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  • Writer's pictureTim Buchalka

What is a Back End Developer? (Part 2)

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Here we're gonna discuss the role of a back-end web developer. Now this is a part of a three-post series of articles that I've released in my blog page. Part one was one that I released previously. Click here to check that out. That discussed the role of a front-end developer but here, we're gonna talk about a back-end developer in the typical role. Also, coming up after that is the third post in the series where I'm gonna discuss the pros and cons of each. For today, let's get started on the role of a back-end web developer.

Let's get started. We're now talking about the role of a back-end web developer.

A back-end web developer, unlike a front-end developer, creates code that typically executes on a web server on the Internet. Now if you recall, a front-end web developer, they create code that typically runs in a user's browser on their computer. So basically, it's executing on the user's computer contrasting that to a back-end developer who's typically creating code that executes on a web server somewhere on the Internet, i.e., not the user's computer.

Now, the back-end coder makes this layer or code available or basically makes available key functionality to the front-end developer or basically to any programmer who needs to access it to perform specific tasks, so things like accessing a database and so on. But it's probably best served by an example.

Let's use my Learn Programming Academy website again as an example. Now on that website, I've got a list of all my programming courses. Now when you visit this page here and then you click on Courses, then it lists all the various courses that I've got available. Now the front-end code, we're talking about how this code works, then actually contacts the web server and effectively asks for list of all the courses. So basically, the code is calling the back-end code and asking, "Can you give me a list of all the available courses?", in this case.

So, there may be no courses, there may be none, or whatever number there is. The back-end code, in this case, basically opens up the database. Now incidentally the database also resides on that web server. So, it's accessing that database locally again on the web server, which is somewhere on the Internet, and it retrieves the course information that it needs and sends it back over the Internet from the web server to the user's browser again where the front-end code, typically JavaScript or HTML, CSS, etc., well, JavaScript is gonna be the code that's executing to actually retrieve the information and HTML and CSS is gonna install that and share it on the screen.

So, basically what's happening again is the back-end code is sending the course information, I should say, back to the front-end code, which then basically formats it into a format you can see here on the screen and shows the list of all the various courses. Now scrolling the list of courses on the page, that's a process of the front-end. That's basically the front-end code that's actually scrolling it. It's already retrieved the information from the back-end code at this point in time and it's now basically starting it and providing the nice layout and fonts and so forth. But the ability to scroll that information, that's coming from the front-end. Now that's the case of if I'm retrieving all the courses.

But then if I click a link like one of the courses on the list, the Java Masterclass (see image),

if I click on a single link, what happens is, after that click is made by the user who's actually navigating the website, the front-end code will again call the back-end code so, it's setting up a list.

So, this time, instead of giving me a list of all the courses, it will send me just a list or the information for this one specific course (see image below).

So, what happens again is that the back-end code then goes back into its database, retrieves the data from the database, (in this example, the details of that one course: the Java Masterclass course), sends the information back over the Internet, back to the front-end code, effectively being executed, remember, on the user's browser or through the user's browser, and then basically gives that information or shows that information on the screen. In that case there, we've now got all the details about a specific course.

So, you can see what the back-end is doing here. Effectively the back-end code is exposing certain functions, like in these two examples I showed you, retrieving a list of all the courses or also retrieving the details of a specific course. But from the front-end code's perspective, it doesn't directly access the database. So, basically what's happening is, it's quite going off in calling the code that resides on the back-end and saying, just give me a list of courses. It's got no idea where that data is coming from. It's just called a particular function that the back-end code has made available to the front-end to actually retrieve that information.

Further to that, a lot of the key information like retrieving data, which database is used, and so on, that's usually hidden from the front-end code. So, the front-end code again has got no idea basically how that information came to be, where it came from, whether it came from a database or which database. Did it come from MySQL database, Postgres, or did it come from a text file on the web server or somewhere else in the cloud perhaps? The implementation, the bottom line here, is up to the back-end developer. What the back-end developer does is expose the functionality to, in this case, retrieve a list of all the courses or return a list of all the courses or a specific course.

Now obviously there's usually a lot more complexity to that, but that's it in a nutshell. And what that means is as a result of this, the back-end code could completely change the way that it's stored and retrieve the data, and the front-end code would still execute and be none the wiser that anything's changed. So long as the same call mechanism, the same API call hadn't changed, you'd still be calling it.

For the front-end developer, you'd call this function and retrieve a list of courses not knowing that the back-end code may have completely rewritten that code or used another database or accessed it from another place. So, I think that's pretty cool, the separation of concerns, if you will, and the ability to basically be a boxed function, if you will, and not have to know how the back-end code works.

All right. Let's now talk about some typical programming languages that would be used in back-end development. Now some of the more common ones, PHP is one, Java, C#, and Python, now that's just naming a few, but increasingly today, runtime environments like for example Node.js are blurring the lines of typical front-end and back-end code and that's because they're allowing what were traditionally front-end programming languages like JavaScript for example to now run on a web server and not just the user's browser, which it typically used to do. So, what that basically means is that you can now use Node.js, which is effectively JavaScript, for back-end development as well. I think that's pretty cool.

So, this is back-end development in a nutshell. And again just a reminder, the next post coming over this series will be part three. We're gonna go over the pros and cons of both front-end and back-end development, who gets paid more, and perhaps come up hopefully with a decision you can make as to which way you should go, whether you should be focusing on front-end or back-end or basically even a combined role, which is another possibility as well because some people, some programmers, web developers go for what's called full-stack development where they're actually able to basically focus on both ends. And we'll talk about full-stack development in a future discussion.

Well, for now though, that's back-end development. I hope that helped. If you've got any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

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