Backend: What is it and what is it used for?

4/10/2023 Author: Arizbé Ken 15 min de lectura

The backend is the most logical part of a site; it is responsible for the business logic, receiving and returning processed data to apps and websites, facilitating navigation, and ensuring the operation and security of various functions.

The result of developing a website requires a backend for it to function optimally and not just look good. 

Before the concept of backend existed in computing and software development, most applications and computer systems followed a more rudimentary and centralized approach. Applications were developed as monolithic entities where all business logic and functionality resided in a single program or codebase. There wasn't a clear separation between the frontend (user interface) and the backend (logic and data storage) as we understand it nowadays. 

Operations and data processing were done on a single machine or local server hosting the application. Users interacted with the application via terminals or local computers, and the ability to access applications remotely or via the web was limited or non-existent. Data was stored and managed on the same machine, without using centralized databases or cloud storage systems. 

Updating and maintaining software required a manual and laborious approach since updates had to be physically distributed or via updated files that needed to be installed on each system individually. Security focused mainly on physical access control to servers and setting up local passwords to protect application access. 

In terms of scalability, capability was limited by the hardware capacity of the machine running the application, and to increase that capacity, it was generally necessary to invest in more powerful hardware. 

Before the existence of the backend as we know it today, computer systems and applications were simpler, less scalable, and lacked the distributed, secure, and efficient capabilities that the modern backend brings to online applications and systems.

What is Backend?

Backend, also known as "the server-side", refers to the part of a web application or website that is not visible to the end user but is essential for its operation. 

It configures all the logical aspects of a website or application; it encompasses the logic, data storage, and security functions necessary for an application to function correctly and reliably, so that all actions requested on the web page are executed correctly. 

In short, the backend is the programming of everything the end user doesn't see.

But, ¿What are the main responsibilities of the backend? Here they are: 

  1. Data Management: The backend is responsible for interacting with the database, which involves storing, retrieving, and manipulating data. This can include creating, reading, updating, and deleting records in the database. 

  2. Business Logic: Contains the logic and rules that define how the application works. This includes processes such as user authentication and authorization, order management in an online store, and others. 

  3. Security: The backend is responsible for implementing security measures to protect data and the application against threats and cyberattacks. This involves user authentication, access authorization, and data encryption. 

  4. Integrations: Many web applications need to interact with other systems and services, such as third-party APIs, payment services, email services, social networks, among others, and the backend facilitates these integrations. 

  5. Performance and Scalability: Involves efficient management of server resources and code optimization. The backend is responsible for optimizing the performance of the application and allowing it to scale to handle a larger number of users and workloads. 

  6. Maintenance: The backend carries out updates and error corrections of the application. Developers can maintain and improve certain aspects of the application without affecting the end user's experience. 

  7. Administration and Monitoring: Provides tools to manage and monitor the operation of the application, allowing developers to diagnose and take corrective actions when necessary. 

The backend is an essential part of any web application, as it handles all the behind the scenes operations that allow the application to function effectively and securely. And it works in conjunction with the frontend, which is the part of the application that interacts directly with the user, to provide a complete and functional experience.

Components of the Backend

The backend of a web application or software includes all components that are not visible to the user. They work together to provide functionality, manage data, and process user requests. The main components of the backend include:

  • Servers: Refers to a physical or virtual machine that collects, hosts, processes, and manages the necessary resources to run a web application. Upon receiving user requests, servers execute the required logic and return responses through a communication protocol, typically HTTP. Web developers can program different servers to perform specific code actions based on the received inputs.

  • Application Logic: It's the sequence of operations that programmers encode in the backend to complete tasks. This is why websites contain functions and algorithms, allowing information and actions to arise from user behavior within a platform. Backend specialists create logic that runs almost exclusively on servers, interpreting data and producing outputs.

  • Frameworks: These are guides used to structure the code, logic, and other aspects related to web architecture. They are templates for the backend that programmers use to facilitate the writing and editing of their server code. Some frameworks include data libraries and tools that provide access to functional code segments.

  • Databases: They contain the information that servers access to complete the website's direct functions and also have options for classifying the information accessed by users. Typically, this data consists of integers, characters, and arrays.

  • APIs: These allow software programs to communicate with other servers and databases to exchange information. Their function is to simplify the presentation of all the information stored in multiple databases in one place.

These components work together to create the necessary infrastructure and functionality in the backend of a web application or software. The choice and configuration of these components depend on the specific needs of the application and its architecture.

The Database

In the development of web applications and software systems, the database in the backend plays a fundamental role. It is an essential component of the backend responsible for storing, managing, and providing access to the application's data.

Backend developers need to be familiar with database systems, as one of their main functions is to ensure the webpage's connection to web servers and these databases. 

The database stores a variety of data, which may include information about users, products, transactions, messages, records, and other types of data necessary for the application's operation. It is where all the business information is stored.

Access to this stored data is carried out through queries and data manipulation operations, such as insertion, updating, and deletion. These operations are performed by the application's backend, which uses query languages, like SQL, to interact with the database. 

