 15, 2018. Choosing the best front-end and back-end combination is probably the most complicated part of building an enterprise app. There are so many exciting languages, frameworks and databases to consider, and no single combo works in every situation. It’s easy for options paralysis to set in. To navigate through the maze of choices, let’s take a closer look at the popular databases and front-end framework solutions in enterprise computing today.

Databases

Oracle

The longtime king of the hill in enterprise databases is Oracle. For large government agencies, international corporations and high-value data centers, Oracle’s reliability is hard to beat.

IBM DB2

IBM’s DB2 is one of the highest quality, most cost-effective RDBMS platforms on the market. It’s easy to install and supported on Unix, Linux, and Windows. DB2 is ideal for companies running high-volume, high transaction workloads. It’s most popular in industries like insurance.

Microsoft SQL Server

This versatile database platform offers enterprise companies complete data management and powerful business intelligence (BI) capability.

SAP Sybase ASE

This stable, cost-effective, high-performance, low-risk database has seen better days. Under its previous name Sybase, it was part of the database power trio: Sybase, Oracle and IBM. It lost market share and was eventually sold to SAP. The database still sees wide usage in industries like banking, but its star is falling. Newer databases continue to edge it further into obscurity.

Teradata

For enterprise organizations with huge data warehouses, Teradata database fits the bill. This self-described Very Large Database System (VLDB) was the first database focused on handling terabytes of data. It features intelligent optimization which responds rapidly to requests. Popular users include telecom companies and large retailers who handle enormous amounts of transactions every day.

EnterpriseDB

Based on the open-source PostgreSQL database, EnterpriseDB (EDB) adds performance and security features suited for enterprise-level workloads.

Front-End Frameworks

The field of top-quality front-end frameworks is constantly evolving. JavaScript solutions like Angular and Ember have grown into an important element in many enterprise stacks.

Bootstrap

Since its release in 2011 Bootstrap has become the most widely-used open source framework in the world. It’s a popular tool for HTML, CSS and JS development. Bootstrap scales easily on websites and apps off a single code base across desktops and mobile devices. Its documentation is incredibly thorough, though the variety of styles included makes the file size a little large.

Foundation

This enterprise level front-end platform used by eBay and Facebook is useful for creating highly responsive sites. Foundation is a collection of frameworks for the front-end that creates attractive, fast sites, email messages and mobile apps. The tradeoff is that it’s too complex for beginner; it takes a skilled developer to build with Foundation.

Angular.js

Angular has rapidly become one of the most popular JavaScript frameworks for enterprise computing. It emphasizes simplicity, testability, and ease of construction, letting developers get more functionality from less code. The framework is rigorously maintained by Google. Two versions are planned for 2018. Version 6, which was released in early 2018, adds more tools for cross-compatibility going forward, and Version 7 is already in beta for a Fall 2018 release.

React.js

Like Angular, React has grown in popularity over the last couple of years, offering a series of new releases and development tools and enjoying increasing adoption for new projects. Unlike Angular it’s not a fully-fleshed front-end. Instead, it’s a simplified way to create dynamic view layers for apps. React got a serious boost in popularity from Facebook’s release of React Native for creating mobile apps.

Ember.js

Ember offers easy migration between versions and rock-solid stability. It’s been trending downwards in popularity lately, but not because of quality. Instead, the problem seems to be that Ember is highly structured and standardized, and most newer developers like JavaScript for flexibility and freedom of style. Ember is useful for building highly scalable Single Page web apps.

Backbone.js

Backbone provides structure to enterprise front-ends, with features like key-value binding, collections with a robust API and views complete with declarative event handling. Some developers regard Backbone as too light for modern apps, but it still has a loyal base of users.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the many dynamic tools available for building modern apps. Choosing between them- that’s better done on a case-by-case basis. There are some helpful guidelines when weighing the options. For example, a solid MVC framework like Angular or Backbone is a reasonable choice. Also, worth considering is that while the database and front-end are the core of enterprise installation, more tools are needed to optimize the system. These could include components like API middleware, jQuery, underscore templates, and custom fonts. The best way to create the perfect front-end and back-end combination is to outline the specific project at hands requirements and assemble the stack that fits those.

Looking for direction on your next enterprise app? Sit down with one of Concepta’s experienced developers for a free consultation on what’s best for your business.  

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ReactJS: A Specialized JavaScript Library [REVIEW]

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What is ReactJS?

ReactJS is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces. It’s not a complete front-end framework like AngularJS; rather, it is a creative solution to handling the view layer for apps. Developers describe this as “replacing the V in the MVC model”. Using React provides simplified programming, scalability, and dynamic user interfaces.

Background of ReactJS

There are dozens of “origin stories” for React, but the truth is that it started as a JavaScript port of XHP. Jordan Walke, an employee working at Facebook’s Ads Org, created the earliest version to solve the division’s problem with overly-complex apps. Engineers were experiencing unintentional changes caused by cascading updates. In response Walke put together the prototype for React, which was applied to Facebook’s newsfeed in 2011. His solution was heavily reliant on Facebook’s existing infrastructure. The following year, Instagram creators saw the proto-React at Facebook and wanted to use it for Instagram. Pete Hunt convinced Facebook to let him decouple the code from its Facebook-specific state to a more general use tool. At this point it was given the name React, and in 2013 it went open source. React is maintained by a number of users including both Facebook and Instagram. Keep reading to find out how we review React.JS.

