Back-End Development is crucial to the long-term success of any web app, as it often determines how users perceive its value. But what does this really mean?
When we examine successful modern web applications like Facebook or Amazon, we can identify key success factors that heavily rely on back-end development.
For example, displaying a dynamic feed of information (such as a list of user posts or store products) or showing meaningful suggestions to the user (such as finding people they might know or suggesting products based on their profile) are features that many users may not be aware of, but which are crucial to the application's success.
Having that kind of killer feature requires applying some behind-the-scenes magic 🪄 to provide all of that to the user, but what does that translate into?
We’ll attempt to explain it further below as we’ll list the 4 reasons why back-end development makes a web app thrive, but first, let us get some facts straight.
What is exactly Back-End Development?
In simple terms, we can describe it as developing a server-side app that, as its name might reveal, runs on a server that handles data that gets received, processed, and returned to another server or client (usually a browser in WebApps).
To better illustrate the role of a server-side app, let’s take the example of someone sending an email 👇
1. A user writes an email and hits send while immediately waiting for a success message.
2. Upon clicking send, all of the data included in that email, such as author and message, gets sent to a server through a behind-the-scenes request made by the user’s browser.
3. The server-side app is continuously waiting for new coming requests so that as soon as it gets one, it begins processing it to immediately deliver that email and let the user’s browser know if the operation was a success.
4. But before giving a thumbs up or down to the browser, the kind of processing that usually happens on the server-side app is by ensuring that the data the user has sent is valid, like making sure the email address of the recipient has a proper email format.
5. Once it gets past validation, it stores that whole email on the server to enable the user to see his sent messages (among other things).
6. The final important step handled by the server-side app is to actually deliver the email so that it then sends a response to the browser to signal if the email request was successful.
All of this magic that happens on the server only takes a few milliseconds after the user hits sent and is awaiting a success message as he wouldn’t want to wait for ages or, even worse, be confronted with an error message saying that the server couldn’t deliver his email.
Now, if we think of even more crucial operations, like purchasing a product or making a transfer on our home banking app, we become even more aware of how important it is to guarantee the success of those server-side operations, which is why back-end developers need to ensure that they code them with the utmost standards of quality.
What’s the difference between Back-End Development and Front-End Development?
Perhaps by now, we can sort of guess the difference between them, but nonetheless, here’s one way to put it: while back-end development means building server-side apps, the purpose of front-end development is to build client-side apps that run on a platform, such as a desktop browser or a mobile device.
So what does a client-side app look like? 👀 It’s nothing more than the user interface filled with all the text, images, buttons, and forms we’re so familiar with when we visit websites or open an app on our smartphones.
Take the previous example of the user sending an email. The client-side app is what displays the email form that will allow him to write and submit an email which leads to another important role of client-side apps, which is to send data to the server.
Which in most cases makes client-side & server-side apps actually complement each other; the first is where users consume and push data (reading and sending an email) while the latter consumes and processes it (storing and delivering emails).
Now that we have shed some light on all of this jargon, let us finally get to the topic of the article.
4 reasons why back-end development makes a web app thrive
1. It gives a brain to the operation
Without a server-side app, most client-side apps either wouldn’t exist or lack most of the features that win over users, like the ones exemplified at the beginning of this article: having a dynamic feed of information and meaningful user suggestions.
If you want to build an app that handles user-driven or constantly evolving data, such as social media publishing, product reviews, suggesting new people of interest, or recommending new products, you'll likely need to develop a server-side app.
Aside note: to some extent, we can build several features that solely rely on client-side apps running on modern platforms (browsers, mobile devices) since nowadays they provide some similar tools that, up until recently, solely existed on server-side apps but still it’s harder to replace the need for a server specially when we’re dealing with apps that process a lot of data.
2. It’s usually where most of the product value comes from
By all means, having a good-looking UI/UX on our web app grabs users’ attention. But, arguably, the main selling point is the kind of functionalities that, as you may guess by now, are usually sustained by a server-side app.
Let’s take this example: if Spotify hadn’t any musical recommendations based on our interests, lists of related artists, a daily updated feed with new playlists and podcasts, as well as social capabilities by letting us see what our friends are listening to, it would “simply” be just another music player.
3. It greatly impacts user adoption
Having major app features fail at some point means users will either temporarily or permanently stop using our app. Bugs can have a severe impact whether they’re occurring on our client-side or server-side app.
Still, they tend to become more noticeable and harmful on the back end, where they can be felt either by slowing down or crashing our app and, in extreme cases, having data getting lost or compromised.
Therefore the long-term stability of our server-side app becomes key to maintaining our users’ trust.
4. Back-End Development does more than just feed client-side apps
So far, most of the examples given in this article have focused on how server-side apps are needed to deliver features to our users, but in reality, is that most of the time, they communicate with other server-side apps/services to make all kinds of things possible such as:
- Storing files through storage providers such as AWS;
- Generating documents based on our app data through a service such as Google Spreadsheets;
- Sending automated emails when an event occurs on our app, for example, a user signs up;
- Sync an e-commerce product stock with external vendors;
- Feed our app data to metrics tools;
- Automate marketing campaigns;
Hopefully, we may by now mutually agree that there’s not much doubt about the role and importance that server-side apps and back-development have on the long journey of building apps that provide game-changing features that win over users.
So, If you happen to be planning on building an app or are currently building one, then keeping these reasons well present may be decisive in its success.