Web Development Basics

Man sitting on a laptop learning HTML

Web Development Basics for those who are thinking about hiring a developer.

Even if you are a client who doesn't work with the technical aspects of a website, it's still worth knowing some level of web development basics. This makes the communication between you and the developer much smoother. Here's a list of some of the basic terminologies you might hear a developer using when talking about building a website:
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • Database
  • Server-side Code
  • CMS

Client-Side Code

HTML, CSS and JavaScript are often referred to as the "client-side code". They're called client-side, because these files are loaded onto your (the "client's") browser every time you visit a website. HTML, CSS and JavaScript all serve a different purpose on your website.


HTML stands for "Hyper Text Markup Language", and it defines the structure of your website. HTML uses "tags" to define parts of a web page. For example, the visible portion of your page is all encapsulated with the "body" tag, so as to define the "body" of your page. There are also semantic tags like "nav" and "main", which tells the browser that any content nested in those tags are part of the website navigation, or the main content. HTML is like the foundation of a building. Its purpose is not to make the website pretty, but to provide structure and context for the content that goes into a website.


If HTML is the foundation of a building, then CSS is all of its decorative aspects. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, and they are used to present your website in a specific way. Font colors, size of text, background image positions, and anything to do with how the website looks is defined by CSS.


JavaScript is a language used to add interactivity and functionality to your website. For example, you might have seen something like an accordion menu in a website: accordion menu example   Generally speaking, accordion menus works like this: a user clicks on a button labeled with a heading, then a block of content appears right underneath it. This sort of complex user interaction is not possible with just HTML and CSS - if you want to detect an action by a user, this is typically done using JavaScript.


Database is, as it speaks for itself, a base for your data, and its job is to store information. In WordPress, database is used to store anything from blog posts and author information to names of various pages.

Server-side Code

Unlike client-side code, server-side code can be written in a multitude of languages. In WordPress, the main server-side language at work is called PHP. Node, Ruby, and C# are also popular server-side programming languages. Server-side code, sometimes referred to as a "back-end" code, is the code that doesn't get loaded to your browser, and one of its main jobs is to handle data. Server-side code is used to connect to a database to collect relevant data, so that it can be used to display information in a meaningful way.


CMS stands for Content Management System. Content Management Systems utilize all of the aspects of a website that has been mentioned above, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Database, and Server-side Code, to create a website that allows users upload their own content. Websites developed with a CMS will offer you a "shell", which allows you to insert your own content into the website. CMS driven websites will give you an extremely dynamic website you can control without knowing how to code. All you have to do as a website owner is to submit your content through the administrative interface of the website. WordPress and Drupal are one of the most popular CMS systems out there, and they both allow developers to code out a "shell" of a website, which is then populated with the content that the owner uploads.

Web Development Basics - Final Thoughts

These are just some of the most common terminologies that you might hear your web developers talk about when they are building a website for you. It is your developers' job to explain anything that the client doesn't understand. When the developer starts using web development jargon that you don't understand, feel free to ask them questions. You're investing a lot of money into a website, and it's worth knowing about web development basics and getting the best out of your website! And if you have any questions about web development, feel free to ask us.