October 29

The Beginner’s Guide to Website Development

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What is website development?

Website development is a catch-all term for the work that goes into building a website. This includes everything from markup and coding to scripting, network configuration, and CMS development.

While web development typically refers to web markup and coding, website development includes all related development tasks, such as client-side scripting, server-side scripting, server and network security configuration, eCommerce development, and content management system (CMS) development.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of web development, the process of creating a website, and additional resources for those who want to learn more about development — or become a developer themselves.

Keep reading to dive into website development or use the chapter links to jump around the guide.

Why is web development important?

The Internet isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s become a portal and primary method of research, connection, education, and entertainment in the world. As of 2021, there were 4.66 billion global Internet users — more than half the world’s population.

Given the rapidly-increasing number of Internet users, it’s no surprise that web development is a rapidly expanding industry. Between now and 2030, the employment of web developers is expected to grow by 13%, much faster than most other technology careers.

See why thousands of customers use CMS Hub to build an optimized website that integrates with their HubSpot CRM data and full marketing suite.

In the next section, we’ll tackle web development basics with answers to some common questions.

Web Development Basics

  1. What is a website?
  2. What is an IP address?
  3. What does HTTP mean?
  4. What is coding?
  5. What does front-end mean?
  6. What does back-end mean?
  7. What is a CMS?
  8. What is cybersecurity?

Now that we’ve defined web development, let’s review some web development basics.

1. What is a website?

Websites are files stored on servers, which are computers that host (fancy term for “store files for”) websites. These servers are connected to a giant network called the Internet.

Browsers are computer programs that load websites via your Internet connection, such as Google Chrome or Internet Explorer, while the computers used to access these websites are known as “clients”.

2. What is an IP address?

To access a website, you need to know its Internet Protocol (IP) address. An IP address is a unique string of numbers. Each device has an IP address to distinguish itself from the billions of websites and devices connected via the Internet.

The IP address for HubSpot is 104.16.249.5. You can find any website’s IP address by visiting a site like Site 24×7 or by using Command Prompt on Windows or Network Utility > Traceroute on MacBooks.

Traceroute in Network Utility on Mac

To find your device’s IP address, you can also type “what’s my IP address” into your search browser.

While you can access a website using its IP address, most Internet users prefer to use domain names or by going through search engines.

3. What does HTTP mean?

HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) connects you and your website request to the remote server that houses all website data. It’s a set of rules (a protocol) that defines how messages should be sent over the Internet. It allows you to jump between site pages and websites.

When you type a website into your web browser or search for something through a search engine, HTTP provides a framework so that the client (computer) and server can speak the same language when they make requests and responses to each other over the Internet. It’s essentially the translator between you and the Internet — it reads your website request, reads the code sent back from the server, and translates it for you in the form of a website.

4. What is coding?

Coding refers to writing code for servers and applications using programming languages. They’re called “languages” because they include vocabulary and grammatical rules for communicating with computers. They also include special commands, abbreviations, and punctuation that can only be read by devices and programs.

All software is written by at least one coding language, but languages vary based on platform, operating system, and style. All languages fall into one of two categories: front-end and back-end.

5. What does front-end mean?

Front-end (or client-side) is the side of a website or software that you see and interact with as an Internet user. When website information is transferred from a server to a browser, front-end coding languages allow the website to function without having to continually “communicate” with the Internet.

Front-end code allows users to interact with a website and play videos, expand or minimize images, highlight text, and more. Web developers who work on front-end coding work on client-side development.

6. What does back-end mean?

Back-end (or server-side) is the side that you don’t see when you use the Internet. It’s the digital infrastructure, and to non-developers, it looks like a bunch of numbers, letters, and symbols.

There are more back-end coding languages than front-end languages. That’s because browsers — at the front-end — only understand HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but a server — at the back-end — can be configured to understand pretty much any language.

