What Is Web Development: Definition and Explanation
Website development is a tech field that includes a plethora of tasks “involved in developing a website for the Internet (World Wide Web) or an intranet (a private network)” (Wikipedia). In layman’s terms, it is the job of creating websites and apps that work in browsers. It concerns construction, testing, and maintenance. Some definitions also include the design and management of databases, which makes the concept much broader.
Think about all the websites you have used in your life. Each of them was constructed by a team of web developers. Their work is the reason why your favorite platforms work and provide an excellent user experience. According to Statista, there are over 25 million software developers worldwide, and the demand is projected to continue rising:
Today, experts in this tech field are divided into three groups: front-end developers, back-end developers, and full-stack developers. Discover how their competencies compare below.
What Is Front-End Web Development?
Every website has two dimensions — the so-called “client side” (all the visual elements a user sees and interacts with) and a “server side” (the inner workings, systems like servers and databases). Front-end developers, as the term suggests, deal with the facade. They are responsible for the appearance and “feel” of a website.
This dimension of development includes a wide variety of tasks concerning design, testing, and interface creation. As a result, there is a wide variety of job titles, which often causes confusion. In different companies, a front-end developer may be called:
- Front-End Engineer
- CSS/HTML Developer
- Front-End Web Designer
- Front-End User Interface Developer
- Mobile Front-End Developer
- Front-End Dev Ops
- Front-End QA
All of these professionals take care of the visual elements of websites and web apps. Their work determines the quality of layout, smoothness of navigation, visual appeal, etc. They create interactive elements and bind them together.
This work must be complemented by a solid back end. Although it is possible for a front-end developer to build a website on their own, it will be very basic unless they have full-stack experience (find out more below).
What Is Back-end Web Development?
These developers work on the systems running in the background, behind the scenes. They oversee what is under the hood. This includes servers, the configuration of hosting and networks, database interactions, and business logic overall. If you compare a website to a house, the back end is its foundation, wiring, plumbing, and other elements hidden from view.
The mission of the back-end team is to ensure that your website is responsive, functions properly, and loads quickly. These technical aspects are crucial for a smooth user experience. Although back-end developers do not design the digital side, their contribution is just as important. Without a solid foundation, your website will not impress the user.
This dimension of development requires knowledge of servers, frameworks, and databases. Like their front-end counterparts, these experts are well-versed in specific programming languages. The requirements may include:
- Ability to build servers using modern networks.
- Management of databases on web servers.
- Knowledge of PHP, Ruby, Python, or other server-side languages.
- Knowledge of tools like Oracle databases, MySQL (an open-source database management system), and Git (an open-source version control system).
What Is Full-Stack Web Development
Some developers want to get the best of both worlds, so they build a comprehensive skill set. Full-stack experts are proficient in both the “client” and the “server” sides. They wear different hats and work with every layer of development. Naturally, generalists are attractive candidates. According to a recent study by Indeed, it is the fourth most in-demand position.
These experts can work on the facade and foundation of your site, so they must be good at both front-end and back-end. Skeptics associate full-stack development with “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”. Yet, more and more tech staff claim to be proficient in all layers of web development. This is not a small claim!
For aspiring developers, it is increasingly important to have a foundation in both fields. Considering the projected growth in demand (24,400 new developer jobs are expected to appear by 2026), now could be the best time to learn about all layers of development.
Most Popular Programming Languages
- HTML is used to create website frameworks — the foundation for all visual elements and critical components. Although it underlies the layout and format, HTML alone is not enough to create fully functional products. All you can get is a bare-bone website without any functions. When only HTML is used, any changes, even simple modifications of style or colors, require a substantial amount of coding.
- CSS allows developers to use a compact set of files to style website content. This facilitates editing. For example, if you want to change the color of all the website buttons, you will only need to modify one file without the need for massive coding endeavors.
What Is a Website Development Timeline?
Like any complex team endeavor, web development requires a well-structured process with clear deadlines and milestones for every phase. Regardless of project scope, you need a detailed schedule — a phased plan with a clear timeline. It is one of the key prerequisites for success. The duration of every stage may vary depending on project requirements, but the key stages include:
1. Information Gathering (2-10 weeks)
A project starts with research and discovery sessions, followed by the writing of a creative brief, technical briefs, and other documents detailing the proposed architecture. All requirements and definitions are summarized in one document, and a plan of site architecture is created.