Features

  • Server-side rendering
  • JSX (simplified JavaScript)
  • One way data flow
  • Virtual DOM
  • Component-driven development
  • Testability

Strengths

Speed is React’s core strength. Rather than re-rendering the DOM every time there’s a change, it creates a Virtual DOM for comparison. Only nodes that change are updated. This allows for dynamic features that use real-time data (friends lists, likes, chat programs, market tickers, etc) without users having to reload the page. React is very simple to read. Users can easily see how components are rendered, how components interact with each other, and the general layout. Simplicity takes much of the hassle out of maintenance. Also, React is very SEO friendly. This is not the case with many Javascript frameworks.
  • Has a large community
  • Easier to find developers
  • Hybrid platform that compiles natively
  • It’s really fast
  • Easy for testing
  • Solutions can be tested with customized coding, so the final result can be guaranteed
  • Faster interface deployment
  • Component-driven interface development

Weaknesses

As a specialized library, React will not provide the same structure as a complete framework like AngularJS. Some see this as an advantage- after all, a large framework can be restrictive. However, you can’t build a fully functional app with React alone. Custom configurations are required to integrate ReactJS into a traditional MVC framework. Also, React requires a specific way of approaching programming that can be hard for experienced programmers to get their heads around. It’s evolving very quickly given a recent upsurge in interest, but that has resulted in some confusion. What was once relatively easy to learn has become more complicated. Also, there isn’t good documentation available for React.

Real Life Applications

React is used by major players like AirBNB, Bloomberg, Tesla, and Discord. Here are a few specific examples of how it’s benefiting big companies.
  • The desktop version of Facebook uses React in its Friends, Notifications, and Chat features.
  • React powers the Push Notification Settings and Edit Profile views at Instagram.
  • Walmart started using React Native to improve the performance of their iOS and Android shopping apps.

Future Outlook

It’s hard to estimate the future of React. Only about .11% of websites currently use it, but React is showing comparatively similar rates of growth to AngularJS (on a smaller scale, of course). Component-driven development is also gaining popularity, seeing some representation in recent Angular releases. It will be interesting to see if React continues to grow with its core features being picked up by more complete toolsets.

If you need highly experienced developers who know ReactJS, share with us your challenges and we’ll help come up with the right solution tailored to fit your needs. Request a Consultation

AngularJS: A Javascript Framework Made for Web Apps [REVIEW]

angularjs

What is AngularJS?

AngularJS is an open-source front end JavaScript framework used to build dynamic mobile and web apps. It emphasizes simplicity, testability, and ease of construction. AngularJS allows users to bind HTML views to JavaScript models, meaning developers can get more functionality while writing less code. This facilitates rapid front-end development.

History of AngularJS

Angular JS was created in 2009 by two designers, Misko Hevery and Adam Abrons, under the name GetAngular. Abrons eventually left the project. Hevery, however, was working on a project for Google under manager Brad Green. Hevery and Green reshaped GetAngular into AngularJS in 2012. AngularJS is maintained almost entirely by Google, who uses it for both internal and external projects.

Features

  • Two-way data binding
  • AJAX handling
  • Dependency injection
  • Angular Directives that add functionalities to HTML elements
  • Based on Model-View-Controller/ MVx pattern
  • Manipulates DOM directly
  • Requires only HTML, CSS, and JavaScript on client side
  • Unit Testing Ready

Strengths

People who already have a solid understanding of HTML find AngularJS easy to learn. It’s well-documented and makes for organized, easy to maintain apps. Angular supports Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Safari for iOS, and Internet Explorer. Single Page Applications (SPAs) are one of the most common uses for AngularJS, but it can adapted for a variety of purposes. Angular is ideal for complex SPAs that require large amounts of data retrieval. Projects that already rely heavily on other Google assets are good candidates for AngularJS.

Weaknesses

The complexity of AngularJS can be a weakness as well as a strength. There are many ways to accomplish the same task, which sometimes causes option paralysis in inexperienced programmers. More than 2000 watchers can slow the UI noticeably. Skillful programmers can work around this by monitoring their creation of watchers and minimizing the number that rely on other watchers. Finally, despite being cross-browser compliant Angular doesn’t work as smoothly in outdated browsers. For example, IE is only supported after 8.0. (This is less of of a problem in this age of auto-updates.)

Real-life Applications

Because it’s well-suited to CRUD (create/read/update/delete) client side apps, developers of user-generated content portals favor AngularJS. The framework is also suitable for ticketing and fleet management systems.
  • YouTube – Many developers of video streaming apps depend on AngularJS, and YouTube is no different. They used AngularJS in the design of their Playstation 3 app.
  • Weather.com – Weather.com is the second most popular weather forecasting website. They reworked their website in 2014 to become more mobile-friendly. Now, AngularJS is used to retrieve data for widgets on their mobile and desktop sites.
  • GoodFilms – GoodFilms is a social movie review app. People use it to get movie recommendations and find out which streaming service carries the film they want. GoodFilms’ mobile site incorporates AngularJS technology.

Future Outlook

Jobs listings including Angular as a requirement have risen 36% over the same period in 2016. In response to demand, Stanford University’s web development course has dropped Ruby on Rails to join other prestigious schools focusing on AngularJS. With the additional benefit of Google support, AngularJS should remain one of the primary choices of web developers.

If you need developers who are Angular JS experts, share with us your challenges and we’ll help come up with the right solution tailored to fit your needs. Request a Consultation