The Full Guide to Web Development

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Kelly Wilson
Written by Kelly Wilson

Strategist and entrepreneur, with experience in hiring developers across various industries. Kelly has established herself as a trusted expert in identifying and recruiting top tech talent. She shares advanced tips on how to identify the right talent, create hiring strategies, develop your tech teams and much more.

Expertise: IT Recruiting, Tech, Marketing

Web development is an exciting, ever-evolving field with almost infinite possibilities. Dive in to discover more about different aspects of web development and their importance in today’s digital age.

The full guide to web development - cover image

If you are reading this guide, it is because web developers made it possible. Most countries today rely on internet-powered and cloud-based applications for business, shopping, entertainment, communications, and news. In just over 30 years since the birth of the World Wide Web, it has become an integral part of many everyday functions.

The first website, created in 1991, consisted of simple text with hyperlinks. Web development has come a long way in a short time and is now capable of creating responsive, dynamic content of all kinds using a wide variety of tools and techniques.

What Is Web Development?

Web development is somewhat of an umbrella term, covering all aspects of website and web application creation, construction, and maintenance. Sub-fields include web programming, database management, web design, and web publishing. To further narrow the scope, there are front-end and back-end development areas.

We will take a moment to define these terms:

  • Database management: Huge amounts of data reside in various databases. Database management systems are interfaces that facilitate data storage, retrieval, and queries. Database management includes creating, editing, viewing, and updating databases.

  • Web design: Websites and applications follow layouts and structures determined by a web designer. Web design incorporates functionality, user experience, intuitive and easy navigation, and aesthetics.

  • Web programming: Websites run on scripting and coding. Web programming provides the code to process user actions, control data, and produce dynamic content.

  • Web publishing: Web pages and websites consist of unique content. Web publishing involves creating websites and their pages, uploading and formatting content, posting the content on the internet, and maintaining and updating these digital products.

Each of these areas requires different skill sets, technologies, and tools, and all are necessary for internet- and cloud-based digital solutions.

The Anatomy of a Web Application

Retail businesses and stores have areas that are open to the public, with other areas only accessible to employees. The back rooms typically have space for inventory, order processing, shipping and receiving, and other behind-the-scenes functions that are necessary for business operations. Many have reception areas or customer service desks to handle customer visits and issues, serving as somewhat of a middleman.

You can apply that concept to web applications to gain a better understanding of how they work. End users view and manipulate front-end features. Programming and other necessary functions take place on the back-end, out of public view. User interfaces are the middlemen that allow users to communicate with back-end functions and features.

Front-end development focuses on the client side of a web application, with front-end developers determining how a site or page looks to end users. If a user can see it, a front-end developer created it.

Back-end development, sometimes called server-side development, makes the overall website or application work and function as expected. This is the behind-closed-doors structure that users cannot see but is integral to proper functionality.

Importance and Scope of Web Development in the Digital Age

To demonstrate the far-reaching importance of web development in this digital age, review a few relevant statistics:

  • Worldwide, 5.44 billion people use the internet, which is around 67% of the global population. 5.07 billion of these users utilize social media.

  • Global projections indicate that 7.3 billion people will use the internet by 2029.

  • In 2024, e-commerce should account for 20.1% of global retail sales, with that figure expected to rise to 22.6% in 2027. Projected sales figures for 2024 are $6.3 billion, with almost $8 billion in sales expected in 2027.

  • Over 55% of U.S. consumers prefer online shopping, with 41% of Americans opting to utilize mobile banking apps.

  • 71% of small businesses have websites, with that number expected to grow.

  • Google.com has an average of 175 billion visits every month.

  • The number of global smartphone users should reach 7.1 billion by December 2024, with that number expected to reach 7.7 billion in 2027.

Businesses in almost every industry rely on internet-powered solutions for communications, transactions, logistics, and a multitude of other vital operational needs. Consumer usage and dependency continue to grow. With the advent of AI-powered functions, technological capabilities are expanding by leaps and bounds.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for web developers should continue to grow at a much-faster-than-average rate of 16% until at least 2032. Play an active part in creating the future now by becoming a web developer.

Foundational Technologies

Computers and web applications communicate through coded markup languages and multimedia packages, which form the foundation and structure of all web development. The markup languages are not the same as coding languages, which have different purposes.

We will briefly explore the most popular of these building blocks to give you a taste of their uses. The “big three” markup languages are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but we will also cover XML, as it applies to various kinds of data. HTML gives web pages structure, CSS gives them style, and JavaScript brings them to life.

Technologies in Web Development

HTML: Basics and Structure

HyperText Markup Language is the primary web building block. This language provides structure to web content and defines various design elements.

Hypertext links connect web pages, and a typical link in text form is underlined and blue, like this. These links might also be in the form of buttons that users can click on to take them to other pages. Links provide simple, seamless navigation from one element to another.

Most people follow multiple hyperlinks daily. Browser searches display various results, and users can click on the result to take a shortcut to the displayed content.

HTML defines various types of web content, including text, image, audio, and video files. Tags are not case sensitive, but a distinct format is required. To designate a title, for example, the correct HTML format is “<title>”.

HTML5 is the latest version of HTML, providing many benefits:

  • Cost effectiveness

  • Cross referencing

  • Easy to use

  • Flexibility

  • Interactive experiences

  • Multimodal

  • Non-linear navigation

Web developers often use node networks to organize hypertext, with each node being a single piece of content, and the borders between nodes being hyperlinks.

XML: Application Programming Interfaces

The Extensible Markup Language establishes pre-defined rules for defining, storing, and sharing data. This tool uses consistent formatting to allow cross-platform usage and is self-descriptive.