7. What is a CMS?

content management system (CMS) is a web application or a series of programs used to create and manage web content. (Note: CMSs aren’t the same as site builders, like Squarespace or Wix.)

See why thousands of customers use CMS Hub to build an optimized website that integrates with their HubSpot CRM data and full marketing suite.

While not required to build a website, using a CMS makes things easier. It provides the building blocks (like plugins and add-ons) and lets you create the structure with your code. CMSs are often used for e-commerce and blogging, but they’re useful for all types of websites.

8. What is cybersecurity?

There are always malicious actors looking to find vulnerabilities in websites to expose private information, steal data, and crash servers. Cybersecurity is the practice of securing data, networks, and computers from these threats.

The methods used by hackers are constantly evolving, as are the security measures taken to defend against them. Failing to understand how your site could be targeted could result in disaster.

As a result, a basic understanding of cybersecurity best practices is critical for effective web development. You should also carry out security audits on a consistent basis.

Next, let’s take a look at the types of web development a developer could specialize in.

Types of Web Development

  1. Front-end Development
  2. Back-end Development
  3. Full Stack Development
  4. Website Development
  5. Desktop Development
  6. Mobile Development
  7. Game Development
  8. Embedded Development
  9. Security Development

Whether you’re looking to hire a web developer or become one, you should understand the different types of web development that developers can master.

These different types of web development primarily refer to the different sectors of the profession in which web developers can work. Some of these distinctions overlap, and web developers will often master multiple types of web development.

1. Front-end Development

Front-end developers work on the client- or user-facing side of websites, programs, and software — in other words, what users see. They design and develop the visual aspects, including the layout, navigation, graphics, and other aesthetics.

The main job of these developers is to build interfaces that help users reach their goals, which is why they also often have a hand in the user experience aspect of their projects.

2. Back-end Development

If the front-end is what users see, the back-end is what they don’t. Back-end web developers work on the servers of websites, programs, and software to make sure everything works properly behind-the-scenes.

These developers work with systems like servers, operating systems, APIs, and databases and manage the code for security, content, and site architecture. They collaborate with front-end developers to bring their products to users.

3. Full Stack Development

Full stack developers work in both the front-end and back-end sides of a website. They can create a website, application, or software program from start to finish. “Stack” refers to the different technologies that handle different functionalities on the same website, like the server, interface, etc.

Because full-stack developers require years in the field to build the necessary experience, this role is often sought after. Their all-around knowledge helps them optimize performance, catch issues before they occur, and help team members to understand different parts of a web service.

4. Website Development

Website developers can be front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers. However, these professionals specialize in building websites, as opposed to mobile applications, desktop software, or video games.

5. Desktop Development

Desktop developers specialize in building software applications that run locally on your device, rather than over the Internet in the web browser. Sometimes the skillset of these developers overlaps with that of web developers if an application can run both online and off.

6. Mobile Development

Mobile developers build applications for mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. Mobile apps operate much differently than other websites and software programs, thus requiring a separate set of development skills and knowledge of specialized programming languages.

7. Game Development

Game developers specialize in writing code for video games, including console games (Xbox, PlayStation, etc.), PC games, and mobile games — which means this specialty overlaps somewhat with mobile development.

8. Embedded Development

Embedded developers work with all hardware that isn’t a computer (or, at least, what most of us imagine as “computers,” with a keyboard and screen). This includes electronic interfaces, consumer devices, IoT devices, real-time systems, and more.

With a recent rise in interconnected devices as seen with smart appliances, Bluetooth technologies, and virtual assistants, embedded development is becoming an in-demand practice.

9. Security Development

Security developers establish methods and procedures for the security of a software program or website. These developers typically work as ethical hackers, trying to “break” websites to expose vulnerabilities without intending harm. They also build systems that discover and eradicate security risks.

Now, let’s dive into the web development process.

The Website Development Process

The process of creating a website isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. Each development path is different based on the type of website, programming languages, and resources.