It also ensures the consistency and integrity of the data. This is achieved by implementing integrity rules, constraints, and validations that ensure the data meets the established requirements. 

Database security is another crucial aspect. 

Measures such as authentication and access authorization, data encryption, and auditing are implemented to protect the stored information from unauthorized access and security threats. 

In essence, the database in the backend is a critical component that allows web applications and software systems to manage data efficiently and securely. Choosing the right database and designing it correctly are key decisions in the development of a successful application.

Security Considerations

Security is another significant aspect that backend developers must pay close attention to. It's advisable to take measures during its development to strengthen and ensure the security of the backend, thereby protecting confidential data.

The backend of websites consists of different layers that maintain a functional server. If these layers are not properly configured, scanned, or updated, the system becomes vulnerable to the risks of an attack by cybercriminals aiming to hack the system.

The most dangerous web attacks occur on the backend. Therefore, when implementing the backend, special attention should be given to the following security measures:

  1. Data Validation

  2. User Authentication

  3. Authorization and Password Encryption

  4. Protection Against Code Injection Attacks

  5. Protection Against Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) Attacks

  6. Proper Permission Management

  7. Access Control

Backend Programming Languages

There are several programming languages commonly used in backend development. Some of the most frequently used programming languages by backend-specialized developers include:

  • Java: Allows developers to write a program and run it from any device.

  • Python: A programming language known for its ease of use, ensuring that code is always readable.

  • PHP: An open-source language for web development with dynamic content.

  • JavaScript: Widely used for backend development. It's especially popular for real-time web applications, APIs, and high-performance applications.

  • Ruby: Known for its elegant syntax and productivity in rapid web application development.

  • Go: A programming language focused on efficiency and performance. It's used in applications requiring high concurrency, like web services and distributed systems.

The choice of programming language will depend on various factors, such as the type of project, the team's experience, available resources, and performance objectives. 

In many cases, developers may also choose to use multiple programming languages within a single application, leveraging the strengths of each for specific tasks.

Basic Backend Tools

The job for a backend developer can be easier and more appropriate if they choose the right set of tools available in the technology world.

The main tools are:

Programming Language: The programming language is the foundation of the backend. Some popular languages for backend development include Java, Python, JavaScript (Node.js), Ruby, PHP, C#, and Go, among others.

Web Server: A web server is the software responsible for receiving HTTP requests from the client and responding with the appropriate answers. Examples of web servers include Apache httpd, Nginx, and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS).

Backend Framework: These are sets of tools and libraries that simplify the development of web applications and provide organizational structures. Popular examples are Express.js (Node.js), Django (Python), Ruby on Rails (Ruby), Spring (Java), and Laravel (PHP).

Database Management System: They allow for the storage and management of data in the database. Examples include MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.

Integrated Development Tools: They provide a complete development environment that includes a code editor, debugger, and other useful tools for writing, testing, and debugging code. Examples are Visual Studio Code, IntelliJ IDEA, PyCharm, and Eclipse.

Dependency Management System: These tools facilitate the management of libraries and dependencies used in the project. Examples include npm (Node.js), pip (Python), Composer (PHP), and Maven (Java).

Testing Tools: Automated testing tools, such as Jest (JavaScript/Node.js), pytest (Python), JUnit (Java), and PHPUnit (PHP), allow for verifying code quality and detecting errors.

Security Tools: Security tools, like OWASP ZAP and Burp Suite, are essential for conducting security tests and detecting vulnerabilities in the application.

Deployment and Implementation Tools: To deploy and manage the application on production servers, deployment tools like Docker, Kubernetes, Ansible, and Jenkins are used.

The tools to create a backend will depend on your requirements as the backend development is carried out.

Importance of Backend

A website might boast a fantastic design, but if it's not functional, it will fail to achieve its objectives. This underscores the importance of stellar backend development for a site, as its defining aspects are crucial in the crafting of web pages and applications. 

The Backend facilitates:

  1. Enhancing User Experience. Thanks to the backend, a site can be tailored, infused with new features, optimized further, and adapted to meet user needs.

  2. Exchanging Information. Without a backend, the site can't receive user input to carry out tasks like making purchases, searches, personalization, or storing user information.

  3. Boosting Security. It offers users a browsing experience wherein their data is safeguarded – meaning their information won't be compromised. For website owners, there's the peace of mind knowing that online operations will unfold without hitches.

  4. Connection Across Multiple Devices. Users can connect regardless of their choice in hardware, browser, or operating system. This is because backend development ensures that servers handle calculations centrally, negating the need for computations on a user's computer. This ensures smoother and more efficient functioning.

  5. Configuring the App to Suit User and Business Needs.   

Having a backend in an application or web system provides a robust foundation for data management, security, scalability, and efficiency. It also clearly delineates between business logic and the user interface, streamlining both management and long-term development of the application. 

With the advent of backend systems and Cloud Computing, greater flexibility, scalability, collaboration, and global access to applications and data became possible. This led to a paradigm shift in how applications are designed, developed, and used today.

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