How Has Web Development Changed in Recent Years?

Posted on: April 2nd, 2015 - Written by: Tyler Gordon

Before we talk about how web development has changed in recent years, we probably should first define what web development actually is. Sometimes people might confuse web development with web design, but the two disciplines, though related, are not the same thing.

What is the difference between web design and web development?

Web design, like its name, refers to the actual design of a website. This can include the user interface along with design elements such as navigation and the color scheme used. Web development, also like its name, refers more to what goes on behind the scenes, so to speak, of a website.

Here is a great explanation of web development from Techopedia.com: “Web development is the coding or programming that enables website functionality, per the owner’s requirements.”2 The article at Techopedia.com goes on to mention that web development typically includes client-side coding, server-side coding, and database technology.

Front-End Web Development ChangesAs you can imagine, web development, like most technologies, has undergone multiple changes over the last few years, and we will spend the remainder of this article taking a look at some of those changes. We will focus on two main areas: front-end changes and back-end changes in web development.

On the front-end there has been a shift in recent years to using build tools. Build tools are command line tools that convert into CSS, JavaScript, and HTML.

This shift to build tools for front-end web development means that developers can write code for websites that is dynamic, using variables such as brand color—assigning it blue for one client, then yellow for another, for instance.

A front-end framework provides basic styles and functionality for common page elements such as flyout navigation or expanding panels. The build tool will process this unique information for the website, thus speeding up both development and design and allowing for customizable starting points (frameworks) that can be used across multiple projects.

An added benefit of using build tools in front-end web development is that their output is usually condensed and “minified.” (Minification “is the process of removing all unnecessary characters from source code without changing its functionality.”3)

Back-End Web Development Changes

Now let’s talk a bit about changes to back-end web development processes. As we get started, it will be helpful to define two terms: client and server.

Client: When you are on a web page, you are using a “client” to view the page. Usually this is in the form of a browser, or perhaps an app on a phone.

Server: This is defined as the “hosting” computer. Web pages viewed on the client are stored on the server.

One big change that has occurred in back-end web development is that applications have moved more to client-side programming. One method used, is harnessing the technology of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

In the past, when a request was made by a client browser, the hosting server would call the database, process the information, build the page and then transmit it back to the client where it is rendered. This process was creating a full postback. As web sites became more complex, this functionality soon became inefficient.

Now, however, the server has an API. The web page (still operated by a person) requests information, and then the API contacts the database, builds a data object, and returns the raw data to the web page—all without a page refresh. The burden of parsing and displaying the requested data is now on the client side and happens live on the user’s device.

What does this all mean for a website user?

Mobile Web Applications cover image showing hands holding a tablet

We know what you might be thinking: how do any of these changes in web development affect me? Though the technical changes in web development may not interest most people, the end result certainly will because all these changes, both on the front end and on the back end, add up to one thing: a better user experience.

The front-end web development changes we discussed a few paragraphs ago mean that you can get customized software and web pages built specifically for your business needs much more quickly than in years past because build tools combine efficiency and speed with output files that are nice and small. These features translate to a cost savings to you.

The back-end changes mentioned above benefit you as an end user as well. As a result of current web development practices, all communication between the information host (the server) and the web page you are using right now is happening behind the scenes. This means that you as a user enjoy a faster and more streamlined web experience because your page does not have to reload with every information request or change.

Mobile Web Apps

We’ve also seen a rise in development of Mobile Web apps. Rather than building separate native versions of an app for iOS, Windows 8 and Android; we are deploying apps via websites that run on all the platforms. Other considerations for mobile design are building in proper “strike areas” where users place their fingers for buttons, and the support of events available in newer browsers. For example, responsive sites that support drag & slide events in mobile devices as well as touch sensitive desktop monitors. Again, regardless of screen / viewport size.

What’s the bottom line?

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to web development: changes in the last five years have led to a better end product for web users today. That’s good news! And the better news is that future advances are likely to continue this trend into the future as well.

 

Sources:

1 http://www.techopedia.com/definition/23889/web-development

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minification_(programming)

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