Building a website requires collaboration between many teams. To the untrained eye, front-end and back-end website development may look similar but in reality, they are very different.
Both are extremely important to build a website.
A strategic plan must be set in place to successfully build a website. Finding new ways to share information, communicate and establish responsibility will help you and your team get to the finish line faster.
To understand the difference, it’s important to understand how a website is displayed on your screen for the first time.
When you type in a URL in your browser, it conducts a series of inquiries. It looks up the IP address of the domain name, then locates the web server that hosts the web pages. It submits a request to that server for a copy of the page and then receives from the server. Finally, your browser translates the code on the web page to present the page on your screen.
Back-end developers establish data structures and build servers, applications, and databases. Essentially, they make sure that a browser is able to make a request to view the page, and that the ingredients for all the content is organized for the front end code to be based on.
Front-end developers create the part of the website that users interact with. The work they perform takes the ingredients organized by the back end developer and constructs them in a way that a browser can display the page so that a user can experience the page.
It’s imperative that both developers discuss major coding decisions in the early stages of a website build. Both front-end and back-end developers should agree upon certain aspects of the website code during planning and communicate frequently during the build.
You must decide, as a team, what elements are controlled by the Content Management System, and how. For example, if an area of content or line of text is going to be editable, that must be discussed. And how are you going to handle headings? With a word highlighted in another color? Another discussion.
Coding is situational and the bottom line is to make sure important decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.
Front-end developers are taught early that inline styles are inferior to other developing options but in some cases they are necessary. If it’s appropriate for an image to be a CSS background image and not an <img> element, you may have to use an inline background style. This allows the back end developer to point the image path from the database. It also may be appropriate to use an embedded stylesheet with media queries.
By using inline styles, you can serve multiple background image sizes for smaller devices. And if the CMS will have control over text or background color you may need to use inline styles in those cases too.
Developing a website is like a treasure hunt. The front-end team will need to provide the back end team a map and vice versa. This map will help each team member understand how the code is written and can include components like content modules and templates.
Content modules may repeat across several page templates and can be isolated or injected. What if there are slight variations? You’ll need to decide the best way to handle communicating each scenario with your team.
Whether you create an HTML skeleton or put your front-end code right on the template files, you’re still drawing a map for your back-end team.
Inline documentation is a fancy way to say “code comments.” Code comments offer a line of communication inside the code that provides context to fellow developers. They do not impact functionality.
Establishing a source of truth for the entire team during the website development process is very important. Creating this truth will allow everyone on the team to be in each other’s heads and know exactly what is going on when sifting through code. Inline documentation makes the entire process easier. Even the best development teams who have established the best practices still need inline documentation to communicate with ease.
If your content contains repeating sections with the same layout, you must identify which elements can only be used once and which need to be repeated so the whole team is on the same page.
Even the development teams who are in each other’s heads aren’t always able to decipher elements from the code itself alone. This is where inline documentation shines. Comments are important to prevent front-end fixes after the back end has completed the CMS integration.
Developing multilingual solutions for communicating unique element IDs, certain ARIA tags, or dynamic layout changes help keep communication flowing and the project moving.
As a front-end developer, I wish there were a silver bullet to easily bridge the gaps created but again, it’s situational and you’ll have to coordinate with the back-end team to determine what's appropriate.
No one said website development would be easy. It involves sifting through code, searching for treasure, endless hours of communication and sometimes a little sweat and blood. At the end of the day, it’s a team effort to build a website and finding creative ways to work together is all that matters.
Developer at Station Four