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What is Back-End Development? A Full Look

by YOSS Community Writer, on August 2, 2019 at 12:30 PM

Most people understandably focus on the user interfaces of their applications. But if it weren't for the back-end, those applications would be useless.

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Back-end developers create the core functionality of programs. They take commands from the front-end, perform the requested work, and send the results back to the front-end.

Of course, back-end developers do more than this. They are involved in the entire lifecycle of a piece of software, from idea and design to testing and maintenance.

History of Back-End Development

We generally think in terms of the history of front-end development because there was a time when back-end development was simply referred to as "development."

The earliest computers were designed to answer specific questions. It wasn't until 1938 that Konrad Zuse built the first programmable computer, which was coded on perforated film stock. Later, computers would use punch cards, which had long been used to store data.

In 1956, General Motors released the GM-NAA I/O for the IBM 704 mainframe computer. It was the first computer operating system, but it still only allowed programs to be run in batches. There was no user input.

At this time, programs came with their own data. The output was to some kind of hardware device like a set of lights or a teletype machine. It wasn't until the 1960s that computer displays, as we know them today, were connected to computers.

Not coincidentally, at the same time, operating systems began to include command-line interfaces where users could provide input to computer programs and receive actionable output. These command-line interfaces were similar to modern shells like Bash.

These may seem basic but they represent the first time that programs were meaningfully divided into their core functionality (back-end) and their user interface (front-end). Today, most front-ends are graphical, but that in no way changes this paradigm.

Back-End Development Today

Much of back-end development hasn't changed. If you use a standalone application, the front-end and back-end code exist on the same computer. It's likely that different groups worked on these two parts of the program, of course. But there is nothing fundamentally different between a graphical painting program and a Unix filter-like grep.

Client-Server

Where things have changed is in client-server applications. These are applications where the front-end (client) is an entirely different program than the back-end (server).

Client-server applications are commonly associated with databases where the user interacts with the client for input and output while the database’s task of storing and retrieving data is done by the server.

Web-Based Applications

The client-server model is also used on most web pages. In fact, all interactive web pages work this way. A browser (e.g., Google Chrome) represents the front-end. The web server (e.g., Nginx) represents the back-end.

But most developers do not code for browsers and web servers. Instead, they create code for browsers (front-end developers) and web servers (back-end developers). This is akin to writing a standalone program for a particular operating system.

With a dynamic page, the web server must do more than simply send the requested material to the browser. For example, if the browser requests a PHP program, the server must run it and send the resulting information back to the browser—very much like a client-server database application.

Full Stack

The full stack consists of all aspects of a client-server application. In web development, this means the browser, web server, and database. The front-end developer works with the browser via HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other technologies like XML when appropriate.

Those in back-end web development work with the web server and database, and usually with tools like Ruby and SQL.

There are also full-stack developers who work on both the front-end and the back-end. In fact, most web developers just starting out will program the full stack because they have to do all the work themselves.

What's more, back-end developers will normally have to do at least some front-end coding. For example, PHP is a full back-end development language, but it allows the programmer to embed HTML, CSS, and JavaScript in it.

Back-End Developer Skills

Programming is the basis of back-end development, but the tools used are broad.

Programming Languages

The languages used by a developer depend on the kind of work that is being done. The back-end languages used in client-server applications are generally the same as with traditional coding. MySQL, for example, is written primarily in C with additional C++.

The follow languages are of particular note:

  • C
  • C++
  • Objective-C
  • Swift
  • C#
  • Visual Basic
  • Java
  • Go
  • Pascal/Delphi
  • R

However, other languages can and are used for this type of back-end development. For example, in legacy systems that are maintained because they are not worth replacing, languages like Fortran and even COBOL are sometimes used.

Web-based applications tend to depend on newer languages that were specially created. Since the beginning of Web 2.0 in the late 1990s, the number of back-end languages has blossomed.

The most popular back-end languages include:

  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • Perl
  • Node.js
  • C#
  • Visual Basic

In addition to programming languages, web applications are often built on frameworks that streamline development. Most of these use the model-view-controller (MVC) architecture. With it, the code is divided between data management (model), information representation (view), and input management (controller).

Using an MVC framework then allows back-end developers to work on the model and controller parts of the application without interfering with the work of the front-end developers.

The most popular MVC frameworks are:

  • Laravel (PHP)
  • Django (Python)
  • Rails (Ruby)
  • Catalyst (Perl)
  • Sails.js (Node.js)
  • ASP.NET MVC (C# and Visual Basic)

Databases

Most applications use some kind of database whether it is unique to the application, a server-based system like PostgreSQL, or a library-based system like SQLite.

Generally, an in-application database will be part of a legacy system. Although there are many differences between relational databases like Oracle and MySQL, they are mostly all controlled by SQL.

Even many NoSQL databases support SQL to some extent. As a result, SQL is in the toolbox of almost all back-end developers.

Back-End Developer Salaries

According to Glassdoor, salaries for back-end developers are high. Based on information gathered from 169 developers, the average is $117K with a range from $85K to $166K. The distribution is skewed to the low end, however, with most salaries in the $100K region.

Starting salaries range from $85K to $120K per year, with an average of $101K. Salaries of course increase with experience. Back-end developers with 15+ years of experience report salaries ranging from $120K to $166K with an average of $141K.

Indeed finds similar results based on 3,321 past and present back-end developers. The average back-end developer salary from their data is $124K, but the range is extremely broad at roughly $40K to $250K.

Front-End vs Back-End Developer Salary

When you compare the salaries of these two jobs, those working in the back-end receive much higher pay on average. Glassdoor reports that front-end developer salaries range from $46K to $128K with an average of $78K per year.

Full stack developers report similar salaries with an average of $80K per year.

There’s such a wide range of front-end salaries for a number of reasons, but it’s primarily due to the greater variability in the work that front-end and full-stack developers perform. Someone who writes basic HTML is as much a front-end developer as a JavaScript master. Yet their salaries would obviously diverge.

Hiring a Back-End Developer

As we've discussed, back-end development is a broad category of work. If you are looking to add a back-end developer to your team, you will likely want specific skills like Python programming or database design. So you need to be clear about exactly what kind of back-end developer you need.

Interested in learning how YOSS can help your business gain access to the best back-end developers who have skills you need? Schedule a FREE call below to learn more.

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Topics:Software Engineering

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