June 24, 2023
Let’s talk about something that might be confusing for a lot of people: Full Stack Development. What’s that? If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t fret.
By the end of this post, you’ll be well-versed in the concept, the significance, and the best practices of Full Stack Development. You’ll see why this is my favorite way to develop websites. And if you’re already a seasoned veteran in this area, stick around—you might just discover something new.
Full Stack Development encompasses the entire spectrum of the web development process, from the final front-end interfaces that you see, to the backend systems that power them, and everything in between. It’s about having a holistic view of a project and the skills to turn a concept into a fully functioning website or app.
But the real beauty of Full Stack Development lies not just in its breadth but also in its depth. It’s not about knowing a little about everything; it’s about knowing a lot about everything. It’s about understanding how each piece fits into the bigger picture and how to optimize each layer for efficiency, security, and maintainability. Let’s delve into it, shall we?
A Full Stack Developer is a Jack (or Jill) of all trades, but don’t mistake this for being a master of none. Far from it. A Full Stack Developer is expected to write clean, efficient code, design robust database schemas, implement secure communication protocols, and much more. They juggle multiple responsibilities, from designing user-friendly interfaces to ensuring that the server, network, and hosting environment mesh seamlessly.
Think about the old term “webmaster” from the 90s. Back then, handling an entire website by yourself was the norm. Nowadays there tends to be an expectation to have a huge team maintaining a site, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Let’s first make sure that we’re on the same page, so here’s a rundown on the technologies involved first.
Being a successful full stack developer isn’t just about knowing the principles and best practices—it’s also about mastering the right tools and technologies that make the development process smoother and more efficient. Let’s look at some of the key tools and technologies you should be familiar with as a Full Stack Developer.
CSS Preprocessors: Tools like Sass and Less help to make CSS more maintainable and reusable, offering features like variables, nesting, and mixins which are not available in vanilla CSS.
Server-side languages: Languages like PHP, Python, Ruby, Node.js and lately Swift, are often used on the server side. Each has its own advantages—Python is lauded for its readability and simplicity, Ruby for its elegance, and Node.js for its non-blocking, event-driven architecture.
Databases: Knowledge of databases like MySQL, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL is crucial. Each type of database has its specific use cases, and understanding the differences can help you choose the right database for your needs. Also, many websites and apps are moving to a managed database model these days, so it’s good to be aware of that development.
Version Control Systems: Tools like Git are essential for any developer. They help manage changes to code over time and make it easier to collaborate with other developers.
MEAN/MERN Stack: These are popular full stack frameworks—MongoDB, Express.js, Angular/React, and Node.js. They provide a complete set of technologies for building scalable, high-performing web applications.
Ruby on Rails: This is a server-side framework that follows the MVC (Model-View-Controller) architectural pattern. It’s known for its “convention over configuration” philosophy, which minimizes the number of decisions a developer has to make without losing flexibility.
Django: A Python-based framework, Django follows the “batteries included” philosophy, meaning it provides a wide array of functionalities out of the box, making it a robust choice for complex applications.
LAMP Stack: An acronym for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, LAMP is one of the classic full stack frameworks. Linux is the operating system; Apache, the server; MySQL, the database; and PHP (or sometimes Perl or Python), the server-side scripting language. LAMP is open-source and has a large community behind it, making it a robust and reliable choice for web application development. Its components are interchangeable with other technologies, leading to variations like LEMP (where Apache is swapped out for the Nginx server) or MEAN/MERN (where LAMP’s components are replaced by MongoDB, Express.js, Angular/React, and Node.js). This is my stack of choice, as it’s been battle tested and proven for many years.
These tools and technologies are just a starting point. As you continue your journey as a full stack developer, you’ll likely encounter and learn many more. Remember, the best tool for the job depends on the specific requirements of the project. Always be open to exploring new technologies and adapting your toolbox as needed.
And now that you know what we’re talking about, let’s look at the actual best practices!
Let’s dive into some of the best practices that every Full Stack Developer should follow. As always, apply what you find relevant to your own processes.
The frontend of a website is like the cover of a book. It’s the first thing users see, and it’s what they interact with. Therefore, it needs to be visually appealing, responsive, and efficient.