Most programming languages enable computing operations. However, XML does not. Basically, XML uses tags that look similar to HTML tags to define and transfer data. Unlike HTML tags, XML tags are not predefined; the author creates unique tags. The author has to define the document structure and each tag.

An example of a title stored in XML format is: <title>The Full Guide to Web Development</title>

XML data storage is formatted in plain text, making it accessible to most computer systems. It supports different versions of an application, which simplifies platform data modifications, new browsers or apps, and operating system upgrades.

CSS: Styling and Layout

Cascading Style Sheets is another vital markup language that allows for XML and HTML page styling, structuring, and layouts. Without CSS, all web pages would look almost identical. CSS brings customization options for documents, images, and animations.

After choosing a selector, the web developer includes declarations inside a set of curved brackets: { }. Declarations consist of property and value pairs; for instance, the property might be “color” with the value being “blue.” Properties are various design elements, and values are the desired quality.

CSS modules are popular due to the large variety of elements that styling can apply to, such as:

  • Animations and images

  • Box model, alignment, and sizing

  • Color, color adjustments, and color blending

  • Layouts, including multiple columns, position, and grid

  • Shapes, transitions, and fonts

Modules allow more control, reusable components, and multiple page layers with a reduced chance of conflicting styles that might produce unintended complications.

JavaScript: Introduction and Basic Concepts

Used for complex and dynamic web features such as animations, real-time content modifications, and interactive forms, JavaScript is a robust client-side scripting language. JavaScript enables specific web page features to function fully. If something on your screen changes without you refreshing the page, JavaScript is probably responsible.

Scripting languages can automate processes when specific requirements are met. A few of the most common uses of JavaScript include:

  • While JS is more common for front-end development, it also has back-end capabilities.

  • Browser-based gaming utilizes JavaScript to enable real-time interactions.

  • Mobile apps for phones, tablets, and other portable devices use JS.

  • JS powers most dynamic, responsive online features.

There are two ways to utilize JavaScript files: by attaching a .js file or embedding them into web pages. Although some web development projects use “vanilla” JavaScript, which refers to using the language alone without any tools, most JS projects utilize frameworks and libraries of reusable, customizable functions.

React JS and jQuery are both widely used libraries that house various individual components. Frameworks, such as Angular and Vue, are templates that developers can use by inserting code into various spaces to simplify and speed up the process.

Front-End Development

A website has 15 seconds to capture a viewer’s interest before they leave. Around 55% of internet users spend even less than 15 seconds viewing web pages that are not appealing to them. Whether page loading speed, unappealing presentation, device-inappropriate formatting, uninteresting content, or unclear navigation is the cause, it is clear that consumers have certain expectations that front-end developers must meet to be successful.

Front-end development includes everything that a site user sees. User interfaces are visual elements that allow users to view and interact with your application. The UI also decides how device responses to user actions appear on screens. Incorporating a user-friendly, intuitive UI into digital products is a must.

Retaining site or app visitors past 15 seconds is a challenge, but it is not the only one front-end developers face. At one time, computer screens were the only way people could access the internet. Today, people utilize a wide variety of devices, such as laptops, tablets, smartphones, TVs, and smartwatches. Each type of device has various screen sizes, resolutions, and aspect ratios. For site or app content to appear correctly on every device, optimization is necessary for each scenario.

As if that were not enough challenges, there are a lot of features that consumers expect. Voice activation and control, personalized content, 3D components, high-resolution images and video content, and real-time interactions are only a few of the features that can make your site or app engaging. Designing digital solutions that cater to user expectations and promote positive user experiences is vital.

With so many things to consider, how do front-end developers get their jobs done effectively? There are multiple tools, many of which have reusable components, to make these tasks easier.

Advanced CSS Techniques

Visual appeal is an important part of a positive user experience. Advanced CSS tools simplify many layout and design choices. These tools help developers create cross-functional apps and websites that work well regardless of browser versions. Benefits include faster project development, a reduced risk of coding errors, the ability to create complex digital products, and enhanced appearance.

There are many of these techniques, each of which provides value. A few examples will give you an idea of their versatility and usefulness.

CSS Flexbox

Natural-looking spacing between visual elements makes them more appealing. Flexbox helps developers organize and align multiple items within a flexible container, along a single vertical or horizontal axis. Automated calculations determine the correct spacing between items for a maximized visual appearance.

Flexbox is a flexible, highly responsive tool. The container is expandable, allowing for easy modifications and the insertion of more items.

CSS Transform and CSS Transition

Hovering the cursor over an image enlarges it for easier viewing in some applications. CSS Transform and CSS Transition make that feature possible. Transform changes or moves 2D or 3D elements by rotating, scaling, and skewing them. Transition makes these changes fast and smooth rather than abrupt.

CSS Grid

Along with spacing between items, having various visual elements arranged in rows and columns increases a web page’s appeal. CSS Grid is a flexible tool that simplifies layouts using containers, items, tracks, lines, areas, and cells.

JavaScript Frameworks and Libraries

Although each web page or application is unique, there are many consistent functions and features. Although web developers could code each one from scratch for every use case, it would take a long time and be prone to errors.

JavaScript is one of the main building blocks for front-end development, with almost 99% of websites using this versatile markup language. There are over 80 existing JS libraries and at least 24 JS frameworks, each containing invaluable tools to aid front-end development.

JS Libraries

JS libraries contain data provided by various developers to simplify digital projects. Methods, classes, and fully coded functions save time, eliminate repetitive coding, and facilitate cross-browser compatibility.

Some of the most popular JS libraries are:

  • jQuery : open-source, lightweight, minimalistic API, versatile, extendable

  • React : MIT license, in-memory cache, selective rendering, page layout recalculations, single-page and mobile applications

  • Lodash : MIT license, mathematical operations, arrays, string functions, composite functions

Accessing and utilizing various libraries can provide invaluable resources.

