Today, technology plays a central role in everything we do. As a result, software development is becoming increasingly popular as every business, regardless of its size, needs a website, an app, or some other technology to stay competitive. Despite the many career opportunities in tech, front-end developers are one of the most in-demand.
However, there are many challenges associated with this career path. While backend developers handle the inner workings of a site, front-end developers are often required to walk a tightrope between designing visual elements, implementing front-end functionalities, and handling interactions with the backend.
Although both the back-end and front-end have challenges, those associated with front-end developers are somewhat unique. In this post, we'll look at some of the challenges front-end developers face and suggest possible ways to address them. Let's get started!
The Frontend Tooling Landscape is Volatile
However, with each problem solved by these technologies, a new void of other issues is created that need filling, like the need for Babel, Vite, Tailwind, and Server Rendering frameworks such as Next, Remix, and Nuxt. Furthermore, best practices change very often every now and then as someone comes up with a new approach to solving a problem. This leads to tools you depend on completely refactoring their APIs, which can sometimes break existing applications. Thus, to remain competitive and relevant in the industry, you have to keep up with these constant changes.
This makes it rather challenging to get your bearings right in the front-end development landscape, especially if you're a newbie developer. You have to pick your battles about which technologies to learn. Otherwise, you'll find yourself constantly chasing the latest hot technology. However, even if you have the world's strongest willpower, you will be required to pick up some of these shiny new technologies every so often if you want to advance in your career. Keeping up with these trends and learning continuously can be exhausting and often filled with burnout.
Front-end Now Handles a lot of Business Logic
In the past, front-end development was mainly about creating the visual interface for websites and applications, while the business logic aspect was handled solely on the back end. Back then, back-end processing was the main business logic source, and the front-end simply rendered the preprocessed data. However, nowadays, that is not the case, as front-end development now also deals with a lot of business logic.
Thanks to the power provided by RESTful APIs as a resource-based paradigm that facilitates the integration of different services and building compelling applications. APIs have made the back-end developer's life easy as they can turn their API endpoints into a set of database request calls that the front-end developer can consume. This, however, creates a new layer of complexity for the front-end developer as in many application codebases, business logic that previously existed in the back end has been moved to the front end.
This can be partly attributed to the recent advancements in front-end technologies such as ES2015, TypeScript, and incredibly powerful modern frameworks like AngularJS, Vue, GraphQL and React. Unfortunately, this has resulted in front-end code becoming just as complex as the typical back-end code built with Node, Java, and C#.
No De Facto Standard
The world of back-end development is arguably stable and reassuringly opinionated compared to that of front-end development. For example, if you're working with Node.js as a back-end language, the community seems pretty set on one framework, Express.js. If you're developing with PHP, you will most likely settle for Laravel. If you're developing with Elixir, you will most likely be working with Phoenix.
There's always some agreed-upon de facto framework, tool, or unspoken patterns for developing and structuring your back-end application. In contrast, the same can not be said of the front-end development space, as there is no consensus framework, pattern, or structure for front-end development. It is un-opinionated and very open-ended. Everyone has their own opinion on what works best and how to build their application. There can be moments when this can be paralyzing, and you find yourself screaming for some agreed-upon standards. You end up spending a lot of your time contemplating, "Should I use this framework?", "Should I structure it this way?", "Am I doing this right?".
Working in a team or jumping on an existing codebase becomes very challenging as what you thought was the best way to achieve something can quickly be sidelined for a completely different method. As a result, you have to be very flexible and quick to pick up things, which can sometimes be challenging and somewhat tiring.
Dealing with Flawed Designs.
Front-end developers are typically responsible for replicating the layout and functionality of designs handed over to them. However, some of these designs sometimes look fantastic on paper and as mockups but aren't always usable when converted into live products. Furthermore, most flaws in UI designs are not usually exposed until real users interact with the real-world version of these designs.
This is often because some of these designs are based on impractical trends that don't take into account the various scenarios of how the user would interact with them in the real world and other limiting factors. They simply don't work well when they're built. For example, a button might be placed too close to the edge of the screen because it looks good on paper, which makes it difficult for users to reach. Or a drop-down menu might be challenging to use because the options are too close together.
When these designs are replicated and perform differently than expected, the front-end developer usually takes the blame for this, not the designer. If people don't like something about a website, it's usually the fault of the front-end developer. As such, the front-end developer is always the first to fall in the line of fire once a design is signed off. For example, this is much less true with back-end development, as the back-end developer is solely responsible for their back-end logic.
Browser Compatibility & Adapting to Screen Sizes
Today many users access web applications with a wide range of browsers and different versions. As a result, cross-browser compatibility has become a crucial aspect of front-end development since it is imperative that every user gets the same smooth user experience while accessing the site. Dealing with browser compatibility issues as a front-end developer becomes unavoidable because different browsers render web pages differently, which can cause problems with your code not working as intended on other browsers or versions of the same browser. It becomes quite challenging to work with, especially with outdated browsers that lack support for modern features and layouts. The recently discontinued Microsoft's Internet Explorer is a notorious example of a legacy browser that was a nightmare for front-end developers.
Furthermore, as technology keeps evolving, it also gives birth to new devices with various screen sizes. Therefore, front-end developers are constantly required to adapt their designs to different screen sizes. As there are many different screen sizes to account for, this can be difficult and challenging to make designs adaptive and responsive enough to look good on every screen, as each screen may have different requirements and real estate space to work with. For example, a design that looks good on a small screen may be too cramped on a large screen, and vice versa. Again, this can be tricky and challenging for front-end developers as it requires careful planning and testing.
There is no doubt that front-end development is exciting and thrilling, but it is no longer as simple as it once was. It is now very easy to get lost in the front-end ecosystem as many challenges face today's front-end developers. Though there are a few leading technologies and stacks to stick with, everything is still foggy, and at times, the role of a front-end developer often feels like that of a full-stack developer. As a result, front-end developers are now required more than ever to be autodidacts who stay abreast of these constant technological advancements.