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What Is Web Development? A 2024 Beginner’s Guide

person working in web development with code on their computer

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Web development, or website development, is everything that goes into developing, making, and maintaining a website. This process includes technical elements like coding, programming, and network security configuration, along with more creative aspects like user experience (UX) design.

So, what is web development like as a career path? Web development might be right for you if you’re interested in a technical and creative field with fast-growing work opportunities. Here’s everything you need to know about web development, the career path, and how to land a role in the field.

What Is Web Development? Definition

Web development is kind of like building a house. When building a house, you first need a blueprint to figure out how the house will be arranged. You then need construction workers to put that plan into action and make the house functional. Finally, you’ll need some designers or decorators to make sure the house looks the way you want it. 

Web developers are the construction workers of the internet. They bring a website to life using code to make it fit the intended design. How do they do that? 


The team meets with the client to assess what they want from the website. They discuss who the intended audience is and what the website’s goals are. 


The next step is discussing all the pages that will be on the website and how they’re related to each other. For example, you might set up a navigation bar from your home page that leads to a resources page. On this resources page, you might have the option to navigate to another page for each specific resource. 


Before the building gets done, the team discusses what the site should look like. A web designer or graphic designer usually leads this process and focuses on the site’s aesthetics.


This is when the website is built. The web developer takes the client’s vision, site map, and design elements into account to code the website.


Before launching a website, the team must review and test it to ensure it’s functional. Typically, this is done with quality assurance testing, which tests if the product works as expected. 


This is when the website comes to fruition. The website is launched and becomes visible to anyone on the internet.

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Types of Web Development

Because so much goes into making a website, web development is usually split into two parts: front-end and back-end.

Let’s go back to the house metaphor. Just like there are many different elements to building a house, building a website requires a variety of specialties. To build a house, you need people working on making the house function, like plumbers and electricians. This is like back-end web development. It’s the behind-the-scenes work. 

You also want to make the house look the way you want! You might get painters, designers, or decorators. These are like front-end web developers who work to make the parts of the website that people see look good. 

Front-End Web Development

Front-end web development, also known as the client side, is the user-facing side of the website. It includes the look and feel of the site. Front-end developers often work on website design, user interface, and user experience. While this does include technical work, it’s also a creative function focused on visual appeal.

Front-end web developers might work on tasks like:

  • Building the layout of a site, including structuring a webpage using HTML
  • Styling a website, using CSS to customize the site’s design, fonts, and colors
  • Making the website interactive, using JavaScript to add animations, forms, and buttons
  • Ensuring the website functions on all types of devices

Back-End Web Development

Back-end web development, also known as the server side, is tech-heavy and focuses on everything you don’t see when looking at a website, like a website’s code. This type of development also focuses on the site’s efficiency (speed) and performance.

Back-end web developers might work on tasks like:

  • Building logic for the server side, including writing code that handles user requests, interacts with databases, or stores data.
  • Creating application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow the front end of the website to communicate with the back end
  • Managing databases to help store the website’s information securely and efficiently 
  • Implementing security measures to protect the website from cyberattacks

Full-Stack Web Development

Full-stack web development encompasses both front-end and back-end work. These developers have the knowledge to take on any task required for building a website, whether a design application on the client side or coding work on the back end.

That’s a lot of tasks — especially when we go back to the house metaphor. Full-stack web developers are like people who know how to do plumbing, electricity, painting, and interior decorating.

However, full-stack web development is typically about breadth, not depth. Full-stack web developers know about both front-end and back-end web development, but likely not to the extent a front-end or back-end developer who specializes in one or the other has. 

Web Development vs. Web Design

Both web development and web design aim to make a website better, but they support how that website is made in different ways. 

Let’s use another analogy: a restaurant. Web design is about that restaurant’s ambiance. It focuses on the atmosphere, furniture, decorations, and menu layout — like the visual design of a website. 

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Web development is more of the behind-the-scenes work. In the restaurant analogy, it’s preparing the food, taking orders, and ensuring everything runs smoothly. 

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t the “behind-the-scenes work” back-end web development? While front-end web development is like web design in that it focuses on what users see, it’s also about making that design come to life. Web design focuses on imagining the visual style, while front-end web development does the technical work to make that vision come true. 