Clean and maintainable code: Writing clean, maintainable code is the cornerstone of good development. It involves using consistent naming conventions, commenting your code, and organizing your files in a logical structure. It’s not just about making your code work—it’s about making your code work well and making sure it continues to work well in the future. Don’t shy away from using other developers or external tools like AI to validate the readability of your code. Even if you’re a seasoned expert, there’s always room for improvement. Also, comments. Add lots of comments, you’ll thank yourself later.
Responsive design: Needless to say, in today’s world, your website needs to work flawlessly across several devices. This is where responsive design comes in. It ensures your website looks great and functions perfectly, whether on a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. This involves careful consideration of CSS media queries, flexible grid-based layouts, and adaptable images and media. This might take a little practice at the beginning, but over time you’ll be familiar enough that you can evaluate at first sight how a design will behave and consider changes before they cause problems. Also, you’ll find common solutions for squeezing interface elements in narrow spaces, that you use over and over again.
Performance optimization: A slow-loading website can be a major turn-off for users. Thankfully, there are several performance optimization techniques you can use. Lazy loading, for example, delays loading of images until they are needed, thereby speeding up initial page loads. Minification removes unnecessary characters from your code without changing its functionality, resulting in faster load times. Obviously, this is a task best suited for automated processes or tools, not meant to be done manually as it would be extremely time consuming.
Accessibility considerations: An accessible website is one that’s usable by all people, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. This involves using semantic HTML for meaningful structure, ensuring adequate color contrast, providing alternative text for images, and more. Accessibility isn’t just a nice-to-have—it’s a must-have. And remember that everyone will be benefiting from an accesible website, even you, maybe now, or maybe in the future.
The backend of a website may be hidden from users, but it’s where all the magic happens. It’s what powers the frontend and ensures everything runs smoothly. Also, your teammates will be thankful.
Choosing the right architecture: Monolithic vs Microservices is a classic debate in backend development. A monolithic architecture has all of its functionality in one single, autonomous unit, while a microservices architecture breaks it down into multiple small services, each performing a specific function. Each has its pros and cons, and the choice depends on the specific needs of your project.
Database optimization: A well-optimized database is crucial for a speedy, efficient website. This involves selecting the right database for your needs, designing a robust schema, indexing your database correctly, and writing efficient queries. To be honest, in my line of work this is mostly taken care of by the CMS, but you still need to be aware of what constitutes a good implementation versus a bad one.
Security considerations: Security should never be an afterthought. It should be a part of every decision you make. This includes things like validating and sanitizing user input to prevent SQL injection attacks, using HTTPS, and keeping your server software up-to-date. In practical terms, you’ll need to work with battle-tested software and servers, and avoid bad ideas and shortcuts when developing, since that’s where most problems come from.
Writing testable code and automated testing: Writing testable code means structuring your code in a way that makes it easy to test. Automated testing, on the other hand, is about writing scripts that automatically test your code for errors. It’s like having a virtual QA team at your disposal 24/7. This is specially important when developing custom applications, CMS plugins, etc. It is an additional step and can add considerable time to the development process, but it stands on its merits as worthwhile.
And then there are the practices that apply to Full Stack Development as a whole:
Understanding the entire stack: As a Full Stack Developer, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the entire stack. This allows you to see how all the pieces fit together and to make better, more informed decisions. As with everything, knowledge is power.
Continuous learning: Technology is ever-evolving, and keeping up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques is key. This doesn’t mean jumping on every new tech bandwagon, but rather continually refining your skills and knowledge. Select your niche and keep yourself relevant by knowing about new features and best practices.
Good documentation: Documentation is like a love letter to your future self (and to anyone else who has to work with your code). It makes it easier for others to understand your code, troubleshoot issues, and make updates.
There you have it—the what, why, and how of Full Stack Web Development. It’s a vast, dynamic field that offers endless opportunities for learning and growth. And while it can be challenging, following these best practices can make the journey a whole lot smoother.
So, whether you’re a budding developer or a seasoned professional, I encourage you to embrace these practices. They can help you write better code, build better websites, and become a better developer.
And if you’re someone who’s looking for a developer who lives and breathes these practices, you’ve come to the right place. Get in touch and I can help you with your development needs.