The following section serves as a brief overview of the web development process and a short introduction to the most common languages and CMS options.

1. Form a plan.

Before laying pen to paper or hands to keyboard, it’s vital to first connect with teams and personnel across your organization to develop a plan for your website.

Here are some questions to consider before your first site draft:

  • What is the goal of your website?
  • Who is your audience, and what do you want them to do on your website?
  • What type of website are you building? (e.g. basic informational, membership, online store)
  • What content are you aiming to publish, and at what volume?
  • What’s the purpose of this content?
  • How will you structure your website for the best navigational experience?
  • What’s your budget?

Answering the questions requires interfacing with your web development, marketing, and financial teams to determine your priorities and make informed decisions.

Put simply? It’s much easier to create a roadmap at the beginning of the process than reverting your progress at a roadblock.

2. Create a wireframe.

All good websites start with a blueprint. Developers call this a wireframe. It doesn’t have to be an official document; it’s simply a vision for your site that’ll give both you and your developer(s) direction and a place to start. You can draw it on a whiteboard or use a tool like InvisionSlickplan, or Mindnode.

website development: wireframeWireframes are strictly visual tools that will help you understand where text and images will go on individual webpages. You can use blank boxes and “dummy text” to get an idea of how your content will show up on the front-end. Work with your developer to create wireframes so that they have an idea of what you’re picturing.

3. Draft up a sitemap.

Next, it’s time to create a sitemap (not to be confused with sitemap.XML, which is an XML file that helps search engines crawl and find your site). Just like a business plan gives a potential investor insight into your goals and deliverables, a sitemap gives a developer the information needed to meet your vision. You can create your sitemap on your own or work with your developer(s).

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning your site:

  • What individual pages do you want?
  • What content will be on those pages?
  • How can you organize those pages into categories?
  • What is the hierarchy of pages on your site?
  • How will the pages link together?
  • What pages and categories are essential to your site and user experience?
  • Which pages or categories could be removed or combined?

Again, it’s a good idea to consult with other teams within your organization. If you have an SEO and/or content strategy team, their input will be critical in the linking structure and categorizing of your pages.

3. Write your website code.

The next step in the web development process is writing the code.

Developers will use different coding languages for the front-end and back-end of websites, as well as for different functionalities of the site (such as design, interactivity, etc). These different languages work together to build and run your site.

Let’s start with the most commonly-used languages.

HTML

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) has been used since the 1990s. It’s the foundation of all websites and represents the bare minimum of what’s needed to create a website. While it’s possible to create a website with only HTML, it wouldn’t look particularly attractive.

Below is the HTML code for a basic Bootstrap button.

 
<button type="button" class"btn">Click Me</button>

Languages like CSS and JavaScript enhance and modify the basic site structure built by HTML codes. HTML5 is the most recent version and supports cross-platform browser functionality, making it popular in mobile application development.

CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) was developed in the late 1990s. It adds design elements like typography, colors, and layouts to websites to improve the overall “look” of websites.

CSS allows developers to transform your website to match the aesthetic you envisioned for your site, and like HTML5, CSS is compatible with all browsers.

Here’s a code snippet for customizing the jumbotron element in Bootstrap CSS.

 
.jumbotron {
background: #27a967;
color: white;
text-align: center;
}

.jumbotron p {
color: white;
font-size: 26px;
}

JavaScript

JavaScript is the cherry-on-top of coding languages. Created in the mid-90s, JavaScript is used to add functionality to websites. Developers use it to add animations, automate tasks within certain pages, and add interactive features that enhance user experience.

JavaScript is rapidly evolving. Once considered a “toy” language, JavaScript is now the most widely used coding language in the world. With the help of Node.Js, it’s now a back-end coding language. It’s the first language to be understood by browsers, and some have even discussed applying machine learning to it, too.

Below is a JavaScript code snippet for automatically opening links in a new window in WordPress.

