Frontend vs. Backend

Published: 12/22/2014

I was initially introduced to web programming as a senior in college when I took a beginning web design class as an elective credit for my humanities major. I still remember the first day of class, when we talked about how web programming works at a basic level. One of the most fundamental principles to understand is the distinction between frontend and backend.

When you visit a website, it is basically an interaction between your computer and another computer referred to as the server (other computers facilitate the interaction, but the main exchange is taking place between those two computers). When you open up a website, your computer makes a request to view certain information.

In this exchange, it is the server computer's job to find the information you want and send it back to you. After your computer receives the information, it is your computer's job to interpret the information it received and display it on your screen.

Your computer and the interpreting processes it uses to decode the information from the server computer are defined as the "frontend." This includes: color-schemes, images, text-animation, etc. Anything you interact with on your screen is part of the frontend.

The server computer and the interpreting processes it uses to process the request from your computer are defined as the "backend." This may include: retrieving purchase information from a database, displaying your name and preferences after you log into a site, saving a form for future completion, etc. Basically everything that goes on behind the scenes is part of the backend.

Next time, I'll take a look at the three major components that make up the frontend: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.


Author: Piper Armstrong
Position: Frontend Developer
Piper Armstrong graduated with a bachelor's degree in linguistics from Brigham Young University, but she didn't let that stop her from learning the useful skill of web development. When she drags herself out of bed early enough, she likes to go running in the hills around her house. Her hobbies include reading, writing, volleyball, and more web development. She is adamant about getting 8 hours of sleep a night and lives almost exclusively on string cheese, popsicles, and diet soda.

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