The evolving meaning of front-end development

    Front-end development has changed impressively over the last two decades. Which evolution has this business gone through?

    Subscribe to our blog

    Front-end development has changed impressively over the last two decades (or since the beginning of the digital revolution). The possibilities have grown, but things didn’t get less complicated. Which evolution has this business gone through?

    Front-end development in its infancy

    In the beginning of front-end development, the leading browsers were Netscape, Opera and Internet Explorer. Functionality was top priority and layout appeared on the second plan, due to the lack of tools and techniques to work on it. JavaScript and CSS didn’t exist, so what kept front-end developers busy was fighting browser bugs and constructing tables to give the content a comprehensive appeal. Front-end developers had to follow a list of browser specifications to render the preferred layouts and images properly. Performance issues were in fact not deeply considered while cross-browser compatibility remained of limited importance.

    Front-end development in its infancy

    When Adobe Photoshop was proudly announced as the groundbreaking design tool in 1990 and CSS1 made its entrance six years later, a front end developer’s main task became to create pixel-perfect CSS and HTML based on meticulously sliced PSDs. HTML/CSS was primarily judged by how well it replicated a given design. There was no real “development” taking place on the front-end side. The web was a collection of documents that were hyperlinked together, carrying on the conventions of print media.

    …over its adolescence…

    JavaScript made it possible to overcome browser incompatibilities and the rise of the first libraries and frameworks soon led to a huge competition in coming up with new libraries and frameworks in turn. Built-in functions replaced Adobe Flash to create animations, transitions and interactive experiences on screen. When by the end of the 1990s most of the browsers accepted the majority of the renewed DOM specifications, the life of front-end developers became easier.

    In and around 2006, frameworks like jQuery, MooTools and the launch of a superset of HTML with ‘HTML5’ revived the life of dying front-end technologies. That, together with successive versions of CSS, made it possible to create ever more sophisticated page layouts, which increased the skill level needed to do the development. Besides technical mastery of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, it became indispensable to gain knowledge of user experience fundamentals (including SEO) and sensibility for design.

    ...to what it is now

    The front-end landscape has become flexible and dynamic in many ways. New tools are invented every day and are discussed by a considerable, worldwide community on thousands and more blog posts. In short, innovation has become the crucial key in the business sector. It-companies stand or fall by making the right choices in the extensive development offer. Today’s fear is that front-end developers rely too much on the overload of existing frameworks and stop pushing for better solutions.

    Instead of considering a web page as an entity, front-end developers start deconstructing the page into reusable, scalable and maintainable components. Together with these new insights in HTML, CSS architecture gains importance and is considered more object oriented (OOCSS and SMACSS).

    Developers presently do an effort to keep plugins, libraries and frameworks small and specialized, and consequently not bloated with useless code. It becomes a challenge to keep the CSS as small as possible while the demand for large-scale projects is only increasing. In addition, after Steve Jobs and co entered the scene, device proliferation has introduced new issues concerning adaptive content, responsive design, and device-specific rendering.

    Front-end developers will continue to commit themselves to improve efficiency, usability, flexibility, performance, accessibility, and simplicity of the code they write. Tools (like Macaw) that create their own code based on a simple design, won’t be able yet to replace the work of these coders.

    Published on 12/07/16    Last updated on 01/07/19

    #Web Development

    About the author

    SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG

    Participate in this discussion