JavaScript code snippet example

HTML, CSS, JavaScript are the “big three” of web development. Almost every website uses them in some capacity. There are plenty of others, such as server-side languages like JavaC++Python, and SQL, but understanding these three is foundational to your website development knowledge.

4. Build the back-end of your website.

Writing code might be one of the more complicated parts of web development, but it’s hardly the only component. You also have to build your back-end and front-end site structures and design.

Let’s start with the back-end.

The back-end handles the data that enables the functionality on the front-end. For example, Facebook’s back-end stores my photos, so that the front-end can then allow others to look at them. It’s made up of two key components:

  • Databases, which are responsible for storing, organizing, and processing data so that it’s retrievable by server requests.
  • Servers, which are the hardware and software that make up your computer. Servers are responsible for sending, processing, and receiving data requests. They’re the intermediary between the database and the client/browser. The browser will, in effect, tell the server “I need this information”, and the server will know how to get that information from the database and send it to the client.

These components work together to build the foundation for each website.

As for building your website, backend developers will establish three things.

  • Your logic code, which is a set of rules for how your website will respond to certain requests and how objects of your website will interact.
  • Your database management, which is how your website will organize, manage, and retrieve its data.
  • Your infrastructure, which is how your site will be hosted. Hosting your own site will give you greater control, but it’s much more expensive and requires you to maintain your own server health and security.

With these components and decisions in place, your website will be ready for front-end development.

Note: The back-end is slightly tangential to web development because you don’t always need a back-end if you’re not storing any data. “Data” in this context means any user-entered information that you need to save and persist. Think about logging in to a website. If they don’t have a back-end, how could they remember your login information? Or what your profile settings are? To get this information, you need a back-end.

Facebook, as an example, needs to know what people are in your Friends list, what events you have joined, what posts you have created, and more. This is all “data” that lives in a database. If they didn’t have a back-end with a database, none of that data would be accessible to them.

On the other hand, a website that’s purely informational and doesn’t require the users to enter any data wouldn’t need a back-end.

So, if you have no data, you don’t necessarily require back-end development. But that’s not saying you shouldn’t learn the basics. You never know when you might need it.

5. Build the front-end of your website.

If you’ve ever dabbled in web design or toyed with a website in WordPress, Squarespace, or Google Sites, you’ve touched front-end web development.

The front-end stuff is important — it’s what your visitors, customers, and users see and how they’ll use your website.

Front-end (or client-side) development includes a combination of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. It also controls components such as typography and fonts, navigation, positioning, and browser compatibility and responsiveness. This part will reflect more of your initial site vision and what you included in your wireframe.

As technology and consumer preferences change, client-side coding tends to become outdated much faster than back-end development. This is where coding resources (like the ones we’ve included below) come in handy.

6. (Optional) Work with a CMS.

Why would someone choose a CMS over coding “by hand” or “from scratch?” It’s true that a CMS is less flexible and, therefore, gives you less control over your front-end. However, a CMS is easier to use (you have to write less code), and it often has tools for hosting the site, storing user information, creating a blog, publishing landing pages, capturing leads, and even building an email list. As a result, you’ll be able to make your website more profitable with less than half the work.

See why thousands of customers use HubSpot’s CMS to build an optimized website that integrates with their HubSpot CRM data and full marketing stack.

CMS options often include plugins that remove the need to write a back-end. For example, there are WordPress plugins for eCommerce so that, instead of building a complicated back-end to charge customers’ credit cards, you can just use an existing plugin and avoid the need to deal with databases and server-side code.

Popular content management systems include HubSpotJoomlaMagento, and WordPress — which has over 65% market share. (In this case, we’re talking about open source WordPress software, not the WordPress site builder.)

7. Acquire a domain name.

At this point, your website will have an IP address. It also needs a domain name, a memorable website name that your visitors can use to find your site.