JS Frameworks

The templates provided by JS frameworks are versatile and robust. Both front- and back-end developers can customize these frameworks to suit specific needs and app architectures.

Popular JS frameworks include:

  • Angular : open-source, improved functionality, integrated testing and support, includes four data libraries, fast real-time interaction capabilities, end-to-end framework for enterprise applications

  • Bootstrap : MIT license, pre-built responsive grid components and system, plugins, themes, open-source SVG icons, SaaS variables, mixins

  • Vue.js : MIT license, core library and other library access, extremely fast, versatile, reactive, minimal manual optimization

Frameworks have multiple uses, including app and website building, module bundling, debugging and testing code, automating tedious tasks, and building modular scripts.

Pros and Cons of Using Frameworks

Frameworks have multiple associated benefits, but they also have a few drawbacks. Alternatives to using frameworks are creating new solutions and using specific libraries.

Some advantages of utilizing frameworks include:

  • Developer community knowledge base

  • Well-defined, simplified structuring

  • Standardized coding across teams

  • Increased productivity with reduced repetition

  • Simplified, stable, highly functional development processes and resulting digital products

  • Easier testing and maintenance

Although some frameworks are capable of supporting larger products, most frameworks are better suited to small projects.

As appealing as these benefits are, developers should also carefully consider the disadvantages of using frameworks, including the presence of unneeded features and the specialized knowledge associated with utilizing individual frameworks.

Developers should consider specific project details, requirements, and goals along with framework usage advantages and disadvantages to help them decide whether to use a JS framework. Other factors to include in the decision-making process are the skill levels of team members, potential security issues, licensing costs, project and team sizes, support options, and organizational policies.

The Evolution of Web Development technologies

Responsive Web Design Principles

Developers use responsive web design to make websites and pages adaptable for various devices. A page’s content and structuring adjust automatically, changing layouts, font and image sizes, and revealing or omitting content for an optimized user experience regardless of the device a person uses.

Technology changes often, offering new and improved features and functionality. Web developers should keep themselves up to date with advances. Regularly researching leaders and competitors in your industry is also useful, often inspiring creativity and innovative concepts.

Following these best practices helps developers create highly responsive digital products that are pleasing to users.

Use Card Patterns

By utilizing card UI patterns as content containers, developers can move them around easily. This tool saves considerable time when designing layouts.

Consider Breakpoints

A fully responsive website can adapt to five different breakpoints:

  1. Smartphone - portrait

  2. Smartphone - landscape

  3. Tablet - portrait

  4. Tablet - landscape

  5. Desktop

For some projects, developers choose to use only three breakpoints: smartphone, tablet, and desktop. Cross-platform apps may require additional consideration to address potential performance issues on Android and iOS devices.

Enlarge Buttons for Optimized Usability

Various buttons on a screen perform different functions. User interactions are easier when the buttons are larger and not too close together.

Make Everything Responsive

If only some elements are responsive, the web page or website is not fully optimized. This can lead to various problems and user dissatisfaction. From text blocks and images to layouts and other components, make everything on a page flexible to achieve ultimate responsiveness.

Follow a Mobile-First Approach

Planning a layout for a small screen is more exacting and tedious than for larger viewports. Begin with the smallest size; then you can add additional elements as you scale up to larger screens.

Use Scalar Vector Graphics

SVGs are highly adaptable. Because they rely on image paths, their resolution changes to fit various screen sizes without losing image integrity. SVG logos and icons are particularly effective use cases.

Choose Content Prioritization and Visibility Carefully

There are various types of content that do not have to remain visible at all times on a screen. Tools like navigational drawers and progressive disclosure hide content when it is not in use but provide easy access to users through clicking links when needed.

Embrace Minimalism

In responsive web design, less is more. Minimalistic design enables faster loading times, reduces distracting clutter, promotes consistency across devices, enhances search engine optimization, and can create more satisfying user experiences.

Include Image Modifications

Mobile devices sometimes take longer to load larger file sizes, so optimizing for responsive design includes cropping, re-sizing, and compressing images. Responsive images load faster, use less resources, and look natural on any screen.

Web Accessibility Best Practices

Your potential users might have various limitations that make accessing, viewing, and interacting with websites and applications challenging. These might be physical or cognitive impairments, unfamiliarity with technology, or other forms of disability.

Developers need to provide multiple ways for users to input and receive information. Web accessibility best practices include:

  • Being consistent

  • Choosing obviously associated labeling for various elements in fillable forms

  • Furnishing alternative text to describe media and images

  • Giving users feedback and confirmation that their actions are recorded

  • Grouping related or like elements

  • Including user-friendly, intuitive page or site navigation options

  • Integrating multiple elements in addition to color to provide information

  • Letting users control whether content starts automatically

  • Providing enough contrast between backgrounds and foregrounds

  • Selecting easily identifiable interactive elements

  • Using clear language

  • Utilizing responsive design for the maximum number of breakpoints

When developers integrate accessibility features into their digital products, they are allowing the maximum number of users to utilize them. Often, the accommodations made for one group of people also benefit others.

Short Summary of UI/UX Design Principles

User interface and user experience design are related but not identical. A user interface should be aesthetically appealing and easy to use. UX design focuses on user satisfaction, expectations, needs, functionality, and usability. A successful UI can enhance UX.

User interfaces allow users to interact with digital devices, applications, and websites. Although UIs include visual elements, there are several kinds of user interfaces:

  • Command-Line UI: Users must input text.

  • Gesture-Based UI: Users trigger responses by making specific gestures.

  • Graphical UI: Users interact through visual elements, such as menus, icons, and buttons.

