Phillip Luther’s Frontend Developer Experience Blog

A Journey From Frontend to Front-end to Front End and Back

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Have you ever Googled front-end VS. front end VS. frontend? It's a nest of grammatical correctness on compound adjectives and nouns. This, friends, is not that.

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Do you say frontend or front-end? Do you hyphenate it, I mean.

I never hyphenated it. Then I did. Now, I don’t.

It was a wild ride.

My Frontend/Front-end Journey

I adopted “frontend” early in my career. My first gigs came at WordPress and osCommerce shops. Both platforms rocked PHP + MySQL backends.

All the senior PHP devs used “backend” to describe their server and MySQL work. Thinking of the Flash- and Dojo-driven UI bits as “frontend” work made perfect sense.

Frontend counterbalances backend, right?

So was the extent of my rationale. I got in the game to build exciting web stuff, not wax philosophical on correctly describing said cool stuff.

Besides, those backend devs were industry vets. I would’ve used the opposite of whatever they said because their opposite of my opposite-opposite was the source of truth. Had they used back-end, I’d have used front-end. Had they used cold giraffe, I’d have used hot shark.

They didn’t.

I didn’t.

A Not Quick Tangent

I’m slightly sorry for what’s about to happen.

I must — MUST — take a beat and acknowledge the tech name drops from the previous section.

When did anybody last think about Dojo, Flash, or osCommerce?

Dojo and Flash, along with woolly mammoths, are long gone. To my great surprise, osCommerce still f’n exists! Wordpress is more prominent than ever, but let’s acknowledge the Wordpress salad days as rotten arugula.

It was a time when one had to install WordPress and/or osCommerce plugins by hand.

By hand.

That meant opening up multiple PHP files, manually diffing them, copying/pasting code snippets between ‘em, and then FTPing the resulting Frankenstein back to a server. Beyond Compare for the win, but still … yikes.

We’ve come a long way, friends.

NB: Plugin is not hyphenated

Note weller: Modern WordPress remains a hellscape of crappy plugins and the world’s worst frontend practices.

Note wellest: I will never pass up an opportunity to cast shade on WordPress.

A Not Quick Tangentialer Note

Dear Reader,

This is an early post on the blog. We haven’t had adequate time to build rapport or get to know each other, so lemme toss this out:

I do tangents.

This blog will have a lot of tangents, especially in the longer-form posts on soft skills and dev life like this one. Most tangents will find their way back to the original topic. Some won’t. Sometimes, we’ll just get lost. We might freeze or run out of water. That’s part of exploring.

Switching metaphors …

Feel free to skip past the tangents for the trains among us who want to stay on the tracks. I’d love to take these fun little detours together, though.

After all, tracks suck. They’re restrictive.

Here’s hoping you’re one of the cool off-track trains. In a world without tracks they might call off-track trains trucks. They might call them land trains in Australia. I’ve never been to Australia, so I dunno and can’t be bothered to look it up. I heard about it from a reliable source, though, and am gonna roll with it. I’m gonna roll with it like an unstoppable truck land train.

Yours truckly,

Resuming My Frontend/Front-end Journey


Once picked up, I held on to “frontend” for years. I didn’t question it until that whole modern web revolution circa the turning of the 2010s. I saw “front-end” coming from my frontend idols. Did they know something I didn’t? For certain! They were frontend front-end celebrities!

I started using front-end overnight.

I embraced the change as adopting standards, not mimicry. I was mid-career with mid-career (aka, overinflated) confidence, though I was approaching that senior point where personal dogma becomes less dogmatic. If asked, I strongly preferred frontend but if the industry liked front-end, so be it. Like semicolons. Community consistency trumped personal preference.

Front-end Issues

I stuck with front-end for many years, but the hyphen pained me. It looked awful, and the right-hand ring finger stretch on a QWERTY keyboard was rubbish.

Meanwhile, inconsistencies multiplied in the community. I saw more and more fragmentation between front-end and frontend and front end. Acronyms only increased the confusion.

FE. Front-end. As in, “It’s a FE issue. Ping Phil.”

FE. Frontend. As in, “It’s a FE issue, and I don’t understand acronyms. Ping Phil.”

FE. Frontend engineer. As in, “We need to hire another FE so we can stop pinging Phil.”

Tricky to iron out.

Once More, With Conviction!

I was hitting my stride as a senior software developer around this time. I’d seen and done things at scale. Those frontend, formerly front-end, celebrities — while still great — weren’t so mysterious and godlike. I’d gained confidence. I’d secured security in my code chops.

Also around this time, I’d had enough of that hyphen.

Secure and confident, I went full frontend.

I’ve been frontend ever since.

The Denotation

If we wanna be “correct” about it … all the popular dictionaries say front-end is an adjective. Front end is a noun. There is no frontend.

That is, “I am a front-end developer. I work on our application’s front end. I’ve built several front ends in my many years of front-end experience. You say you’re a front-end dev but work on the frontend; what’s the frontend? Is it a front end for front-end interfaces?”

There’s a great write-up on Medium from several years ago diving deep into the frontend VS. front-end VS. front end semantic correctness. It’s got great SEO. You’ve assuredly seen it if you’ve ever Googled “frontend VS front-end.”

Unphased by Correctness

I’m not sweating the dictionaries. What do they know? They change. New words get added all the time. Most importantly, hyphens fall out of favor.

I’m sticking with frontend.

I’ll think of it as being ahead of the curve.

Language Is For Humans

Use frontend. Use front-end. Use front end. Hell, go mad pedant and use both front end and front-end depending on usage as a noun or compound adjective. It doesn’t matter.

Written language, like code, is about clarity. It’s for human consumption.

Slack a colleague,

yo, i think this a frontend issue. wanna huddle on it to ✔?

It’ll go one of two ways:

  1. Your colleague, who uses front-end, will read your message and instantly understand. The two of you pair up to debug — and potentially solve — the issue.

    You say, “Thanks, frontend colleague!”

    They say, “No problem, front-end friend.”

    Curiously, neither of you notices a difference when the word is spoken aloud, and you each wonder why anyone would make such a deal of frontend versus front-end in print. Résumés and SEO notwithstanding.

    You both go about your business and the world keeps spinning.

  2. Your colleague, who uses front-end, will read your message and respond, “Why ask me about it? I’m a front-end dev; go find a frontend person.” In this case, you actively ignore the imminent issue and immediately run down to your city’s local trophy shop and buy this person a blue ribbon to reward their considerable efforts in being an ass.

    The issue goes unresolved.

    You feel good about supporting local businesses, though.

Was There a Point In There?

Kinda. Language is a tool for communicating ideas. If your audience gets it, the words worked.

Frontend, front-end, front end, or any ordered combination of “front” and “end” convey your meaning. Whichever you use, don’t sweat it. Anyone worth a pixel will understand your intent.

I will continue using “frontend” because it works for me.