Back-end development can be an interesting and exciting career path. Like other Web Developers, Back-End Developers are in high demand. You can also expect to make a decent living, with the average salary for these developers being $122,445 in the U.S.
If you're considering a career in back-end development, you're probably wondering which programming language you should learn first. Ultimately, it depends on your career goals. There are multiple languages used for back-end development, and each has further applications in other fields.
To help you decide, we'll explore some of the most popular programming languages used by Back-End Developers and their various applications. But first, let's start by looking at exactly what back-end development is.
What is back-end development?
The back end of a website consists of web servers, applications, and databases. Back-End Developers write the code for applications that run on the webserver and queries that they embed in these applications to allow them to interact with databases.
The back end of an application provides data for the front end, which runs in the web browser and formats and renders raw data into the finished web pages you see. These applications are called APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and usually return data in a JSON text format. Other back-end applications can generate complete web pages with only back-end code.
To learn more about the field, check out our article on a Back-End Developer's role and responsibilities.
Finding the best back-end development language for your goals
Before we start looking at the programming languages you have to choose from, there are a few questions you should consider. What kind of back-end applications do you want to work on? Which industries do you want to work in? And since most of these languages also have other uses, what other types of development are you interested in?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you decide as we look at each programming language. You might also want to ask a Back-End Developer for advice. Reach out to developers you know or find them on Stack Overflow and ask about their favorite languages.
Back-end development programming languages
Now that you know what back-end development involves, let's explore some of the most popular programming languages used in the field. Each language listed below is used for back-end development, but we'll also touch on some of their other applications.
Java is a multipurpose, object-oriented programming language used extensively in business to build enterprise-scale web applications. So, if you plan on developing web apps in the corporate world, you'll likely run into Java.
The Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) provides web development technologies for enterprise developers like distributed computing, web services, and other features that make creating complete business applications easy. Java Servlets, JavaServer Pages, and the Spring Framework are commonly used for Java web development by big companies, small companies, and single developers.
Learning Java for back-end web development means you'll be well-prepared for a career in enterprise development. It's also a great choice if you're interested in mobile development, as it lies at the heart of many Android apps.
Python is a general-purpose, multi-paradigm programming language used for scripting, automation, data analytics, data visualization, machine learning, web development, and more. Its easy-to-read syntax and versatility make it a favorite among new developers.
Python is commonly used for back-end development, but with third-party frameworks like Flask and Django, you can use it to build complete web applications. Python's especially popular among startups because these frameworks expedite the process from prototypes to live sites.
Along with back-end development, Python's capacity for data analytics and machine learning means it's a great choice if you're considering a career in data science.
PHP, which stands for "PHP: Hypertext Processor," is an open-source programming language created specifically for web development. Today, you can find PHP in over 75% of all websites that use a server-side scripting language.
PHP is easy for beginners to pick up because it can be embedded in HTML files and has many built-in functions that may not come with other back-end languages. It's also used widely to develop content management systems and e-commerce platforms, like WordPress, Drupal, and Magento, so knowing PHP means you can also create plugins and themes for these and other widely-used CMSs written in PHP.
Ruby is a general-purpose programming language used for scripting, DevOps, static site generation, and web development. Ruby's popularity in web development stems largely from its Ruby on Rails framework, which gives developers a set of tools and reusable code that they can use to speed up development time. Many programmers learn Ruby simply so they can use Ruby on Rails to build and deploy web apps quickly.
C# is a modern object-oriented, general-purpose programming language. Microsoft created it for development on the Windows operating system using the .NET framework, where it became the top web development language used on Windows in ASP.NET. The language has since been updated so that it can run on Linux and even Mac OSX. C# is a good choice for web development if you plan to develop applications for multiple operating systems.
Getting started as a Back-End Developer
There are many back-end programming languages out there, but hopefully, the information above will help you find the one that's best for you. To get started with any of these languages, use the courses listed below:
If you'd prefer to learn everything you'll need to know all at once, check out our Back-End Engineer Career Path. In this Path, you'll learn how to program with multiple languages, use them to build projects that you can use to build a portfolio, and more. You'll also earn a certificate to include in your resume upon completion.
Whichever path you choose, we're happy to help you find your way and wish you the best on your back-end development journey.