Technology plays a huge role in our daily lives, from the simplest of apps to the most groundbreaking inventions. Every website or piece of software that we encounter has been built by a web developer — but what exactly is web development, and what does a web developer do?
To the outside eye, it can seem like a complicated, confusing and somewhat inaccessible field. So, to shed some light on this fascinating industry, we’ve put together the ultimate introduction to web development and what it takes to become a fully-fledged web developer.
1. What is Web Development?
Web development is the process of building websites and applications for the internet, or for a private network known as an intranet. Web development is not concerned with the design of a website; rather, it’s all about the coding and programming that powers the website’s functionality.
From the most simple, static web pages to social media platforms and apps, from ecommerce websites to content management systems (CMS); all the tools we use via the internet on a daily basis have been built by web developers.
Client-side scripting, or frontend development, refers to everything that the end user experiences directly. Client-side code executes in a web browser and directly relates to what people see when they visit a website. Things like layout, fonts, colours, menus and contact forms are all driven by the frontend.
Server-side scripting, or backend development, is all about what goes on behind the scenes. The backend is essentially the part of a website that the user doesn’t actually see. It is responsible for storing and organizing data, and ensuring that everything on the client-side runs smoothly.
The Difference Between Web Development and Web Design
You might hear the terms web development and web design used interchangeably, but these are two very different things.
Imagine a web designer and web developer working together to build a car: the developer would take care of all the functional components, like the engine, the wheels and the gears, while the designer would be responsible for both the visual aspects — how the car looks, the layout of the dashboard, the design of the seats — and for the user experience provided by the car, so whether or not it’s a smooth drive.
Web designers design how the website looks and feels. They model the layout of the website, making sure it’s logical, user-friendly and pleasant to use. They consider all the different visual elements: what colour schemes and fonts will be used? What buttons, drop-down menus and scrollbars should be included, and where? What interactive touchpoints does the user interact with to get from point A to B? Web design also considers the information architecture of the website, establishing what content will be included and where it should be placed.
2. A Brief History of the World Wide Web
The web as we know it today has been decades in the making. To help understand how web development works, let’s go back to where it all started and consider how the internet has evolved over the years.
3. What Does a Web Developer Do?
The role of the web developer is to build and maintain websites. Web developers can work in-house or freelance, and the specific tasks and responsibilities involved will vary depending on whether they’re working as a frontend, backend or full stack developer. Full stack developers specialize in both the frontend and backend; we’ll go into more detail about what a full stack developer does later on.
Web developers are responsible for building a product that meets both the client’s needs and those of the customer or end user. Web developers collaborate with stakeholders, clients and designers in order to understand the vision: how should the final website look and function?
What does a backend developer do?
The backend is essentially the brains behind the face (the frontend). A backend developer is therefore responsible for building and maintaining the technology needed to power the frontend, consisting of three parts: a server, an application and a database.
The code that backend developers create ensures that everything the frontend developer builds is fully functional, and it is the backend developer’s job to make sure that the server, application and database all communicate with each other. So how do they do this? First, they use server-side languages such as PHP, Ruby, Python and Java to build the application. Then they use tools like MySQL, Oracle and SQL Server to find, save or edit data and deliver it back to the user in frontend code.
4. Programming Languages, Libraries and Frameworks
In order to build websites and apps, web developers work with languages, libraries and frameworks. Let’s take a look at each of these in detail, as well as some other tools that web developers use in their day-to-day work.
What are languages?
In the world of web development, languages are the building blocks that programmers use to create websites, apps and software. There are all different types of languages, including programming languages, markup languages, style sheet languages and database languages.
A programming language is essentially a set of instructions and commands which tell the computer to produce a certain output. Programmers use so-called “high-level” programming languages to write source code. High-level languages use logical words and symbols, making them easy for humans to read and understand. High-level languages can be classified as either compiled or interpreted languages.
What are libraries and frameworks?
Web developers also work with libraries and frameworks. Despite much confusion, they are not the same thing — although they are both there to make the developer’s job easier.
Libraries and frameworks are essentially sets of prewritten code, but libraries are smaller and tend to be used for more specific use-cases. A library contains a collection of useful code, grouped together to be reused later. The purpose of a library is to enable developers to reach the same end goal while writing less code to get there.
5. What Does it Take to Become a Web Developer?
A career in web development is challenging, financially rewarding, and has a lot to offer in terms of job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 15% employment growth for web developers between 2016 and 2026 — much faster than average — and web developer ranked as the 8th best job title in tech based on salary and employment rates.
At the time of writing, the average salary for a web developer in the United States is $76,271 per year. Of course, salary varies depending on location, years of experience and the specific skills you bring to the table; find out more about how much you could earn as a web developer here.