Comparing backend and frontend
When we talk about computer programming, code or web development, we are not always very familiar with technical jargon, yet certain expressions come up regularly. Backend and Frontend are part of it. Two terms that we hear more and more, but ultimately what is it? What does it represent and what is it for?
There is backend and frontend everywhere
In the field of IT development, we develop “applications”.
These applications can take the form of a website (f.ex: the Swiss Tomato digital agency website), a web application (f.ex: the Google Drive), a mobile application (f.ex: Waze).
To function, an application or website very often needs what is called in tech jargon, a backend part and a frontend part. We can read on different resources, “the front is what the end user (you) see, and the back is what we don’t see”, but what does that mean?
Backend and frontend in very simplified form
To better understand these two concepts, let’s move away from technical terms for a moment and take an example from everyday life: postal services
Imagine the following situation: I have to send a letter to a company, and that company will have to send me a return mail in order to respond to my request.
In this example, the letter I need to send represents my search for information on a website (or web application).
We are now going to break down the different actions that follow from sending my letter and all the necessary steps from sending it to receiving the company’s response to my request. Let’s see offline backend and frontend structure :
Several actors will be involved throughout the stages:
- the postman
- the mailbox
- the sorting center
- the counter
- the drawers in which the mail is stored
- the mail
Now let’s break down the steps of the process:
When I send my letter in the mail, all the physical interactions I will have while the mail is in my hands is the front-end part of the business.
Conversely, the entire routing and processing part of my mail (in which I am not directly involved) represents the back-end part of the business.
Now you should better understand the sentence that we quoted above namely “The front is what we see and the back is what we do not see”: We can see the mail when we post it, we can see the mailbox and the postman, it represents the front-end part, but when the mail is sorted, stored, in the routing phase, etc … that we do not see it, it represents the back-end part of the organization.
And concretely for an application or a website
The same concepts are found in the lifecycle of a website or an application:
I see the site I am viewing. To interact with the site, I click on links, or I fill out forms that I see, this is the front-end.
Once my click action is complete, my site or application works independently: it receives my request, searches for the information I requested (for this it will consult the database and analyze / secure the data), then send it back to me, it’s the backend part,
Once the backend sends the information back, I can view it again and interact with it, I’m back on the front end.
We realize here that these two facets of a site or an application are essential (in the same way as the sorting center and the postman in the postal services), one cannot go without the other and , as in the postal service, it is not the same person who delivers the mail and who sorts it.
Likewise when developing an application or a website, we need a front-end developer and a back-end developer in order to connect backend and frontend.
And the “languages” in all this?
The company La Poste allows you to send your mail, but you could also choose another company (DHL, Fedex, etc …). Each has its own services, backend and frontend methods.
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