  • Landing Page UI: A site’s landing page contains all interfaces.

  • Menu-Driven UI: Users navigate via menus.

  • Touchscreen UI: Users touch icons or areas on display screens.

  • Voice-Controlled UI: Spoken commands control functions.

To promote accessibility, functionality, and UX, developers can include multiple input methods in their UI designs.

Importance of User-Centric Design

Consumers are picky and exacting. They know what they want, and they will find someone else to provide it if you cannot. User-centric design focuses on providing users with functionality, usability, a manageable cognitive load, and various options for controlling their interactions. In turn, this design concept engages and retains users, establishes emotional connections, and creates loyal, satisfied customers.

UX research is a vital part of user-centric design because it provides meaningful, actionable data to guide design decisions. Rather than guessing if users will want and like your potential digital product, you can save time and money by investing in thorough research.

Basic Principles of UI/UX Design

Creating a successful UI using a user-centric approach should follow several basic principles:

  • Be consistent with various design elements, such as font, color, and layout choices, within web pages, websites, apps, and other brand items.

  • Clearly highlight user tasks.

  • Enhance usability with easy-to-use features and navigation.

  • Focus on clarity.

  • Integrate accessibility options into UIs and other digital products.

  • Keep it simple to navigate and use.

  • Optimize performance and speed to help users complete tasks easily.

  • Plan the layout and all included elements carefully to create positive emotional connections between users and your digital products.

  • Put user preferences, needs, and expectations first.

  • Validate user actions with immediate, noticeable feedback.

There are multiple benefits to using this design approach. Users who have positive interactions with an e-commerce site, for example, are likely to buy from you more often, and their average order value will likely increase. Gaming apps with attractive graphics that are loaded with desirable features are likely to attract more users, particularly those that allow multi-player interactions.

The more user satisfaction you create, the more successful your web development projects should be. This can lead to increased profits, brand awareness and loyalty, and new opportunities.

Back-End Development

Back-end development deals with the parts of websites and other digital products that users cannot see. This “back room” is where most of the product’s work gets done. Back-ends usually include a server, a database, and an application that runs on the server.

Back-end developers write the code that makes a website function. Their areas of focus include back-end logic, databases, architecture, application programming interfaces, and servers. Some of the code they write allows different components to communicate with each other.

Back-end developers typically have specialties, while back-end engineers look at the bigger picture. When different teams work on a project, they all need to collaborate to create the finished product. These teams might include researchers, front- and back-end developers, architects, product managers, and QA testers.

Similar to front-end development, back-end projects have their own scripting languages, tools, best practices, requirements, and goals. Server-side code is powerful and can enable many features.

When someone uses a web browser, their request goes through a web server to back-end programming. The route varies, depending on whether the site is static or dynamic. Front-end solutions deal with how data is displayed and how web pages behave, while server-side programming determines which content is needed to fulfill user requests.

Server-Side Scripting Languages

With the exception of JavaScript, which is compatible with both front- and back-end projects, server-side languages and operating system environments are specific to back-end development.

Server code manages databases, storing and retrieving the right data and delivering the data to the user. It also enables personalized content and efficient data delivery to enhance user experience. Other capabilities include:

  • Restricting specific content to authorized users only

  • Automated notifications via multiple communication options

  • Session storage

  • Data analysis to improve content response decisions

There are several server-side scripting languages, and each has different strengths. Back-end developers should choose the one(s) that best suits project requirements.

C#

A general-purpose language, C#, is great for cross-platform projects. Microsoft releases new C# versions regularly, making improvements and adding features. Notable characteristics include:

  • Easy to learn because it shares similarities with other commonly used languages

  • Versatile and powerful

  • Syntactic sugar features that enable easier code reading and writing

  • Uses Common Language Infrastructure

  • Does not support multiple inheritance

  • Focused on Windows, although it is compatible with many other platforms and frameworks

  • Licensure required for larger company use, free version available to some parties

Many games and web or mobile apps use the C# toolkit.

Java

Java is an open-source code that is universal and powerful. It also encompasses an ecosystem and platform used for many kinds of development projects. Notable characteristics include:

  • Great for projects that require high resource usage due to its ability to handle multiple independent threads

  • Uses object-oriented approach

  • Easy scalability that allows servers to simultaneously process multiple application instances

  • Various security measures

  • Slow performance due to virtual machine requirements

  • Licensure necessary for commercial usage

  • Complex code structure

  • Requires the use of third-party tools and libraries

Developer preferences and project requirements can help you decide if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Node.js

Node.js is a programming environment that supports server-side JavaScript development, not a scripting language in its own right. Google’s Chrome V8 engine served as the inspiration for Node.js. Notable characteristics include:

  • Supports full-stack development

  • Open-source code with Node.js foundation support resources

  • High performance, suitable for real-time apps

  • Highly scalable and lightweight

  • Suitable for microservice architecture

  • Not appropriate for data science projects because it lags with heavy computation needs

  • Needs clean architecture to run properly

  • Does not have core tools or libraries

Walmart, eBay, and PayPal are among the many companies using Node.js.

PHP

PHP is very versatile for various purposes. PHP projects can run on almost any operating system. Notable characteristics include:

  • Regular updates

  • Multiple built-in security features

  • Open-source, with many free PHP libraries

  • Used to develop automated features

  • Easy to use

  • Dynamic typing makes context-based differences

  • Can be hard to scale

  • Not as many libraries as more modern languages

  • Unsuitable for mobile or desktop apps

  • Can be slow

Regardless of web project complexity, PHP can handle it.

