A Guide to Front-End vs. Back-End vs. Full-Stack Development

Updated January 6, 2023

Infographic of breadcrumbs on a website, with icons reading, from left, "1st level," "2nd level," "3rd level" and "blog post."

Web development is a profession concerned with establishing the aesthetic, navigation and functionality of websites. Within this field are the subdisciplines of front-end, back-end and full-stack development, each of which fulfills a specific role and requires its own set of skills. If you're interested in pursuing a career in web development, it's important to understand what each subdiscipline entails and what proficiencies you may want to develop to optimize your chances of success. 

In this article, we define front-end, back-end and full-stack development, discuss the primary duties and competencies associated with these roles, outline the primary differences between them and provide information concerning the average salary and job outlook for each one.

What is back-end development?

Back-end development refers to the creation and maintenance of a website's internal operations. A website's back end consists of its server, an application and a database, so the primary function of a back-end developer is to ensure those components are running appropriately. Without them, the front end of the site wouldn't be possible. Aside from that major responsibility, the primary duties of the job include:

  • Understanding a site's main objectives and determining how to facilitate them

  • Ensuring proper storage of data and easy access to it for end users

  • Managing application programming interfaces, making sure they work across platforms

  • Organizing a website system's logic and optimizing it to run properly on various devices

  • Establishing payment systems when necessary, including allowing users to input their data and securing said data per regulations

  • Creating website architecture that's easily modifiable with future upgrades

  • Implementing algorithms

  • Resolving back-end issues as they arise

Success as a back-end developer hinges on your mastery of the main server-side languages. These include Python, Java and PHP for application building and tools such as Oracle and SQL, which allow you to serve data to the front end. Communication skills are also essential, as back-end development involves working closely with stakeholders to gather requirements and translate them into specifications.

Related: Learn About Being a Back-End Developer

What is front-end development?

Front-end development refers to creating and maintaining the part of the website with which end users interact. That includes the font of the text, the colors of the page and the styles of the menus and links visible on the screen. Front-end developers not only establish the overall look of a site but also create its interface and user experience. In carrying out this directive, they also perform a variety of additional tasks, such as:

  • Developing an easy-to-use and intuitive user interface

  • Improving the user interface based on user feedback

  • Optimizing the user experience, resolving issues of design or functionality that may hinder navigation

  • Optimizing a website to function properly across device types and browsers

  • Creating concepts and using tools to materialize them

  • Helping to organize and manage the software workflow

  • Testing a website's front end for ease of use and potential errors

  • Applying search engine optimization (SEO) principles to ensure appropriate indexing of the website by search engines 

The technical skills of front-end developers largely revolve around programming languages like HTML, JavaScript and CSS. These tools are essential for creating the layout of a website and adding various visual elements to improve both functionality and aesthetic quality. Essential soft skills of the role include collaboration and teamwork, as front-end developers typically work closely with others—web designers, user experience ( UX) analysts and back-end developers—to ensure they're meeting specifications. 

Related: Learn About Being a Front-End Developer

What is full-stack development?

Full-stack development is a combination of back-end and front-end development. Generally, full-stack developers can perform all front-end and back-end programming tasks with little or no assistance. That includes responsibilities involving servers, databases, user experience, hosting, data modeling and other duties that go into establishing a functional, visually appealing website. Some of the specific tasks that full-stack developers perform include:

  • Helping the software design and development teams

  • Optimizing software through constant testing and debugging

  • Writing code for both the front and back end of a software application

  • Making sure that a website runs on multiple platforms

  • Designing a web application's user interactions

  • Working on the back end of the software, implementing servers and databases

  • Working with graphic designers to create and implement new features

  • Keeping software up to date with the latest industry developments

  • Communicating with the hiring company's decision-makers

  • Resolving issues relating to maintenance, security and scalability

Because full-stack development incorporates the front and the back ends of web development, a broader range of technical proficiency is necessary to excel in the position. That includes both the server-side and the user-side programming languages, along with soft skills such as communication, teamwork, collaboration and leadership. 

Related: What Is a Full-Stack Developer? Definition, Skills and How To Become One

Back-end vs. front-end vs. full-stack development

Though back-end, front-end and full-stack development all work toward creating operational websites, each role fulfills a specific purpose that differentiates it from the others. The following are the primary points of difference between the disciplines:


The terms back end, front end and full stack refer to different scopes in the web development process. The back end refers to the way a website functions and all of the components that help to deliver that functionality, whereas the front end is the graphical user interface—layout, videos, images, text, buttons and every other visual element. The full stack, meanwhile, is the entire range of components, front and back.

Related: What Is Full-Stack? Complete Guide to Full-Stack Development


The work of back-end developers applies to the server side of operations. Their efforts aren't directly visible to users, but they're essential to the very existence of a website. Compare that with front-end developers, who apply their talents to the client side. They focus on creating an interface that enhances the experience for users. As for full-stack developers, they apply their broader range of competencies to all sides of web development.


The objective of back-end development is to use logic to solve various functionality and user experience issues. Front-end development focuses on making the website look good and providing a positive user experience. In full-stack development, the objective is to build a complete web product that incorporates the back and front ends, along with database management.


Back- and front-end developers tend to address different sets of challenges. Issues such as search engine optimization and user accessibility are the domain of front-end developers, while problems related to website security and backup are the responsibility of back-end developers. Full-stack developers address all of these problems, along with others, as they implement an integrated approach to web development.


The different types of developers use different tools to carry out their responsibilities. Front-end developers use markup and web languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, while back-end developers use programming and scripting languages like Python, Java and PHP. Full-stack developers are likely to use both sets of tools.

Salaries and job outlooks for web developers

Back-end, front-end and full-stack developers all tend to earn high salaries, but specific earning potential varies between the professions. Back-end developers earn an average of $115,437 per year, front-end developers earn $101,876 per year and full-stack developers make $101,612 per year.

As for job outlooks, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes all three types of developers under the classification of web developers and digital designers. For this professional field, the BLS predicts a 23% growth from 2021 to 2031, which equates to an increase of 45,400 jobs over the decade. The Bureau attributes this expected growth to the increasing popularity of e-commerce and mobile devices.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the links provided.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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