May 25, 2020

What Does a Back-End Developer Do?

A back-end developer works behind the scenes to make sure an application, website, mobile app or web application works as planned.

When most people think of software development, they often think of some of the big-name applications they use on a regular basis: Microsoft Word, Outlook, Photoshop, Chrome, Safari or other similar apps. There are few things that bring more joy to a developer than seeing their application come alive, let alone become popular.

Although many initially think of visible, high-profile apps, none of those apps would be possible without back-end developers working hard to make sure the app does what it’s supposed to behind the scenes.

What’s Involved in Back-End Development

For every application that wins praise for its interface, features or performance, there is usually far more hidden away on the back-end that contributes to that app’s success.

Web applications are a good example of the need for back-end development. When users visit a website, all they see is the visual design the developers and designers have created. What visitors don’t see is the database running on the server, saving, storing and retrieving data based on the visitor’s actions. Nor do they see the behind-the-scenes, web application that is acting as the intermediary between the visitor and the database.

The same is true for desktop and mobile applications. While the interface is what most people see and associate with any given application, unless the application consists solely of a pretty interface, there is always some kind of back-end functionality that makes the app what it is.

For example, an image processing application must be able to open an image, resize it, perform basic editing functions and export it to a variety of formats. More powerful image editors take that a step further, including tools that make it possible to do professional-grade edits on images. Some image editors, such as PaintShop Pro, include powerful scripting based on Python. Still others, like GraphicConverter, include professional-grade batch processing. All this relies on back-end programming, creating the functionality that’s accessible via a click of the button.

Another prime example is an email client. A user clicks “Get Mail,” receives their email, replies to one, types up their reply and hits “Send.” All the functionality they need is a button-click and a few keyboard strokes away. In the background, however, when mail is checked, the email client has to determine what type of email account it’s working with, open the necessary kind of socket, negotiate with the email server, implement whatever kind of encryption the server supports, deal with a myriad of possible encoding and formatting issues—all to do something as relatively “simple” as sending or receiving an email.

Even a basic text editor, one of the simplest examples of an application, still has to deal with all the input/output of opening and saving files, dealing with text encodings, importing from other file formats, formatting text, performing search functionality and much more.

As these examples show, back-end developers handle the lion’s share of what makes the apps people rely on day-to-day actually work.

The Languages Back-End Developers Use

When it comes to back-end development, the languages developers use are virtually endless.

Web developers working on a website or web application back-end, will likely rely on SQL, Perl, Python, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript or another interpreted, scripting language. A desktop developer may rely on Swift, Objective-C, C, C++, C#, Java or some other compiled language.

Even that is not cut-and-dry, however, with a fair degree of overlap between the interpreted and compiled languages. For example, many web application back-ends run on Java, while many modern desktop and mobile apps are built using JavaScript frameworks. Even traditional desktop apps written in C, C#, C++ or Swift may still rely on a language like Python to handle internal scripting.

As a result, back-end developers often need to be flexible, choosing the right tool for any given job, and making sure that tool integrates with the rest of the application’s development.

Back-End Development: An Exciting and Ever-Changing Career

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a back-end developer. As mobile platforms have taken off and become more powerful, developers are continually pushing the envelope of what mobile apps can do. Similarly, modern technologies and frameworks have blurred the lines between web and desktop apps, all of which rely on back-end developers to make it work.

Best of all, as companies have moved more and more toward open-source, or at the very least open standards, there is an unprecedented level of integration between applications and platforms. These factors are adding to the overall demand for back-end developers.

Any developer choosing to specialize in back-end development will be in high-demand and enjoy an exciting career.

Tags Back-End Developer SQL Python C++ C# Java
Matt Milano
Technical Writer
Matt is a tech journalist and writer with a background in web and software development.

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