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Front-end web development [101]

Front-end web development, also known as client-side development is the practice of producing HTML, CSS and JavaScript for a website or Web Application so that a user can see and interact with them directly. The challenge associated with front end development is that the tools and techniques used to create the front end of a website change constantly and so the developer needs to constantly be aware of how the field is developing.

The objective of designing a site is to ensure that when the users open up the site they see the information in a format that is easy to read and relevant. This is further complicated by the fact that users now use a large variety of devices with varying screen sizes and resolutions thus forcing the designer to take into consideration these aspects when designing the site. They need to ensure that their site comes up correctly in different browsers (cross-browser), different operating systems (crossplatform) and different devices (cross-device), which requires careful planning on the side of the developer.

A Front-end Developer

A front-end developer architects and develops websites and web applications using web technologies (i.e., HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), which typically runs on the Open Web Platform or acts as compilation input for non-web platform environments (i.e., React Native).

A person enters into the field of front-end development by learning to build a website or web application which relies on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and commonly runs in a web browser but can also run in a headless browser, WebView, or as compilation input for a native runtime environment. These four run times scenarios are explained below.

Web Browsers (most common)

A web browser is software used to retrieve, present, and traverse information on the WWW. Typically, browsers run on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet, or phone, but as of late a browser can be found on just about anything (i.e, on a fridge, in cars,etc.).

The most common web browsers are (shown in order of most used first):

  • Chrome
  • Safari
  • Internet Explorer (Note: not Edge, referring to IE 9 to IE 11)
  • Firefox
  • Edge

Headless Browsers

Headless browsers are a web browser without a graphical user interface that can be controlled from a command line interface programmatically for the purpose of web page automation (e.g., functional testing, scraping, unit testing, etc.). Think of headless browsers as a browser that you can run programmatically from the command line that can retrieve and traverse web page code.

The most common headless browsers are:

  • Headless Chromium
  • Zombie
  • Slimerjs
  • Puppeteer


Webviews are used by a native OS, in a native application, to run web pages. Think of a webview like an iframe or a single tab from a web browser that is embedded in a native application running on a device (e.g., iOS, android, windows).

The most common solutions for webview development are:

  • Cordova (typically for native phone/tablet apps)
  • NW.js (typically used for desktop apps)
  • Electron (typically used for desktop apps)

Native from Web Tech

Eventually, what is learned from web browser development can be used by front-end developers to craft code for environments that are not fueled by a browser engine (i.e. web platform). As of late, development environments are being dreamed up that use web technologies (e.g., CSS and JavaScript), without web engines, to create native applications.

Some examples of these environments are:

  • Flutter
  • React Native
  • NativeScript

 Front-End Job Titles

A great divide has been brewing in the front-end developer space for several yearsbetween two very different types of so-called front-end developers. On the one side, you have JavaScript-focused programmers who write JavaScript for front-end runtimes that likely have computer science skills with a software development history. They more than likely view HTML and CSS as an abstraction (i.e. JSX and CSS in JS). On the other side, you have, most likely, non-computer science educated developers who focus on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as it specifically pertains to the UI. In 2019, when entering or trying to understand the front-end developer space you will absolutely feel this divide.

Below is a list and description of various front-end job titles (Keep in mind titles are hard). The common, or most used (i.e., generic), title for a front-end developer is, “front-end developer” or “front-end engineer”. Note that any job that contains the word “front-end”, “client-side”, “web UI”, “HTML”, “CSS”, or “JavaScript” typically infers that a person has some degree of HTML, CSS, DOM, and JavaScript professional know how.

Front-End Developer: The generic job title that describes a developer who is skilled to some degree at HTML, CSS, DOM, and JavaScript and implementing these technologies on the web platform.

Front-End Engineer (aka JavaScript Developer or Full-stack JavaScript Developer): The job title given to a developer who comes from a computer science, engineering, background and is using these skills to work with front-end technologies. This role typically requires computer science knowledge and years of software development experience. When the word “JavaScript Application” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer should be an advanced JavaScript developer possessing advanced programming, software development, and application development skills (i.e has years of experience building front-end software applications).

CSS/HTML Developer: The front-end job title that describes a developer who is skilled at HTML and CSS, excluding JavaScript and application, know how.

Front-End Web Designer: When the word “Designer” is included in the job title, this will denote that the designer will possess front-end skills (i.e., HTML & CSS) but also professional design (Visual Design and Interaction Design) skills.

UI (User Interface) Developer/Engineer: When the word “Interface” or “UI” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer should posses interaction design skills in addition to front-end developer skills or front-end engineering skills.

Mobile/Tablet Front-End Developer: When the word “Mobile” or “Tablet” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer has experience developing frontends that run on mobile or tablet devices (either natively or on the web platform, i.e.,in a browser).

Front-End SEO Expert: When the word “SEO” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer has extensive experience crafting front-end technologies towards an SEO strategy.

Front-End Accessibility Expert: When the word “Accessibility” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer has extensive experience crafting front-end technologies that support accessibility requirements and standards.

Front-End Dev. Ops: When the word “DevOps” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer has  extensive experience with software development practices pertaining to collaboration, integration, deployment, automation, and quality.

Front-End Testing/QA: When the word “Testing” or “QA” is included in the job title, this will denote that the developer has extensive experience testing and managing software that involves unit testing, functional testing, user testing, and A/B testing.

Learn Front-End development here:


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