14 Technologies Every Web Developer Should Be Able to Explain

Colin Flynn

I often find myself thinking of new and simple ways to explain some pretty complicated web development concepts to our clients. What I have found is that the concepts aren’t hard to grasp, but rather all the other terminology is really hard to keep straight. This is my attempt to explain some common terminology in today’s modern web world (as of January 2015) and my hope is that you can find it helpful too.

1. Browsers

Browsers are the interpreters of the web. They request information and then when they receive it, they show us on the page in a format we can see and understand.

2. HTML

HTML is a markup language. It provides the structure of a website so that web browsers know what to show.

3. CSS

CSS is a Cascading Style Sheet. CSS let’s web designers change colors, fonts, animations, and transitions on the web. They make the web look good.

4. Programming Languages

Programming languages are ways to communicate to computers and tell them what to do. There are many different programming languages just like there are many different lingual languages (English, Spanish, French, Chinese, etc). One is not better than the other. Developers typically are just proficient at a couple so they promote those more than others. Below are just some of the languages and links to their homepages

5. Frameworks

Frameworks are built to make building and working with programming languages easier. Frameworks typically take all the difficult, repetitive tasks in setting up a new web application and either does them for you or make them very easy for you to do.

6. Libraries 

Libraries are groupings of code snippets to enable a large amount of functionality without having to write it all by yourself. Libraries typically also go through the trouble to make sure the code is efficient and works well across browsers and devices (not always the case, but typically they do).

7. Databases

Databases are where all your data is stored. It’s like a bunch of filing cabinets with folders filled with files. Databases come mainly in two flavors: SQL and NoSQL. SQL provides more structure which helps with making sure all the data is correct and validated. NoSQL provides a lot of flexibility for building and maintaining applications.

8. Client (or Client-side)

A client is one user of an application. It’s you and me when we visit http://google.com. Client’s can be desktop computers, tablets, or mobile devices. There are typically multiple clients interacting with the same application stored on a server.

9. Server (or Server-side)

A server is where the application code is typically stored. Requests are made to the server from clients, and the server will gather the appropriate information and respond to those requests.

10. Front-end

The front-end is comprised of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. This is how and where the website is shown to users.

11. Back-end

The back-end is comprised of your server and database. It’s the place where functions, methods, and data manipulation happens that you don’t want the clients to see.

12. Protocols

Protocols are standardized instructions for how to pass information back and forth between computers and devices.

13. API

An API is an application programming interface. It is created by the developer of an application to allow other developers to use some of the application's functionality without sharing code. Developers expose “end points” which are like inputs and outputs of the application. Using an API can control access with API keys. Examples of good API’s are those created by Facebook, Twitter, and Google for their web services.

14. Data formats

Data formats are the structure of how data is stored.

Thanks for reading and I hope you found something in here that gave you a new way to think about or talk about web technologies. This was not meant to be an all-encompassing list, but rather a way to talk about all the great technologies we have at our finger tips.