Python

Created in 1991, Python remains a powerful, versatile, and widely popular programming language. The large Python community boasts millions of developers along with many libraries. Notable characteristics include:

  • Open-source

  • Embeddable into some other source codes

  • Many resources and tools available

  • Lightweight

  • Dynamically typed

  • Supports functional, object-oriented, and aspect-oriented developments

  • Access layer is more basic than some

  • Slowdowns caused by interrupted executions

  • Difficulty identifying bugs during testing

Developers also use Python for many machine-learning and AI projects.

Ruby

From its origin in Japan, Ruby gained popularity alongside the Ruby on Rails framework. The language is intuitive and powerful. Notable characteristics include:

  • Open-source

  • Object-oriented language

  • Uses the principle of least surprise

  • Flexibility

  • Simple syntax

  • Easy to learn

  • Potential for inappropriate code changes by inexperienced developer misuse

  • Large memory consumption

  • Typically slower executions than other languages

  • Some issues caused by metaprogramming

Many developers prefer to use Ruby, but it may not be the best option for extremely large projects due to some limitations.

Web Frameworks and Their Usage

Back-end developers can utilize frameworks to make server-side programming easier. Web frameworks provide libraries and tools that promote functionality and save time. There are many popular frameworks to choose from, including:

  • Django: Python-based, open-source, suitable for projects of all sizes, scalable deliverables, model-template-views pattern, highly secure, huge community support, versatile, optimized for SEO, rapid development

  • Express JS: JavaScript-based, free, reusable codes, templating engines, advanced routing, simplified debugging, easy to learn, fast development

  • CakePHP : MIT license, model-view-controller pattern, simplified database interactions, rapid application development, plugins, migrations

  • Ruby on Rails : open-source, model-view-controller pattern, compatible with HTML, CSS, and JS UIs, highly supportive community, cost efficient, Active Record library, gems

Why do server-side developers use frameworks? The majority of the work done on building a given application takes place on the back-end, and the back-end is responsible for many tasks. Using various frameworks can save time and money, reduce coding errors, and increase user satisfaction.

Tasks accomplished by the server side include:

  • User authentication

  • Transmitting information to and from databases and front-end UIs

  • Processing and storing user data

  • Managing application logic

  • Running various hosting environments

  • Handling APIs

  • Managing security

Server-side frameworks provide simplified methods of writing the code necessary to perform all these functions and more.

Database Management

Databases store various types of data, but database management is more than just hosting the data. Database management includes storing, selecting, retrieving, updating, and modifying data. When a client makes a request, the server responds by utilizing data.

There are several steps in the request-response cycle, and an example makes them easier to understand:

  1. A user’s click or other input method creates an event, which in turn makes a request to a specific location using a uniform resource identifier.

  2. The request traverses the internet, reaching the closest server that meets the request’s criteria.

  3. Through active listening, the server receives the request.

  4. The event listeners trigger middleware to handle the request.

  5. Server code queries the database to locate and identify the data needed to fulfill the request.

  6. After the query’s execution, the database sends the appropriate data back to the server.

  7. The server receives the data and processes it in preparation for responding.

  8. The response travels back from the server to the client.

  9. The user interface transforms the data into visual elements according to formatting parameters.

  10. The user views the data.

This entire cycle often takes much less than one second. With all these moving parts, the programming for each must be exact. Efficient, effective, and secure database management is vital.

SQL vs. NoSQL

There are two main types of digital databases. Each stores data, but they have marked differences. SQL databases are relational, meaning that there are pre-determined relationships between the data items stored there. As you might guess, NoSQL databases are non-relational.

Users manage data in relational databases using the Structured Query Language, or SQL. These databases use tables with rows and columns to organize well-structured data, linking the tables through foreign keys.

To scale SQL databases, you need to add more storage components to your servers. Cloud-based solutions allow for more scalability.

NoSQL databases use flexible structures that accommodate unstructured, semi-structured, and structured data. Users do not use SQL to formulate queries; these databases use various languages or no language at all for querying.

NoSQL databases handle workloads with clusters of multiple nodes. To scale them, you will need to add additional servers.

NoSQL does not have fixed data models, instead using key-value, document-oriented, or graph-based models. The dynamic schema supports agility, particularly when data changes quickly and often.

CRUD Operations

CRUD is an acronym, standing for four necessary data functionalities in software:

  • Create

  • Read

  • Update

  • Delete

CRUD apps need a user interface for user interactions, a database for data storage and retrieval, and a server or application programming interface to define and control how the process works. CRUD operations provide the functions to manage data efficiently.

Due to its simplicity, many developers choose CRUD operations for smaller projects. They use a lot of resources, potentially making them unsuitable for complex or large systems. CRUD operations do not require a specific data format, and they do not have specific server communication protocols.

As with most solutions, CRUD operations have pros and cons. CRUD allows you to manage data in any database, regardless of its structure. This is a straightforward, simple method for handling relatively simple datasets. However, CRUD must be implemented correctly to avoid security problems, and the lack of a structured API request handling approach presents challenges.

API Development and Integration

Application programming interfaces are sets of protocols and definitions that allow communication between software components in the client and server. In this context, the client is the software making a request and the server is the software sending a response.

As core components of most applications, many APIs are reusable building blocks that developers can customize to fit project parameters. Rather than writing and testing code for each and every point of data exchanges, using APIs saves development time and money while simplifying the overall process. Because APIs are already tested, they also reduce the chance of coding errors.

Most APIs use RPC, SOAP, Websocket, or REST architectures. Representational State Transfer, or REST, APIs are the most widely used for modern web applications. Any API can be private, public, partner, or composite to restrict or allow access.

API integrations automatically sync or update data in real time. Employee message boards, inventory management systems, clock and weather apps, photo backups, and online payment processing are a few real-world examples of API integrations in action.