Web DevelopmentWeb Design
FocusTechnical aspects that make a website functionVisual appeal and user experience
SkillsCoding, server management, testing and debuggingDesign principles, user research and testing
ToolsProgramming languages, code editors, APIsFigma, wireframing

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Web Development vs. Software Development

Web development and software development require similar technical skills like writing code and understanding programming languages, but each field works with different areas. For example, web development involves all the tasks of creating a website, while software development focuses on computer programs that work on computers and phones.

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These career paths also differ in who they work with. Developers often work with clients beyond their team to understand the website’s goals and audience before they start building the site. For example, web development can involve a marketing professional when discussing what kind of pop-up ads the website should display. On the other hand, software developers usually work with the technical professionals within a larger company to help design, upgrade, and maintain its software.

Web DevelopmentSoftware Development
FocusCreating websites and web applicationsDeveloping software platforms for desktop, mobile, web, and more
SkillsProgramming languages, databasesProgramming languages, operating systems, data structures
ToolsCode editors, browser developer tools, web serversIntegrated development environments (IDEs), version control systems
Who they work withWeb designers, UX/UI specialistsDevOps engineers, product managers

Web Development Job Titles

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most web developers work full-time in computer system design and related services. Other popular web development fields include management, scientific, and technical consulting services, and advertising and public relations. Essentially, if you want to work in web development, you can work in a variety of industries depending on your interests.

For example, if you worked in web development in the education sector, you’d likely work on educational websites and applications like interactive learning courses. If you worked in e-commerce as a web developer, you’d work on product pages, shopping carts, and secure payments. Both web developers work on developing websites and improving their functionality, but the focus of that work is very different.

Web development job titles depend on what part of the website-making process you’re working on. For example, if you’re focused on the client side, you’ll likely be a front-end developer. Other job titles include:

  • Back-end developer
  • Full-stack developer
  • User interface (UI) designer
  • Web analyst
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) consultant
  • Web security engineer
  • Mobile web developer
  • UX developer

Pros and Cons of Working in Web Development

Web development is a growing industry, but is it a good career path? While you’ll need training and hard skills to land a job in the industry, it can be rewarding and even exciting for those looking for a mix of technical and creative work.

Pros of Web Development

Fast Growth

Web development is a fast-growing industry, with a 16% projected employment growth through 2032 — much higher than the 5% average, according to the BLS. This growth rate means there should be plenty of job opportunities within the next decade.

Mix of Skills

Developers use a combination of technical and creative skills. So, if you’re looking for a field where you can flex technical skills like coding and programming and creative skills like design, this career path allows you to use them both.

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Flexible Opportunities

Web development doesn’t have to be a full-time job; many developers work freelance or part-time and juggle projects for multiple clients at a time. In addition, this career path can offer the freedom and flexibility to work how and when you want.

According to JamStack, web developers typically have remote jobs. Four in five developers say they work remotely most of the time. 

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Cons of Web Development

Ever-Changing Technology

Web development is a constantly evolving field as new technology emerges. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to keep up with the changes and new skills you’ll need to know to be successful.

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Lamar Laing, founder/lead full-stack developer at Laing Media, recommends that those interested in the field embrace a learning culture and stay up to date on industry trends. 

“Today, there is so much access to information, tutorials, etc., and the opportunity to forecast what is coming next is pretty much written on the proverbial ‘internet wall,’” he says. “Mastering an area of focus can help you attract projects/employers seeking your specialization. However, it’s equally important to understand the overall landscape of web development and how it interacts with project KPIs.”

Screen Time

Web development is often a remote job, one that requires extensive time scrutinizing and staring at a screen.

“While it isn’t exactly playing in the NFL or flying fighter jets, there are still a lot of risk factors that go along with sitting in front of a computer (or sitting a lot in general),” Laing says. “We can spend hours on hours programming. You’re putting a strain on your body by sitting, your eyes with extensive screen time, and your mental health.”

How to Get Into Web Development

Web development is a unique technical field that leaves room for creative thinking. If you’re interested in making and building websites clients will love, this field can be a great opportunity to flex programming, coding, and design skills.

To get into the field, you’ll need strong technical skills and programming experience. You don’t necessarily need a degree to land a role in web development; pursuing a degree in computer science or programming can help you learn the technical skills you need to become a web developer, but you can also pick up these skills from online courses or bootcamps.

What skills do you need? Common web development skills include:

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Image credit: Photo by Christina Morillo / Pexels

Zoe Kaplan is a Senior Writer at Forage. Prior to joining Forage, she wrote and edited career and workplace content for Fairygodboss, the largest career community for women.

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