Web Dev 101: Coding for the Server

In part one of this installment of the Web Dev 101 series, I discussed the concept of front-end versus back-end coding languages and offered a list of essential front-end languages for beginning web developers to learn. In this part two of two, we’ll tackle back-end languages.

First a quick recap from part one:

Front-end coding languages are those that get rendered on the viewer’s computer. That is, the client’s (viewer’s) web browser does all the work.

Conversely, back-end—or server-side—languages are handled by the web server. This means that the server (where your website files live) renders the content and then transmits the completed files to the viewer’s computer.

Front-end languages to learn:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • SASS/LESS
  • Javascript and jQuery

Compared to their front-end counterparts, server-side languages are a vastly different animal. These languages more closely represent what comes to most people’s minds when they think “code.” Thankfully, back-end languages can be just as easy to learn with the right mindset and thought process.

CodeComparison

Left: HTML (front-end) | Right: PHP (back-end)

Unlike for the front-end, there is less consensus about which back-end languages are the most important/useful. The “best” choice can vary widely depending upon the nature of the project, the requirements of the client, and the opinion of the developer. Therefore, my suggestions below are just that: suggestions. When determining which back-end languages you should learn first, carefully consider your goals as a developer and the types of projects you plan to take on.

We’ll start first with a few common server-side languages that I am not going to recommend as starting points:

ASP.NET

Without getting too detailed, ASP.NET is a server-side language that combines Classic ASP (Active Server Pages) with the .NET Framework, a Microsoft-developed framework for programming software. Basically, ASP.NET is Microsoft’s attempt at a proprietary web development language.

There is an ongoing debate about which is better: ASP.NET or PHP. Different individuals will give you different arguments for or against both. Though there are others more knowledgeable on the subject than I, I personally use exclusively PHP. Here’s why:

  • PHP runs on any server (at least to my knowledge). ASP.NET only runs, in general, on Microsoft servers.
  • PHP development environments are simpler to set up.
  • ASP.NET is actually a collection of several different coding languages. PHP is just one language.

Ruby and Ruby on Rails

Ruby is a general-purpose programming language. Coupled with the popular framework Ruby on Rails (also referred to simply as Rails), it is commonly used to develop web applications.

I am not including Ruby or Rails on my “essentials” list because I myself have not yet learned the language (it’s on the to-do list, okay) and therefore cannot speak to its usefulness.


Now for the languages that did make my list of back-end coding languages for new web developers to learn.

PHP

PHP is a language that powers many, many websites and allows developers to produce dynamic webpages. PHP can be used to collect and manipulate form data, reuse modular code, send and retrieve data to/from databases, and complete many other important functions. PHP will likely be the server-side language you use most frequently.

SQL

SQL (Structured Query Language) is a language used to manipulate databases and the data contained within. SQL is used in conjunction with PHP to query and update databases from webpages. It is actually one of the simplest languages I have learned and is easy to pick up quickly.

AJAX

Okay, so technically AJAX (short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a client-side language. However, I’ve never used it without the help of PHP, so I don’t feel bad including it here.

AJAX allows a webpage to send and receive information to/from the web server and then manipulate the server’s response. These calls happen asynchronously, meaning the browser doesn’t need to refresh in order to talk to the server. This is an important feature for seamless user experiences in web applications.


With the addition of these three back-end languages, we’ve officially completed my list of essential coding languages for new web developers to learn. For quick reference, here’s the entire list:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • SASS/LESS
  • Javascript and jQuery
  • PHP
  • SQL
  • AJAX

Don’t forget these resources are available to learn the languages listed above. Happy coding!

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