REST APIs

REST architecture has several properties that make it a leading choice for many developers. RESTful applications use a layered system to run several simultaneous tasks, including application logic, security, and business logic, each working toward the common goal of providing a response to client requests.

Stateless RESTful solutions process each request from the client individually, allowing clients to use their own prioritization when making requests. REST APIs define cacheable and non-cacheable content, enabling clients to cache, or store, appropriate data. This caching reduces the number of client-server interactions or does away with them altogether, saving time and increasing user satisfaction.

RESTful architecture uses uniform interfaces to standardize responses. REST servers can send code to clients to customize or facilitate certain tasks and functions.

REST APIs are flexible and scalable, and do not rely on specific application technologies. They do not require server loads, making them more responsive. You can use multiple scripting languages for server- and client-side applications and underlying technologies because your choices do not affect REST API communication abilities or design.

REST APIs typically utilize Uniform Resource Locators and HTTP client requests. The most common requests are DELETE, GET, POST, and PUT. These simple commands tell the API exactly what they need to do, and the URL tells them where to perform the specified function.

HTTP request headers include the data and parameters that apply to a specific interaction. Each request generates a response, whether it is the requested data or an error message.

Full-Stack Development

All software applications require front-end and back-end components to function. Many development projects use different teams that focus on one aspect or the other. These areas use different scripting languages, frameworks, and protocols.

Full-stack development uses a different approach. Instead of building components separately, full-stack developers take on the entire project from end to end. This cohesive strategy can make integrating the various components more seamless. Although each developer needs to have extensive knowledge of all aspects of the project, including the various programming languages, frameworks, and available tools, there are multiple benefits to full-stack development:

  • Project development and completion times are typically shorter, allowing for a faster time to market.

  • This approach usually requires fewer developers, which means it is generally easier to get each team member onto the same page. This makes teams easier to manage and promotes collaboration. It can also present cost savings.

  • When the same people have access to all components in a new software build, they can usually identify and address problems faster. With separate teams, issue identification might not happen until it is time to join the components, which can result in extensive problem-solving processes and having to rewrite a lot of code.

  • Because full-stack developers understand all aspects of development processes, most team members are interchangeable. Each can perform most tasks, providing extra flexibility with evolving workflows.

Full-stack developers need to have proficiency in more areas than front- or back-end developers. Among the many things they must know are multiple scripting languages, various frameworks, database design and management, APIs and UIs, version control systems, containerization, UX, security, cloud technologies, and CD/CD.

These developers must be able to adapt quickly to different tasks, and they should also stay up to date with ever-evolving trends and technological capabilities. AI-powered functions are just one example of newer technologies that offer multiple benefits in various use cases.

Understanding the Interaction Between Front-End and Back-End

We have already discussed the purposes of front-end and back-end components, along with APIs. Each component must perform efficiently both independently and as a part of the overall application.

Most user interfaces use UX design principles to enhance user satisfaction. Back-end functions use business logic to determine various actions, although some front-end systems also use business logic.

Business logic governs data creation, management, and exchanges. It applies actual business concepts and rules to handle various scenarios involving data. This component’s location is between a user interface and database, using decision trees or conditional if-then-else statements to determine which actions to take. These rules are rigid to promote accuracy and security.

For every front-end request, there must be a back-end response. Business logic determines what that response is. Application logic actually executes the business logic and governs user interactions.

Application logic sits between a user interface and the business logic component, serving as a translator of sorts. It implements specific processes that a user event triggers. Application logic typically utilizes high-level coding languages.

Although their purposes are different, business and application logic need to function well as a team. Because it is comprehensive by nature, full-stack development often produces more cohesive logic.

Developing Full-Stack Applications

Different developers may have different approaches to full-stack projects. While some prefer to begin with front-end components, others advocate for building the back-end first. Regardless, there are several choices to make.

A comprehensive project plan will specify each step and the order you will follow. You must first decide which scripting languages and frameworks will work best for your project. Once those decisions are made, you should decide which components to build first. Mockups, wireframes, prototypes, and iterations all have key roles in the full-stack development process.

Front-End First

Proponents of the “front-end first” approach claim that it adopts UX design principles and defines the requirements the back-end must fulfill. Developers should utilize iterative rather than waterfall development processes, meaning that they should take these steps for each feature rather than planning the whole application in this manner.

After creating sample data and running a mocking server, you would write front-end code, using placeholders when necessary. Next comes database modeling and schema. Finally, choose an API that best facilitates the various actions your application should perform.

Deployment and Hosting Options

Will your application live on a physical server or in the cloud? How will you make it accessible to users?

Deployment is a multi-step process, usually facilitated by a software management system or application manager. You can deploy applications to an exact server URL as a set or individually. This process includes installation, configuration, and enablement. Once enabled, your application is accessible by the public.

Hosting refers to where the app lives, whether on your own physical servers or third-party cloud remote servers. There are multiple cloud hosting providers that maintain their servers, provide security, and ensure reliable internet access to your app.

Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure are the most popular cloud service providers, but there are other alternatives as well. Others include IBM Cloud, Salesforce Cloud, and Oracle Cloud.

How To Select a Hosting Provider

Whether you choose cloud, shared or VPS hosting, or a dedicated hosting server, there are several things to consider when deciding which to use:

  • Your digital products requirements and capabilities — you need to choose a platform that can handle your app.

  • The provider’s computing power resources — your app can lag if a server’s resources are too divided.

  • Security levels — you might need minimal or maximum security protocols.

  • Compatibility with your preferred stack and toolkit — be sure that you can integrate your app with the provider’s structure.

  • Costs — some are free, while others charge.

  • Scalability options — find out how easy it is to scale your app.

