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What is Backend Web Development?

By Natalie Schooner on Aug 7, 2023

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The boring answer is that backend web development is the process of building the server-side of websites and web applications. It primarily focuses on handling the logic, data processing, and communication between the user’s web browser and the server.

The slightly more fun answer is backend web development is responsible for making websites and web applications do something interesting. For example, backend web dev is what crunches the numbers for an analytics dashboard, decides which TikTok video to show you next, and ensures that no one can hack into your bank account. When you click buttons, submit forms, or interact with any feature on a website, it’s the backend that springs into action, making things happen behind the scenes.

In my totally unbiased opinion, backend development as a whole is one of the best areas for career development for anyone who’s interested in being a programmer. You get to work with the coolest languages, like Go, Python, and Ruby. You get to learn about the most useful backend technologies, like MongoDB, and RabbitMQ.

And, while it has a steeper learning curve than frontend development, for example, it’s way more employable. (If you’re still feeling like frontend is better, definitely check out Boot.dev’s founder Lane’s diatribe on the subject of frontend versus backend.) And I haven’t even gotten to the salary of a backend developer yet. Which is substantial.

I want to be clear that in this article, I’m going to narrow my focus a little bit. I’ll be talking specifically about what backend web development is, as opposed to backend game development or backend mobile development.

Let’s get into answering the question, “What is backend web development?”

🔗 What does a Backend Web Developer do?

A backend web developer makes websites and web apps do cool stuff, AKA anything that happens on the server side of web development. Backend web developers handle the logic, databases, and server operations that power the website or web application.

In the day-to-day, that breaks down to the following tasks.

🔗 Server-Side Logic Development

This means you design and implement the business logic, data processing, and application flow that powers the web application.

For example, if you work on the backend of an e-commerce website, you would create algorithms to calculate shipping costs based on location, package weight, and delivery speed preferences.

🔗 Database Management

Bad data equals a bad backend. That’s why it’s your job to handle data storage and retrieval, and ensure data integrity. You’ll also choose an appropriate database system and optimize database queries to significantly impact your application’s performance and responsiveness.

For example, in a healthcare industry web application, you would manage patient records, appointments, and medical data, ensuring confidentiality and efficient retrieval of information for healthcare professionals. If you’re interestesd in learning more about SQL and databases check out our Learn SQL course here.

🔗 Security and Authentication

You’ll be in charge of implementing measures like user authentication, data encryption, and protection against common security vulnerabilities. For example, you might set up two-factor authentication to enhance user account security and prevent unauthorized access to sensitive financial data in a banking application.

🔗 API Development

APIs are to backend web developers what recipes are to chefs. They provide a set of instructions and rules that guide the creation and interaction of different components to achieve the desired outcome efficiently and consistently.

APIs facilitate communication between the frontend and backend, allowing seamless data exchange and interaction. Developing well-designed and documented APIs is crucial for enabling other developers to build on top of the application or for integrating it with external services.

For example, you might find yourself creating a RESTful API that allows mobile applications to access and display real-time data from the web application’s database, enhancing user engagement and experience.

🔗 Collaboration

As I mentioned with API development, you’ll be collaborating with front-end engineers on API design, since so often an API will be a bridge between their design work and your backend logic. In larger organizations, you should also expect to collaborate with DevOps infrastructure folks on developing and employing architecture, as well as anything that’s in the cloud. (In smaller organizations, there’s a good chance you’ll be doing that yourself)

🔗 Everything else

Backend web developers are responsible for more than that, but those are the main beats. You’d also be running server deployment, testing and bug fixes, version control, and monitoring and troubleshooting. I recommend you check out our blog post on backend job description to give you more insight into what a backend web developer does.

🔗 Backend web development tech

Now let’s get more into the nitty gritty of backend web development. What kind of technology can you expect to use? What frameworks should you be familiar with?

🔗 Key components and technologies

For backend web development, you’ll need to be familiar with at least one language like Python, Go, Ruby, Java, and PHP to implement that backend logic. Databases such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or NoSQL databases manage data storage and retrieval.

We’ve covered the best backend programming languages, and we’ve talked about the top SQL databases as well as noSQL databases, which are gaining in popularity as they’re better at storing unstructured data like texts, photos, videos, and PDF files. Here’s a quick rundown:

🔗 Top Backend Languages

Language Category Winner Who’s hiring?
Go Fastest growing Uber, Delivery Hero, Trivago, YouTube, Spotify
Python Most used for beginners AirBnB, SpaceX, Stripe
JavaScript Most used Facebook, Google, eBay
Rust Most loved Meta, AWS, Discord, Mozilla, Brave
Java Legacy LinkedIn, PayPal, Netflix
PHP Most likely to linger Meta, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Slack
Ruby Highest paid Crunchbase, Twitter, Etsy
SQL Best non-programming backend language Accenture, Dell, Microsoft

🔗 Top SQL Databases

PostgreSQL Go-to database for production, high-volume data operations
SQLite Most widely-deployed database in the world because it’s so lightweight
MySQL “Standard” SQL database, though being overtaken by PostgreSQL
MariaDB A fork of MySQL, fully open source, 12+ storage engines and 2000k+ connection
Oracle Not as customizable as MySQL, but better for a higher degree of scalability
Microsoft SQL Server/MSSQL Better for Windows-based projects that gel well with Microsoft products

🔗 Top NoSQL Databases

MongoDB Most popular, “standard” option
Redis More limited query functionality, but optimized for ephemeral work – caching and in-memory data structuring
Elasticsearch For search and log analysis
Firebase Cloud-hosted, optimized for “back-end as a service”
Cassandra Very distributed and scalable database, used for extremely high volume workloads

If you’ve been here before, you know how we feel about learning web frameworks: in short, don’t start your learning hjourney with them, because using frameworks as a shortcut can hinder your long-term learning and understanding.