2. Designing (4-12 weeks)
The team creates design mock-ups and presents them to collect feedback and find the ideal design solutions. These early drafts of a website or app may include designs of the home page, multiple internal pages, desktop appearance or mobile views.
3. Writing and Assembling Content (5-15 weeks)
This process often overlaps with other stages. To attract users, websites must provide well-researched valuable and visually attractive content. Quality is paramount. Creating content from scratch is a time-consuming challenge, and migrating existing articles also takes time.
4. Developing and Programming (6-15 weeks)
At this stage, the website finally comes to life based on the approved architecture, design, technical requirements, and sitemap (a list of all pages within a site). The timeline is the longest for custom web-based apps.
5. Testing (2-6 weeks)
During the Beta stage, the client gathers feedback from stakeholders. The website is shared securely using password protection. Testing ensures proper optimization and performance across browsers, screens, and devices.
6. Launching the Site (1 day-2 weeks)
The complexity of this stage depends on the client’s requirements. A website can be launched without interrupting the beta version.
7. Maintenance and Enhancements (ongoing)
Launching a site is just the beginning. Subsequently, it will require upkeep in terms of hosting, security, and content. Successful companies make continuous improvements based on new feedback and requests from real users. Businesses may schedule regular reviews to ensure consistency.
What Are the Steps of a Website Development Lifecycle?
Like the timeline, the lifecycle may vary depending on the complexity of the site. The following generic outline works for most projects. You will see that the stages generally coincide with the timeline described above.
During the initial stage, the development team must form a clear understanding of the purpose of the project, its scope, goals, and target audience. This requires in-depth research of the industry, competition, preferences and online habits of the target consumer. These insights must guide all subsequent efforts.
2. Planning & Analysis
Based on the research findings and conclusions, the team builds sitemaps. It suggests the best tools and technologies based on the client’s requirements. These are documented as “use cases” — potential scenarios in which the website may be used. At the next stage, the developers must integrate them into the approved site structure.
3. Designing and Wireframing
The creative team works on the facade — the elements determining user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). First, they create a sketch of the design concept showing the structure of information, including content appearance and basic features.
This draft is then used to build a wireframe — an overview of interactive elements. The team creates menus, buttons, color themes, graphics, and other components of the layout. The design must correspond with the aesthetic preferences of the target audience determined during the research stage.
4. Content Creation
This stage involves generating and editing new text to ensure value for the reader. A website is filled with content that includes key messages and calls to actions. The team creates eye-catching headlines, effective page titles, and captions. It also lays the foundation for SEO (search engine optimization), which is crucial for driving traffic. Sometimes, content may be ported over from other sites.
Integration of mobile elements is crucial, as most consumers prefer browsing using smartphones or tablets. Google also prioritizes sites that look great on smaller screens, so they rank higher in search.
Back-end developers work on the “server-side” elements. They code instructions that allow every element to function as planned. Aside from dealing with servers, databases, and application logic, they may also prepare the site for SEO.
6. Online Launch
After implementing the desired functionality and views, the team launches the first version of the website. There are two key conditions: registering a domain name and subscribing to web hosting.
7. Beta Testing
To ensure stable performance on the server, your team conducts a series of tests. This concerns different aspects of website experience: testing of back-end and front-end elements, databases, servers, etc. Rigorous testing is crucial for success. Based on the results and feedback, the team makes the necessary improvements to perfect the website and prepare it for public launch.
As we have already mentioned, maintenance is an indefinite task. Every website needs improvements to provide an excellent user experience, stay relevant, and keep up with the changes in ranking algorithms.
What About Marketing?
Your website will not sell itself unless it is optimized for search engines. Aside from using the most effective SEO practices, you may build a solid presence on social media and use different types of paid ads. As we have mentioned, back-end developers may lay the foundation for effective SEO, but promotional efforts at the post-launch stage are handled by SEO professionals. As they are not part of development work, they do not constitute a stage in the life cycle. However, different classifications vary.