  • Customer support level — multiple communication and support options with knowledgeable team members is ideal.

  • Provider reviews — research what users say about various aspects of the provider’s service.

  • Provider features and available technologies that enhance performance — look for regular updates that utilize emerging capabilities.

  • Managed and self-managed options — be sure the provider offers the option you prefer.

Some providers offer trial periods that allow you to evaluate them before making a long-term commitment.

Web Development Tools

Various web development tools can make project completion faster and easier. The nature of your project can help you determine which tools to use.

Code Editors and IDEs

Code editors are versatile. They can create, edit, and debug source code; use AI to streamline workflows; and help with Git versioning. Most are open-source, free resources that typically have robust support communities. Because code editors do not include many integral features, they are usually fast, lightweight, and easy to use.

Code editors have a few disadvantages to consider. If they rely on extensions, finding and maintaining the right ones is challenging, and each extension adds to storage needs and decreases speed. They are not pre-configured, so you must devote time to customizing them for your needs. Extremely complex setups are more prone to technical limitations that can erode reliability.

Integrated development environments take code editors to the next level by adding additional tools and features. IDEs are integrated for seamless communication, providing complex operations with reliable support. IDEs do not use many extensions and are already configured, letting you get to work faster. Most include native support.

IDEs use only a specific technology, which can be beneficial or restrictive. On one hand, this eliminates the need for support for multiple libraries, languages, and frameworks. However, your project might require more than one technology.

IDEs are more difficult to learn due to the many integrated features, some of which might be unnecessary. Unneeded features take up space, slowing the tool’s performance.

Version Control with Git

As software undergoes updates, debugging, and other modifications, different versions of the same software exist. Development best practices dictate retaining each version to have a stable recovery point in case of issues with newer versions.

Git is the most widely used version control system. It is a distributed system, meaning that multiple backup copies exist on different servers. This redundancy protects against losses if one server experiences problems.

Package Managers

Software projects typically have multiple dependencies, which can be as simple as a few lines of code that execute a single function or entire frameworks or libraries. Each dependency needs updating, and they do not need to conflict with each other. One dependency often has many sub-dependencies, and the same requirements apply to each.

A package manager is an automated software solution that “supervises” dependencies, often called packages. Package managers can seamlessly install, update, and uninstall packages. They also check for known vulnerabilities, position each dependency in the proper location, deal with duplicate dependencies, and handle package registries.

Browser Developer Tools

The same website may appear slightly different in individual browsers due to the way the browser interprets and displays front-end coding. Modern internet browsers have integrated DevTools for developers to utilize to tweak these inconsistencies.

These tools can perform a variety of necessary functions, such as determining loading speeds, inspecting front-end code, testing and debugging software, measuring performance, and editing pages. The available browser development tools may vary by browser, but the intent behind each toolkit is to enhance and optimize software and website performance in that particular browser.

Web Performance Optimization

Users have specific expectations from websites. If your site meets those expectations, your conversion rates should rise. If users find your site lacking, they often leave for another option, increasing site abandonment rates. Poor optimization can also cause site failures.

Web performance optimization is vital to your project’s overall success. Key metrics include content loading speed, how the content appears in a browser, and responses to user actions.

Web performance significantly influences user experiences, for better or worse. It can also impact search results, with better-performing sites typically ranking higher. Several things developers can do are likely to optimize performance.

Techniques for Improving Website Speed and Performance

Each of these techniques accomplish specific goals, all of which contribute to improving web speed and performance.

  • Browser HTTP caching: storing your site on the hosting server

  • Content delivery networks: utilizing a network of servers, with the closest one responding to a user request

  • Data compression: using ZIP files or other methods to compress data

  • Database optimization: using a content management system to streamline retrieval

  • Functions via third parties: contracting with third parties to provide cybersecurity, hosting, DNS services, and caching

  • Hosting assessment: ensuring that your hosting provider can handle its accumulated load without lagging, potentially migrating to a dedicated server or VPN

  • Image optimization: compressing images or using responsive images to reduce file size

  • Lazy loading: only loading the amount of content that appears on a screen, with more loading when users scroll down

  • Limited external scripts: reducing the number of plugins, extensions, and the like, and maintaining the ones you keep to ensure quality

  • Limited HTTP requests: combining CSS and JS file sets to reduce load

  • Limited redirects: removing redirects that do not serve a critical purpose

  • Minify code: removing unused and extra functions, variables, line breaks, white space, comments, etc.

  • Mobile-native sites: creating sites specifically for mobile devices rather than modifying a site designed for desktops

  • Unnecessary code elimination: removing any unnecessary code

  • Video lite embeds: initially loading thumbnails rather than the entire video, but providing a working link to the actual video

More techniques exist. Utilize as many as possible to optimize your site’s speed and performance.

Caching Strategies

Caches temporarily store various kinds of frequently used data, such as images, files, and web pages. Caches can live in servers, browsers, or even Google. What does this accomplish? It eliminates many database queries, giving users faster access through optimized load times. In turn, this typically increases user satisfaction.

Some effective caching strategies include:

  • Adjusting browser caching settings to store static resources

  • Integrating with content delivery networks

  • Preloading frequently viewed resources and pages when traffic is low

  • Storing fragments of popular dynamic content that does not frequently change

  • Using server caching mechanisms

  • Using tools to monitor cache performance

  • Optimizing mobile caching

  • Validating caches to ensure users see only updated content

  • Utilizing modules and plugins that simplify cache optimization and configuration

Strategic caching can benefit most websites, ultimately enhancing user satisfaction.

Minification and Compression of Assets

Larger files take longer to load. Unaltered videos and images often have huge file sizes, but even large text files can cause slower load times. Viewers do not want to wait, and you need to please your users, but how? Minification and compression are two commonly used ways to minimize file sizes to optimize web performance.

