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Need to hire a back-end web developer and wondering how much it will cost? There’s no easy answer, especially for a field with as many components and disciplines as back-end web development. There are a number of factors, skills, and requirements for your project you’ll have to consider before you can hone in on the true cost of your project.

Generally, we look at web development in two parts: the front-end and back-end. In this article, we’ll look at the costs associated with hiring someone to handle the server-side of your application, the part of the site or application that users don’t see, but that powers all the functionality of your site or app.

What does a back-end developer do?

First, let’s look at a few back-end components—you may need to scope for back-end development support for some or all, depending on your application. The backend is needed to drive a high performance application. Any database and server resources that power your cloud application are considered the backend component, and you want this component developed well or your application can suffer from speed issues and data corruption.

  • Database: The platform that contains all of your stored data from customer information to analytics data.
  • Server: Where your applications run. You could need more than one server and an administrator to manage them.
  • Application code: The code that runs on the server but isn’t seen by your users. Most software engineers excel with backend application code.
  • Middleware: An API or web service is considered middleware. Middleware can be called by just your software or by the public with their own software.
  • APIs: APIs are another form of middleware, and they run on your servers. They either expose your internal software or public events that you want to publish to other coders.

You can read this article to learn more about how back-end development works. Now that you have an idea of back-end infrastructure and what you may or may not need for your project, let’s move on to determining how much hiring a back-end developer might charge for your project. Here are some of the most important cost factors you’ll need to consider when engaging a back-end developer for your needs.

Cost Factor #1: Scope

Scope is a major cost factor for every project, especially when it comes to back-end development. Backend development can often be misunderstood or underestimated because the results are rarely visible—instead, it makes up the invisible “machinery” that powers your cloud application. Unless you’re using a back-end-as-a-service (BaaS), which still requires engineering help to set up and integrate out of the box, there’s a lot of setup and coding that goes into setting up back-end architecture. It’s important not to cut corners, or you’ll have an app with poor performance that constantly needs fixing.

Database: Every application that uses dynamic, stored data needs a database—either on-site or in the cloud, or both. The platform shouldn’t matter as much to you as the cost and efficiency, and depending on the complexity you require from your database design, this can have a big impact on your back-end budget. For instance, you wouldn’t use Microsoft Access to power a large enterprise application. Most projects require an enterprise database solution even if you start out small. An enterprise solution will allow you to grow and eliminate the possibility that your database is holding back company growth.

Once a database is built, it’s incredibly difficult to redesign and restructure it, especially once the application depends on it to run. It’s often better to spend a little more ensuring that the database is designed for scalability and efficiency rather than consider redesigning it in the future.

Server/Cloud Resources: Infrastructure is the next major cost to consider, whether you’re using on-site resources or utilizing cloud-based, microservice-based servers. You need enough resources to power your application, but you don’t need to pay high costs for resources that you don’t require. Your developer can help you decide which server resources are right for you, then assist with setup and integration. You might only need one server to start but need several servers in the future. One of the great advantages of cloud hosting is that you can scale server resources as your business grows.

You won’t be able to exactly estimate the cost associated with database and server scope, but your developer can help you determine a rough estimate based on your idea and business requirements.

Platform Code: There are numerous backend programming options for your server-side application. Do you need Python for a data-heavy app? Ruby for fast prototyping? JavaScript running on Node.js? If you’re unfamiliar with backend programming languages, let the developer help figure out the right language for you.

Each programming language has a different hourly cost range. You can pay anywhere between $50/hour to $300/hour, depending on your project scope and business requirements. The server operating system you choose for your cloud platform will also have an impact on the language you use. For instance, C# is common for backend Windows development while Ruby, PHP and Java are common for Linux-based services. Again, your developer will help you determine the right development platform that’s right for you.

Typical Rates Charged by Backend Developers*

Type of Back-End Developer Description Average Hourly Rate*
Basic Back-End Expert in making minor changes including documentation and testing. $35-50 +
Intermediate – Advanced Back-End Beyond fundamentals, also has skills with a specific platform such as .NET and PHP. $50-100 +
Full Stack Developer Mix of front-end and back-end technology expertise. Solution stacks such as MEAN or LAMP. Server-side technologies like ASP.NET, Ruby or Python. $75-150 +

*Reflect rates charged by freelancers on Upwork [in North America with over 1,000 hours and 90% success rate].

Cost Factor #2: Geography of Your Developer

Every location has a different cost of living. This cost of living can drive the hourly rates your developer charges. You can find a less expensive developer in other cities, states, or countries, but just be aware that time zones and miscommunications can be trickier to navigate. When you work with someone outside of your time zone, you must make sure that they are available when you are available and they clearly understand the backend coding requirements.

With a fluid flow of communication, you can be successful with a backend developer from anywhere in the world. In some cases, a larger project with multiple developers requires a project manager to help facilitate communication, documentation, and to relay ideas from you to the developers.

Cost Factor #3: Backend Platform

The type of platform you use is also a factor. Windows and Linux are the two main platforms, but Linux has several distros or “flavors” to consider. Your cloud hosting platform uses a specific operating system; some offer both platforms. Again, your developer can help you decide which operating system is right for you.

The database platform you use can also determines cost. Oracle is a common enterprise level platform, but it’s expensive just like Microsoft SQL Server. A free option is MySQL, but you’ll need a developer with expertise in MySQL. Several other free open-source database platforms are an option. Speak with your developer to determine the best one.

The following chart is a basic range in costs depending on your project:

When determining scope & rates charged by developers:
Project Scope Hours Approx. Hourly Rate
Database fixes 10-20 per bug $50/hour
New development 10-100 hours $50-$150/hour
Add to existing app 10-30 hours $50-$150/hour

You won’t be able to fully estimate, because only a backend developer can take your requirements and turn them into a design. When you post your project, it’s important to detail all the components you’ll need from the developer including any backend design to ensure you get the most accurate estimate possible for the entire application.