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Divide or Join: The Frontend Backend Dilemma

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  • September 27 2019
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With the advent of new technologies, rapidly evolving coding standards and improved infrastructures have led to the evolution of web development tactics and strategies. The medium that facilitates successful web development by keeping the various pieces together is termed as a web application architecture. Frontend and Backend are the two main subparts of a web application architecture. 

One of the questions that arise when we talk about the web development process is, whether it is useful to keep frontend-backend together or they should be kept separate. 

This article covers the pros and cons of both approaches to explain why software companies prefer one over the other. Let’s begin with the definitions first.

illustration image showing a silver laptop computer with assorted logo screengrab placed on white table

Frontend and Backend Defined

A frontend is a section that a user can see while the backend is an infrastructure supporting it.

Front-end of the website is the section that a user sees and interacts with the help of a browser. It is also referred to as the client-side and covers everything that comes directly under the user’s experience. For example, texts, colors, images, navigation menus, icons, etc. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the basic languages that come under front-end development. In addition to this, Bootstrap, Angular frameworks and JavaScript libraries like React, Vue, jQuery, and CSS extensions also come under the front-end hood.

Backend is the portion of the website which is distant from a user’s eye. Also known as the server-side code, backend facilitates data management and interactions in an organized manner. The communication between the backend and front end helps in displaying the information on the webpage. For example, when a contact form is filled, a web address is entered into the browser. The browser sends a request to the server, which returns the requested information as a frontend code that a browser interprets and displays to the user.


There is a wide range of differences in opinions on keeping the frontend and backend together or separate. The only important thing is that both the components are necessary for the development of a fully-fledged application.

In Consideration: Closely Coupled Frontend and Backend 

Many believe the separation of backend and frontend is a bad idea and there is not much distinction between these two roles.

Following points supports why frontend and backend should be kept together: 

  • Similar concept and syntax: Functional abstraction emerged as a major help by removing the unnecessary characteristics, keeping the focus on the essential project features. In order to address the concerns, similar concepts and syntax are used on client and server environments. For example, ReactiveX, an API asynchronous programming with observable patterns, can be implemented in various languages which facilitates the easy building of a project on the same reactive abstractions in the front and the back.
     
  • Miscommunications are minimum: Communication needs to be intact for a seamless application development process. The division of frontend and backend will create a communication gap, leaving both the teams uninformed or unclear information regarding the changes on the respective ends. Keeping the frontend and backend together will lessen the chances of such miscommunications, facilitating smooth application development.
     
  • Efficient resource usage:  Full-stack developers are hired for the frontend and backend coupling. When big projects are taken into consideration, there are tasks that need to be addressed both on the client and the server-side. A full-stack developer, in this case, hops from one part of the application to the other without any extra overhead. Having a full-stack developer inside the development team is both cost-effective and time-efficient. 
     
  • Efficient teamwork with full ownership: The integration of frontend and backend is fruitful if there exists a clear understanding of the business requirements. This way the involved multidisciplinary teams will rapidly adapt to the development environment and will take full ownership of the project. The development teams work together for longer hours for the efficient delivery of the product.
     
  • Effective for simple and small projects: For simple CRUD (Create, Read, Update and Delete) operations or for a smaller codebase, a coupled frontend backend approach is more than enough as in this case most of the tasks are already resolved and no extra inputs will be required.
     
  • Security out-of-the-box: Joining frontend and backend together comes with many security benefits. For example, there are no ways of exposing an API in such cases, protecting the APIs from any kind of attack.

So we talked about the advantages of the frontend and backend joining till now. But the modern application development model is seeing the replacement of closely coupled frontend and backend by other methods due to its disadvantages.

Following are the cons of joining the frontend and backend together:

  • The frontend and backend join was a success in the case of simple websites. The addition of the web pages on a website makes the system inefficient to deliver multiple types of content, images, or other media elements.
     
  • All the processing tasks are done by the server before the final delivery of the content to the user. This eventually made the server inefficient to handle the multiple user requests.
     
  • The scope of customization is less as any changes performed in the backend placed a direct impact on the frontend of the website. Also, any development change or maintenance required longer hours than usual.

For the purpose of handling large projects, like having billions of lines of code, the front-end backend tight coupling will not work. As the large projects are too big for any one person to fully grasp. A full-stack developer will not get the complete hold on a project.

illustration image showing male and female cartoon characters  sitting in an office and talking to each other about frontend backend
Source: Dilbert

Separating Frontend Backend in a  Development Environment

The powerful and high-performance web browsers come with enhanced processing, facilitating the seamless functioning after the separation of front-end and back-end in a web application development model. 

The major benefits of Frontend and backend separation are mentioned below: 

  • Wide technology specialists reach: In a multi-tier development environment architecture, complex technologies take charge of the tasks. Therefore, in order to create a complex system, specific- technology specialists are needed. Dividing frontend and backend help in acquiring the programmers who are experts in the respective technologies. Also, eliminating the restraints on technology choices that each may have imposed on the other. Thus making the process smooth in such development environments. 
     
  • Modularity: Since the components or modules in such development models are separate, replacement or any change in the modules is smooth. The changes in the backend module of a web application will not affect the frontend portion and vice versa. Thus, no overwriting or messing up with the other person’s work.
     
  • Quick development and deployment: As various teams work parallelly on the project and in complete coherence, this helps in the rapid simultaneous development of a web application,  leading to rapid application deployment.
     
  • API consolidation: With the availability of a huge number of devices, the management of various versions of code (website, iOS app, android app ) needs to be done. Majority of these require the same codebase. An API-based website simplifies everything for the developers as now API handles the code management. Thus, developers have less code to deal with.

We saw the loosely coupled front-end and backend brought many major benefits along. 

But this separation comes with a list of  disadvantages too, these are: 

  • The communication and code management with the APIs increases an overhead burden of documentation on the teams. Along with this, there is no clear way to address the API changes to the frontend.
     
  • Efforts increases with the division of the frontend and backend. In order to commit any changes, two synchronous commits are made rather than one.
     
  • The integration of frontend and backend results in bugs, progress delays and in worst cases leads to development failure. Additionally, communication is inefficient between the teams. 

Divide or Join? What to Choose

As we saw, there may be few benefits for a frontend and backend divide. But these benefits are extendable to independent upgradations, skilled staff integration, reusable APIs, etc. Above all, the fewer dependencies reduces the chances of development blocks.

We are not saying that these extending advantages make the frontend and backend divide best from the frontend backend join. The reality is, it all depends on the particular situation. A huge list of advantages does not make one superior from the other. 

It is recommended to consider the in-and-outs of the project before taking any decision regarding the split or joining of the frontend and backend of an application.

Conclusion

Joining and separation of frontend and backend have some advantages and disadvantages. Considering the current development scenario, the best of the two can be chosen.

What do you think of the same?

If you have some more inputs on the frontend and backend join or divide? You can comment below or can share your views on our social media channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

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