The website structure may look quite simple to the average web user. For their defense, an average webpage does not look technically intimidating. But what the users don't see is the front-end part that links all the textual and visual elements on the webpage with the servers. To determine how does this enigmatic front-end work and what front-end developers do, I've asked on of them, Krzysztof Baraniecki from Global4Net, who is currently working on the new G4N website.
Front-end: what is it and how does it work?
Why is it better to use CMS?
The WP is supported by a huge community and additionally offers greater flexibility and opportunities of solutions presentation. It is better equipped for things like blogs and writing articles, which is going to be required from our new website – explains Krzysztof.
The CMS platforms are especially efficient with websites that are frequently updated. Additionally, these platforms do not require knowledge of programming languages, because they operate with scripts. This enhances operations throughout the whole front-end area. What's more, the developers can edit individual subpages independently from other. This further simplifies work; the programmers can alter the functions, without having to worry about the rest of the website code. This is really helpful when one has to perform single fixes, such as incorrectly shown graphics, or corrupted text. Of course, first of all, one has to find out why a thing does not work properly. However, this is easier said than done and can take up much of the working time. That is, however, the case for the front-end. As Krzysztof says "front-ed is 70% of planning and 30% of action."
What does a front-end developer do?
The main task of a front-end developer is to work out and optimize visual elements for the user. The content optimization mainly applies to the presentation of website parts. However it also concerns less obvious subjects, such as, the page loading time and calculating attributes of animations.
Krzysztof, who is currently working on the new G4N website, has dubbed in programming since youth. He began working in IT professionally three years ago, after obtaining post-graduate course in front-end programming. After that, he got his first job in the industry.
The front-enders are getting into action after the project planning is completed, and they know what is the strategy for visual elements aimed for the user interaction – underlines Krzysztof.
As he says himself, a front-end developer does not have to be acquainted with current graphic trends and be an expert of visual-editing applications. However, they still have to combine programming with operations in the graphical layout. What else counts for the front-end developer's responsibilities?
Styling based on the ready layouts
The front-enders realize the earlier approved projects based on the layouts created by the graphic and UX designers. It's them, who decide which file formats are the most compatible. They have to prepare default textual parameters, colors and elements of the backgrounds. Finally, it's them, who work out the automatically generated content.
Responsiveness building (RWD)
Responsive Web Design is made for the user comfort and satisfaction. It is strongly connected with the Mobile First approach, which prioritizes mobile user experience. Krzysztof highlights that while working on the new G4N website he knew how the final mobile page would look and how it would scale to the desktop version. Knowing only the minimal and maximal width of the webpage panel, the front-end developer is able to create such a page that will ease the future operations and fulfill the initial requirements.
One of SEO strategies for front-enders is actually coding according to the RWD standards and Mobile First approach. That's because, these are the standards preferred by the Google algorithms. Other helpful tactics include: site map-making, filling out the metadata and elements' attributes, as well as, PWA implementation.
The front-end integration are conducted with the aim of synergy. In other words, their role is to make two or more separate systems cooperate and enable data transition between them. This provides advantages, such as, data consistency, comfortable user experience, ease of administration and data flow.
Online websites testing
Although, software houses usually have separate departments responsible for advanced testing practices, it does not mean that all the quality checks fall on their shoulders. The front-end developers have to assure the quality of the elements and solutions implemented by them. This is done by loading the content on various devices with different operating systems. Different browser also have to be checked, in different modes, like the incognito mode. While this may sound monotonous it is increasing efficiency of workflow and user experience.
Building of plug-ins, modules and add-ons to the online apps
Sometimes the basic version of e-Commerce platforms or CMS does not meet our expectations. That's when we have to present them to the front-end developer and choose the right solution together. This solutions may include: plug-ins, add-ons and modules, but they all should be easily implemented to the already existing system. After their installation, the front-enders are responsible for their maintenance.
Front-end: how do we know when it's done properly?
First off, it must enable harmonic cooperation of code and graphic elements on the webpage. The CMS platforms do not require expertise in programming languages, however, the developers should still have obtained knowledge of coding. Also, they should know how to use graphic-editing software. Only with those skills employed, the front-enders will be able to understand mechanics of graphical elements embedded into web apps and sites.
Apart from the individual abilities and competencies, the crucial role in this profession is the correct communication in the team. The front-end developers working on the new G4N website regularly interchange suggestions. This has helped them to tailor the page design to the needs and possibilities of the workers engaged in the project. Such an approach concerns also other projects implemented by the Global4Net software house. The front-end work is not solitary code-input; it's constant exchange of ideas and proposition how can something be adjusted or added. What counts in this job is the end effect, its quality and the user experience.
Communication is key. You cannot allow a here-you-go and get-to-work attitude. It will turn into assembly line kind of work – points out Krzysztof.
The third desired practice of a well-performed front-end is logical thinking the whole project through before the front-end commence the work. In other words, it's about careful strategy-making of the agreed implemented solutions. This strategy consists of possibilities and project requirements assessment, so the developers can prepare for the potential problems. As Krzysztof underlines, the lack of reflection in the pre-production phase of a project leads to unreadiness for challenges. This may lead to numerous bugs and delays. Therefore, the planning phase should take up most of the time, so that the actual production will go smoothly.
What technologies are used for front-end work?
The front-end developer's choice of tools should depend on the kind of project one works on. During the making of the G4N website, Krzysztof has used Adobe XD and Microsoft Visual Studio. The Adobe app had provided him insight into files prepared by the UX and graphic designers. Thus, he could adapt his strategy and solutions for compatible data implementation. The insight to UX wire-frames and layouts had allowed him to properly code data and prepare the webpages structure.
Front-end and back-end
These two are like jing and jang: one cannot function without the other. As Krzysztof underlines, during all the G4N implementations, the communication between the front and back-end is constant. It's this type of collaboration that brings the reliable data inflow between the servers and the website visible to the average user.
The cooperation with the back-end can be summed up like that. 'What can I give you and what can you do with it to better our work.' In the end all parties should be satisfied – front, back, admin and the client – explains Krzysztof.
How do I become a front-end developer?
Undoubtedly, the Internet has long since been the main communication channel and live of people around the globe. So, a reasonable move would be to understand the technology and mechanisms behind it. As Krzysztof says, thanks to the online courses, learning materials are abundant. The only requirement is will and time. And it better be a lot of time, because you cannot "learn it all" when it comes to front-end.
Every moment something changes, an update comes, a patch goes – nothing is permanent. But, with the Internet you can catch-up with the pace of changes – says Krzysztof.
You should not think that front-end is a mundane job, only because it's about code-writing. It actually resembles more the solving of constantly popping out puzzles and technical conundrums. Krzysztof point out, the front-end will surprise no matter how long you work in IT. The problems can be solved in numerous ways, however you have to remember, only one of them is the most efficient. It is a profession, where one inconspicuous trouble can lead to the most curious solution. Just like in painting – everything can begin with one line.