What is Web Development?

This is the second in a pair of posts in which I focus on two broad skill categories that are needed for making websites: design and development. I'm choosing to focus on the skills rather than the titles designer and developer because regardless of the title chosen, an actual designer or developer will possess aspects of each. Also, in these two posts I am not touching on other important disciplines that should be involved with a website project, including overall strategy, development of site content, and implementation of a marketing plan.

Web development is the more technical side of website building. Its tools run the gamut from the flashy user interfaces of Web 2.0 to command-line scripts reminiscent of DOS from yesteryear. Here's a quick overview of the core concerns of web development, along with some tools, products, and services involved in building and maintaining awesome sites.

What does the website look like?

Front-end development is the process of making the site's content presentable on various devices, both visually and structurally. Visually presentable content is easily scanned and understood by the human eye, while structurally presentable content can be interpreted by other computer programs, such as search engine crawlers. The discipline of making a site functionally and conceptually (though not necessarily visually) presentable for users with a wide range of disabilities and assistive devices is called accessibility.

Standard tools: HTML, CSS, JavaScript

What drives the site?

Back-end development is the process of creating a system to run the website. The goal is to make administering the site just as easy and intuitive as browsing the site on the public side. Back in the olden days, developers wrote static HTML code that told the site what to do. These days they use web applications that act almost like a program that is running on a web server.

Standard products: Content Management Systems (CMSes) like Drupal and WordPress, custom-built web platforms, e-commerce systems

What keeps the site running?

System administration keeps your website up and running. Two of the biggest goals of effective system administration are data security and smooth, uninterrupted performance.

Standard services: Backups, monitoring alerts, performance reviews.


These are the elements of web development that should be covered in discussions about the building of your website. What questions would you ask about technologies that will be used for your website as the project moves from design to development?

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