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Front End vs. Back End Mobile App Development: Learn what you need to know in 5 minutes

November 5, 2016

Here’s what you know already:

A mobile app with a great UX that lets your end users easily and securely tap into your databases can offer you a critical business advantage.

But do you know what goes on behind the scenes to deliver such a rich and powerful experience?


Probably not, and that’s why you’re here. Although mobile app development involves managing multiple moving parts, we’ll focus on just one part of the puzzle: specifically, the front end and back end development.

In development terminology, the user experiences the front end (what happens on the app itself), whereas the back end (colloquially, the nuts and bolts of the app) happens on a server. There was a time when front end and back end developers would clash because of the belief that front end designing required little to no serious programming skills. That, of course, is no longer the case. Mobile app development is now a collaborative process between the front end designers and the back end developers.

Writing a Native Front End

A native mobile app is developed for a particular mobile platform (iOS, Android or Windows) and is written in a language that is supported by the operating system of that platform. Since a native app can fully leverage a device’s hardware and functionality, it offers the best user experience.

For the iOS platform

Mobile app developers need a lot of prior knowledge to write the front end of an iOS app. For iOS developers, apps are written in either of the two programming languages: Objective-C or Swift. iOS app developers must also understand important iOS concepts like wireframes, storyboards and XIBs which are used to design the app. If you have tinkered with software that animates images, you’ll likely know what a wireframe or storyboard is. But for the newcomers, a wireframe is a document that creates a user roadmap and an architecture for your app’s information whereas a storyboard determines at what point in time a visual frame will occupy a specific position and will have specific properties. Additionally, most iOS developers utilize an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) called Xcode that facilitates development for the iOS SDK (Software Development Kit.)

For the Android platform

Android developers utilize different tools to create their apps. The programming language behind all Android apps is Java. In addition, Android app developers must understand how to use XML, a markup language, to set up the layout of their apps. There are many IDEs for Android development. One of the most commonly utilized IDEs is called Eclipse. It has a rich ecosystem of plug-ins and an open source framework that supports other languages and projects.

Writing a Hybrid Front End

Unlike native apps, hybrid apps don’t need separate efforts for each mobile platform; a hybrid app is compatible with all the major mobile operating systems. It is preferred for its cost effectiveness and quick deployability.

Some developers choose to utilize web development technologies in order to write better apps. These developers will develop a web app and then display the web app inside of their mobile app. There are many advantages to building a hybrid front end, but the biggest one is portability. Instead of writing two separate native front ends for an Android app and an iOS app, you can simply write one web app and display it on both platforms. Web developers use technologies like HTML (for layout), CSS (for styling), and JavaScript (for action), as well as frameworks like AngularJS.

What is Back End Development?

To put it simply, the backend is where you find the implementation of business logic and data handling as well as integration with third party systems.

But how do you go about the development of that backend?

Now that your front end is ready, it likely needs data to display in one form or another. This data resides on the back end, on a server that hosts user data. To create a server that communicates purposefully and efficiently with the front end, many technologies may be used. Some platforms include .Net, Java, LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP), Ruby, and Python. There are many, and those are just a small sampling of the countless languages used to create servers.


So you’ve written a server to hold all of your user data, but how is that data being stored and arranged? You need a database. Commonly used databases include MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB, though there are many more. Database development primarily consists of creating relational or non-relational table structures and utilizing a query language (like SQL) to query the database for the data you need. In order to properly facilitate communication between a server and the mobile app (or any other clients it may have), some sort of communication protocol is necessary. Examples include REST (Representational State Transfer) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

Front end vs. Back end: Which one should you implement first?

It is common to see a mobile app development company kickstart its app development process with the backend since it requires more time (due to the complexities involved.) However, we have come to realize that it is a practice which more often than not results in inordinate delays.

Since the front end of a mobile app is subject to the approval of multiple stakeholders, a lot of back and forth tends to happen in the app design process. In order to get your product to market on time, the method we use at July Rapid that we find works best is to run the front end design process in conjunction with the back end development process. We’ve learned that it allows for fast-paced design iteration without having to rewrite any code.

Ultimately, for a mobile app to deliver the best customer experience, the front end needs to work in tandem with the back end. And often, that can be done most effectively when they’re built in parallel.

Any questions about front end vs back end development?

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