What is a Front End Developer?


Whenever I am asked what I do by someone who doesn’t work in my industry, I find it quite hard to give them a decent response. I usually just tell them I’m a website designer, even though that’s not really accurate and I’m more confident working with code than on a design.

So what does a front end developer actually do? Let’s start with the “front end” bit. A website can be broken down into two main bits, the front end, and the back end.

The Front End

The front end of a website is the visual bit that the user interacts with. This includes the design, images, colours, buttons, forms, typography, animations and content. It’s basically everything that you as a user of the website can see.

The Back End

The back end of the site is the bit that you don’t see. It’s the code that makes e-commerce sites work, the database where your Amazon wishlist is stored, it’s all the magic that happens behind the visual part of the website that makes the website actually work.

Now for the “developer” bit. To explain what a developer does, I should probably clarify what a designer does.

The Designer

Designers decide how a website is going to look, what the colour scheme will be, how all the headings will look, and how all the pages will work together. They usually build a flat visual graphic of the site which has pictures of how the site will look and how each of the interactions will look. At this stage you can’t interact with it, it’s just a picture. They then hand this file to the developer.

The Developer

The developer takes the file that the designer has sent them, and they look at it and work out how they are going to build the site so that it will work in a browser. (A browser is the bit of software that you use to look at websites. There are lots of browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari…).

Developers will break the design up into components, and start to build these into a website using code. They then test the site in lots of different browsers, and sometimes on mobile phone browsers too. Each browser treats the code slightly differently, and the developer has to make sure that the site is accessible for lots of different users on lots of different browsers, and on different sized screens.

They have to make sure the text can be resized without breaking the site, that the site is readable by search engines like Google, and people with visual disabilities using screen readers, or people with old technology. They have to make sure the site looks as close to the design they have been given as possible.

The Front End Developer

So combining these two things, a front end developer works on the code that makes a website look the way it does. They use HTML to build the content, CSS to style the pages, and sometimes use JavaScript and PHP to make the pages more dynamic.

Now, this is all a bit of a generalisation. There is a lot of crossover with roles, and my role as a front end developer may be different to someone else who also calls themselves a front end developer, and it all depends on their skills and background. There are also many different roles within front end and back end which I will probably go into another time.