What Is Minification?

Minification is a process that strips unnecessary data from code files, leaving only the code needed to execute the file. If you use this technique, you would minify your code after project completion but before application deployment.

Minification analyzes style sheets, scripts, and other elements necessary for site rendering, then rewrites code to decrease file sizes. This is beneficial because minified data uses less bandwidth and enables faster responses.

There are various minification tools designed for CSS, HTML, and JavaScript files. Many of these tools integrate seamlessly with frameworks and web applications.

What Is Compression?

Compressing various files reduces their size and should not affect the integrity of the content. After a compressed file is transferred, the recipient must decompress it to make it usable. Compression helps with speedier transfers, and it is also a good way to archive digital files.

Lossless compression uses algorithms to remove data redundancies, producing smaller file sizes while protecting the original data. Using this method allows for faster file transfers with the original content reconstructed from the compressed file. Think of it like using vacuum-sealed bags that compress clothing for storage: When you release the seal, the clothes expand to their original size.

Lossy compression permanently alters the original file. This method works well for media files because it removes less important data but still allows viewers to see or hear what appears to be a full photo, video, or audio file. Lossy compression can significantly reduce file sizes, but at the cost of losing some details.

Not all files are suitable for compression. Because compression can make it challenging for security measures to penetrate and inspect files, there are potential security concerns.

There are several readily available tools for compressing and decompressing files. Each has different features, making some more suitable than others for specific file types.

Web Development Best Practices

If you want to become a web developer, there is more to learn than scripting languages, frameworks, database management, and performance optimization. You must also follow web development best practices to be successful.

Many lists of these best practices exist, and they are not identical. However, the best web developers adhere to all of them. Some of the most commonly mentioned best practices are:

  • Be consistent within web pages and websites, using similar placements, colors, styles, fonts, and other elements to reduce cognitive load.

  • Be sure that your digital product aligns with organizational goals and values.

  • Choose scripting languages, frameworks, and tools carefully, selecting those that best suit your project's requirements.

  • Do not release products with known bugs or issues.

  • Focus on user-centric design.

  • Keep CSS, HTML, and JavaScript separated.

  • Monitor, assess, and optimize your digital product before and after deployment.

  • Optimize speed and performance.

  • Perform regular testing.

  • Prioritize security.

  • Provide intuitive, easily identifiable site navigation.

  • Take time to create a consistent, detailed plan before you start coding.

  • Test your solution for compatibility with browsers and platforms, along with multiple devices.

  • Use incremental sprints to introduce updates rather than making several major changes simultaneously.

  • Use responsive or adaptive design principles.

  • Use search engine optimization principles.

  • Use the simplest code possible to accomplish your goals.

  • Utilize emerging technologies when possible.

  • Utilize the resources available in content management systems, support communities, and libraries.

Keep in mind that technology is changing rapidly, so you will likely need to update your products in the near future to keep up with trends and user expectations.

Following Web Standards and Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium, known as W3C, is an international organization composed of various members and staff who work together to develop various standards, guidelines, and technical specifications that web developers follow. These help to maintain consistency across web pages, websites, and other digital applications.

Accessibility, internationalization, privacy, and security are the guiding principles for these “rules.” The rules cover things like:

  • Web page rendering, layouts, transitions

  • Web architecture

  • Enabling any device to access the web

  • Services and data linking

  • Tools

  • Quality and accountability

As of May 2024, there are 1,131 standards reports and drafts covering 270 topics. W3C considers these standards to be the web blueprints and building blocks that are an integral part of all web development projects.

There is no penalty imposed if you do not follow these rules, but you will likely face something worse. Users expect these standards, and web applications that do not include them will not produce user satisfaction. When users are dissatisfied, they will not use your applications.

Optimizing for SEO

Search engines are like club bouncers: They look for desirable qualities in websites, then put the best at the front of the line. Search engine optimization is a process that utilizes various strategies to help search engines find, view, and understand page content. The more of these strategies that you use, the higher your web page or site is likely to be in search results.

Ranking high in search results is typically how users discover your pages. SEO optimization techniques are invaluable for gaining users.

Content

Useful, well-presented content is a must. Update or delete content that is no longer relevant. Use clear, concise language without grammatical or spelling errors. Avoid long paragraphs, using headings to break up sections. Do not duplicate content within your own website, and absolutely do not plagiarize content belonging to others. Use various kinds of promotions to generate interest in your website and specific content.

Descriptive URLs

Search results display a portion of the URL. These breadcrumbs can help users decide if the content on that page is relevant to them, so be descriptive.

Keywords

Keywords and keyword phrases are terms that people use when searching for something. Look for keyword lists available from multiple sources, then use them and appropriate variations in your content and tags. Do not stuff too many keywords into your content because that can trigger spam alerts in search engines.

Links

Including relevant links in your content helps users find out more about specific topics, but it also helps search engines find and define your pages. Your anchor text, which is the phrase you use to insert links, should have a clear connection to the linked page. It should only be a few words long.

Meta Descriptions

Search results display snippets, which are concise summaries of a page’s content. You can influence snippet content by writing a well-crafted meta description.

Optimized Images and Videos

Videos and images stand out, and they influence users who search visually rather than by reading snippets. The images and videos you choose should be high quality and embody your page’s purpose and content at a glance to compel users to visit your page. You should include alternative text to describe various types of media.

Site Organization

Intuitive, well-organized sites typically rank higher in search results. Group similar pages with directories and create a sitemap to make it easier for search engines to find your content.

Titles

Search results display page titles with links to that page, which helps users assess a page’s usefulness. Write short, descriptive, and unique titles for each page.

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