You can summarize frontend and backend functions in e-commerce into how things look versus how things work. The frontend is responsible for how things look; the backend is responsible for how things work.
You can think of an e-commerce channel such as a website like a restaurant. The frontend of a restaurant is visual: beautiful paintings, comfortable seats, a detailed menu. When you want a meal, a waiter attends to you, operating like APIs in the restaurant ecosystem. They take your order to the chef who then makes your meal from scratch in the kitchen, or the backend of the restaurant where everything works.
Similarly, the frontend of an e-commerce site presents information in a user-friendly manner while server applications in the backend process the requested data.
The frontend of an e-commerce site is also called the client-side. This is what people (i.e. clients) see when they visit your site. It’s the part of your site that people interact with directly. It includes features like fonts, colors, drop-down menus, image sliders, shopping carts, search bars, and product detail pages.
The backend is also known as the server-side. It deals with how things work on your site. The backend is the part of an e-commerce site that users normally don’t see. It’s behind the scenes, similar to the back of a restaurant.
The backend is composed of servers, applications, and databases. It’s responsible for organizing and storing data (e.g. product catalog data), and ensuring everything on the frontend operates smoothly by communicating with it through APIs. The programming languages used in backend development include Ruby, Python, PHP, and Java.
The backend and frontend operations are decoupled in headless commerce, and it’s important that they work together for the whole website to function.
How They Work Together
Say you want to shop for trousers with a slim fit on an e-commerce site. Instead of browsing through the catalog, you decide to search for “slim fit trousers” using the search box on the site’s frontend.
Once you perform the search, the application looks through all the product data stored in the backend database. The backend then returns the relevant information in a readable format to the frontend. In turn, the browser displays the information you have requested as a filtered list of trousers with a slim fit.
Whenever you need to differentiate between the frontend and backend functions, simply remember it’s how things look versus how they work.