Web Development Languages 101

Programming languages are developers’ tools—and each is well suited for a particular kind of website, application type, or project size and scope. Developers will have their own preferences, and will also know which languages and frameworks to use to maximize an application’s potential as well as their own efficiency.

However, when it comes to these skills—probably the most overwhelming aspect for a nontechnical person to sift through—frameworks and languages are often front and center on developers’ resumes. That’s why we’ve compiled a quick look at the most popular programming languages and frameworks, so you can hire faster and more effectively.

The Programming Language Landscape

There’s a great deal of overlap in web development—fluid teams don’t work in silos. They’re versed in multiple technologies and know when and where to apply these skills to your project. The same goes for development languages—there’s a lot of repurposing and layering.

Your developer will know which language or framework to use and when. What you should know before you begin choosing software and languages is what these tools can do and when they’re best put to work. In certain situations, a really streamlined approach to picking software will work, like choosing a time-tested software stack, but other times, you’ll want to layer in languages and frameworks to address certain layers of your application.

Hiring based on a language won’t always be your focus, but having a core understanding of the following will make finding the perfect developer that much easier.

Languages for Every Part of Your Site: Markup Languages, Client-Side Scripts, and Server-Side Scripts

Which area of development do you need support for? Client-side scripting creates what users interact with on your site; server-side scripting is typically your site’s back-end development; database technology manages all the information on the server that supports a website; markup languages are the backbone of it all.

A Quick Website Breakdown

  • Site markup: HTML, CSS, and XML organize, style, and house the content of your site. Scripts and CSS files are embedded into the HTML file, and interact with the HTML elements to create an interactive site.
  • Client-side scripting: This code runs in a web browser and determines what your customers or clients will see when they land on your website. It gives a site functionality—anything from drop-down menus to animation.
  • Server-side scripting: This code executes on a web server and powers the behind-the-scenes mechanics of how a website works. It’s builds a site’s architecture and serves as a go-between with the database.
  • Database technology: It stores all the site data that’s requested, retrieved, and edited via scripts. It helps keep a website running smoothly and requires management and maintenance as a site evolves.

The Basics: Markup Languages and Style Sheets

Basic languages like HTML and cascading style sheets (CSS) are the building blocks of most sites—the structure, organization, and the look and feel. HTML5 is the latest version, with advantages like more cross-platform compatibility and fewer errors. XML and JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) are data exchange formats.

  • HTML (HTML5)
  • CSS
  • XML
  • JSON

Client-Side Scripting Languages & Frameworks

Other languages are used specifically for client-side scripting—namely, JavaScript. These scripts are embedded in the HTML markup, and transform your website from a static page to a hard-working, interactive application. Client-side code runs in the browser—it’s temporarily downloaded from the server to the browser so it can run independently of the server. Client-side scripts have a number of frameworks to support developers and add extra functionality. What your site gets from these scripts is a fast, seamless, desktop experience, with less load on the server. To keep pace with these more advanced dynamic websites, there are also CSS preprocessors and front-end frameworks which make it easier to style your websites and keep pace with the ever evolving world of web design.

Browser-based, front-end languages include:

  • JavaScript
  • ActionScript
  • VBScript
  • Silverlight (for gaming)

Popular client-side frameworks and libraries include:

Popular CSS pre-processors and front-end frameworks include:

Server-Side Scripting Languages & Frameworks

All sites are hosted on a powerful computer called a server. Without getting too technical, server-side code lives on your server and has direct access to your database. By running on the server, it serves as go-between architecture, transferring data to the browser, minimizing the browser’s workload (and necessary client-side scripting), and making your site more secure.

Each language has a number of frameworks to support developers in writing code—some with add-ons, extras, and built-in APIs and other software that make building a top-to-bottom application fast and easy.

Server-Side Scripting Languages:

  • PHP
  • C#
  • C, C++ languages
  • Java language
  • Scala language
  • ColdFusion language
  • Ruby programming language
  • Perl & Perl 5
  • Python
  • JavaScript via Node.js
  • Erlang
  • SQL, a language for database queries

Popular server-side frameworks and libraries include

  • ASP.NET framework
  • Node.js
  • The Ruby on Rails framework
  • The Django framework (Python)
  • Laravel, CakePHP

Note: Your site may use more than one server-side programming language.