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What is Web Development?

Learn the Basics of Web Development: Lesson 1

Last Updated: 2021-04-01

What is “Development”?

Before we get to the “web” part, let’s clarify what exactly is “development.”

I remember posting an article called The Best Way to Learn Development Skills (While Getting Paid in the Process). The article was about my process for writing about the web development skills I was learning in order to make it stick. For some reason, I didn’t put the word “web” before “development” in the article title, disappoint a reader who thought it was going to be about personal development and time management. The point of the story is that the word “development” can be taken in several ways.

In the case of web development, “development” refers to writing, or developing, code to create web applications.

That’s a plain enough definition, right? Not quite. If you’re a beginner, it may not be clear what “code” or “applications” means either, so let’s break that down further.

The most basic definition of “code” is to simply say that it is instructions for your computer to do something. So a “coder”, also called a developer or programmer, is someone who writes instructions for a computer to do something.

As we all know, there are many things that can be done on a computer. However, most coders want to write instructions that tell their computers to create and run an “application.”

An application is simply a “program” designed for end-users to accomplish a certain task.

Microsoft OneNote is an application for users to take effective notes.

Candy Crush Saga is an application for users to have fun matching candy.

From the perspective of a user, an application is something that you see and interact with in order to accomplish a certain task.

From the perspective of a coder, an application is a set of instructions that displays something to the user, captures their interactions, and carries out their desired task. “Program” may be used as a synonym for application; however, I like to think of “program” as relating to what an application is from the perspective of the coder (i.e. the underlying code).

In a word, a coder writes instructions that display something to users and helps them accomplish a certain task by responding to their interactions.

What is displayed to the user via code is called the “user interface.”

Merriam-Webster defines “interface” as "the means by which interaction or communication is achieved ."

A user interface is simply where the user interacts with the code.

The user interface shows the user what they can do in the application, and the underlying code captures the user’s input and accomplishes a certain task via additional instructions.

Make It Stick

Here is a list of words that we have broken down so far:

  • Development/Developing/Developer (also called programming/programmer or coding/coder)
  • Code
  • Application
  • Program
  • User Interface

Pretend that you are explaining what “development” is to another friend who is interested in learning web development. Break down and explain these definitions and terms to them. Feel free to use liberty to explain it in a way that makes sense with your brain.

What is “Web Development”?

Given our definitions of development, we now need to explain how “web development” is different from just “development.”

Applications can be accessed on different platforms.

For example, you can access Microsoft OneNote on your desktop (downloading it from the app store), or you can download it on your mobile device and access it there. You can also open Chrome or another web browser and access it at

The application on your desktop is a “desktop application.”

The application on your mobile device is called a “mobile application,” or more commonly just a “mobile app.”

The application running in the web browser is called a “web application.”

As you might be able to guess, “web development” refers to the process of writing instructions, or code, to create a web application.

Getting more specific, it refers to the process of writing instructions to manage a user interface in order to help a user accomplish a certain task.

Web development is a specific genre of computer programming, just like Jazz is a specific genre of music. There are many overlaps between genres but also specific marks and skills required within each.

Make It Stick

Again, pretend that you are explaining these concepts to a friend. Answer their question, “what is web development?”

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Michael Mangialardi is a software developer specializing in UI development with React and fluent in UI/UX design. As a survivor of impostor syndrome, he loves to make learning technical skills digestible and practical. Formerly, he published articles, ebooks, and coding challenges under his brand "Coding Artist." Today, he looks forward to using his mature experience to give back to the web development community. He lives in beautiful, historic Virginia with his wife.