But – once you’ve got a solid grasp of the fundamentals, frameworks can be an awesome tool to cut down on repetition and make you a more efficient backend web developer.

Here are some of the top web development frameworks:

  • Django: A high-level Python web framework great for its robustness, scalability, and built-in features for rapid backend development. Read more about Django for backend development here.
  • Flask: Another Python web framework, Flask is lightweight and flexible, ideal for building small to medium-sized backend applications. (Here’s our Django vs Flask comparison.)
  • FastAPI: A modern Python web framework known for its speed and simplicity, well-suited for building high-performance APIs. (Here’s our Django vs FastAPI comparison.)
  • Ruby on Rails: A full-stack web application framework written in Ruby, which includes backend capabilities and follows a convention-over-configuration approach.
  • Express.js: While it’s primarily a Node.js web application framework, Express.js is used for backend development to create APIs and handle server-side logic.
  • ASP.NET Core: A cross-platform, high-performance framework for building backend web applications with .NET.
  • Laravel: A PHP web application framework that provides expressive syntax and a range of tools for backend development.

There are plenty more, but those are a good jumping-off point.

🔗 Frontend vs. Backend Web Development

So what’s the main difference between frontend web development and backend web development?

Frontend web development focuses on creating the user interface and user experience, while backend web development deals with server-side logic, data processing, and database management. Frontend brings the application to life for users, while backend powers the application behind the scenes.

To illustrate this, imagine you go on your favorite food delivery website. The menu you choose from, the form you fill out to make your order, the button you click to place it – that’s designed and developed by the frontend dev team.

The backend web dev team works on… basically everything else. The menu items are stored in a database developed and managed by the backend web dev team. The logic that takes your order, processes your payment, and ensures you safely authenticate – that’s all backend.

I think of them as two sides of the same coin. Both are working on the same website or web app but with vastly different roles and skill sets.

We’ve covered the distinction in greater depth here in our blog post on frontend vs backend, but that’s the main thrust.

🔗 Backend web dev vs other types of backend dev

It’s pretty easy to grasp the distinction between frontend versus backend web development, but what about backend web development versus other kinds of backend development? Let’s look at three other kinds as an example.

I find that the differences break down to what you’re optimizing for, which differs on cell phone apps, games, IoT devices, and websites or web apps. But the fundamentals remain more or less the same.

🔗 Backend game development

Backend web development deals with web applications and APIs, while backend game development focuses on handling game servers, player data, and real-time multiplayer interactions for video games. Technologies like Node.js, Unity, and Unreal Engine are common choices for backend game devs.

Both require efficient data processing, but backend game development may prioritize low latency and real-time communication for a seamless gaming experience.

🔗 Backend mobile development

Backend mobile development, as the name implies, handles the server-side aspects of mobile apps. Both backend types may handle user authentication, data storage, and API design, but backend mobile development may also involve push notifications and mobile-specific features.

Popular technologies for mobile backend development include Firebase, AWS Mobile Hub, and custom API services.

🔗 Backend IoT development

Backend IoT development creates the infrastructure and backend services that enable communication and data processing for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Both backend IoT and web development handle server-side logic, but IoT development emphasizes real-time data processing, device communication, and scalability for handling a massive number of connected devices.

IoT backend development often involves technologies like MQTT, CoAP, or custom cloud platforms to handle IoT data and device communication.

🔗 Salary and job outlook

Money shouldn’t be everything, but it makes sense that it’s a focus for any newcomers to backend web development.

Luckily, StackOverflow runs a survey each year including some fascinating global salary data. The roles don’t exactly match up to what I’d call them, but here’s the best summary I can make:

Role Annual salary
Developer, back-end $76,034
Developer, game or graphics $71,007
Developer, desktop or enterprise applications $70,759
Developer, mobile $68,192.5
Developer, front-end $59,970

Different factors affect expected salary levels, such as location, experience level, and the company hiring. Also, keep in mind that these figures are global, so if you’re in a country like the United States, salaries are much higher in reality. It’s also worth mentioning that with some upskilling into cloud dev, DevOps, and database administration, you can do the same job, but with a better paycheck:

Cloud infrastructure engineer $105,000
DevOps specialist $80,158.5
Database administrator $78,686.5

I’ve talked about “alternative” or more specialized backend web dev roles here:

In terms of job lookout, the number of websites and web apps is not getting any smaller. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the role of “web developer” (an imperfect match up to backend web dev) to grow 23 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is way faster than most jobs they projected, which was just 0.5 percent.

🔗 Conclusion

So, after this whole blog post, let’s review. What is Backend Web Development? Backend web developers make websites and web applications do something interesting.

But it’s more than that. Backend web dev is awesome. It’s literally the backbone of the modern internet. Not only that, but it’s a fantastic career with tons of job prospects depending on what area you prefer to branch into.

Hopefully, this blog post gave you a brief overview of the field and you’ve got a better idea of what backend web development is.

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