Perhaps you’ve heard of sites like GoDaddy and Hover. These services help you purchase a domain name and register with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Most domain registrations are good for a year before you’re required to renew.

Website builders and hosting services, like WordPress and Squarespace, also allow you to purchase a domain name.

8. Launch your site.

Once you’ve set up a domain name and linked it to your host, you’re almost ready to unveil your work to the web.

But not so fast — there are still a handful of things you’ll need to check before an official launch. These include planning out responsibilities on your team, testing your site thoroughly for any glitches, optimizing for SEO, and a final check before “flipping the switch” and making your site live.

Website Development Resources

Interested in learning more about development and coding? Outside of connecting and networking with other developers, there are plenty of resources you can tap into to further your understanding of web development.

Web Development Courses and Classes

Whether you want to explore back-end, front-end, or full-stack coding, here are a few online courses and classes recommended by HubSpot developers.

TutorialsPoint

All content and resources on TutorialsPoint are free. Between tutorials, ebooks, and videos, TutorialsPoint provides a host of learn-to-code options.

egghead

According to their website, “egghead is a group of working web development professionals and open source contributors that provide you with concise, information-dense video courses on the best tools in the industry.”

Users can take courses, listen to podcasts, or take lessons on a wide variety of web development topics.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a well-known free educational resource. Users can learn anything from macroeconomics to linear algebra to US history, as well as a handful of computing topics.

SiteSaga

SiteSaga is a free online resource to learn website creation for beginners.  It’s the ultimate website saga that covers simple and comprehensive guides on building websites, growing them, and establishing a great online presence. Mainly focused on non-developers and small businesses, it features the easiest ways to make websites using CMSs like HubSpot and website builders. 

freeCodeCamp

freeCodeCamp is a non-profit organization (like Khan Academy) that helps people learn to code for free. With thousands of articles, videos, and interactive lessons, as well as worldwide study groups, freeCodeCamp helps thousands of developers and engineers learn about programming and land development jobs.

Team Treehouse

Team Treehouse is a subscription-based online learning program. Users pay a monthly fee and gain access to hundreds of courses on over 20 different topics. From JavaScript to Python to PHP, Treehouse can teach you all you need to know about web development.

Web Development Communities

Web developers are masters of the Internet, so it makes sense that they’d hang out and connect in Internet-based communities.

According to Code Condo, developers join these communities for:

  • Up-to-date information and problem-solving
  • Insightful answers, new perspectives
  • Tips and tricks for all-level programmers
  • Links to resources, talks, and research papers
  • Meeting new friends, code buddies, and potential partners

Here are a few online communities recommended by our HubSpot developers.

Stack Overflow

Stack Overflow was introduced nearly 15 years ago and has since become one of the most popular programming communities in the world. According to co-founder Jeff Atwood, “[Stack Overflow] is by programmers, for programmers, with the ultimate intent of collectively increasing the sum total of good programming knowledge in the world.”

Stack Overflow is a great place to go with questions because most of the time, other developers have asked and answered the same ones. The forums in Stack Overflow keep you connected to other developers while also keeping you informed.

Mozilla Development Network

Mozilla Development Network (MDN) is known to be more thorough and accurate than other online resources. It’s not as much a community as a comprehensive resource and library of documents for coding languages. MDN is useful when learning how certain functions work and staying up-to-date on coding and development news.

Reddit

Reddit is a forum-based community where developers of all levels gather to ask and answer questions. It’s incredibly interactive and includes people from all over the world. You can also join “subreddits” based on specific topics such as web designJavaScript, or freelancing.

Dive Into Web Development

The Internet is here to stay, and it’s constantly evolving to meet user needs. Web developers are on the front lines of these innovations and improvements — from this blog to your favorite social network to the apps you use on your phone, web development is everywhere.

As a result, it’s worth taking the time to understand coding and programming to help make your business website the best it can be — for you and your customers.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

Written by: Allie Decker


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