Choosing a language for developing a web application

When designing a web application like On Deck, the choice of language is often the subject of much thought because it has consequences both on the development of the application, in the short term; as well as its evolution and maintenance , in the long term. In this article, we offer you an overview of the most used languages ​​today and some ideas to help you make a choice.

Languages ​​for developing a web application

First of all, what is a programming language ? This is the language in which your program must be written so that it is properly executed by a machine, in this case a computer server, a web browser, a mobile browser, etc.
For example, this site mainly uses two languages ​​to function, PHP and Javascript.

Many programming languages ​​are available to design a web application. Here are four of the most regularly used:

  • Javascript
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby

The language for the back end

These four languages ​​can be used to design the back-end of your application. The  back – end  is the immersed part of your application, the one which will communicate with the database. Concretely, let’s imagine that you want to display a user’s profile, for this you will request this information from your database. You will therefore write a  request in the form “send me the information of the user whose identifier is 1”, you will then receive a response containing the information of the requested user.
To visualize this, here is what it looks like using the Django ORM (Python):

user = User.objects.get(id=1)

As you can see, it’s not rocket science, we create a “user” variable in which we will store the response to our request, which is easily understood, even without being a developer.

The language for the front end

For the  front-end (the visible part of your site), these languages ​​allow you to generate HTML in order to display your pages. Javascript has a special status because it can be used both as a server language ( back-end ) but also be used on the  front-end in addition to other languages. For example, an application may use Python for the back-end and Javascript for the  front-end .

Needless to say, none of these languages ​​is inherently better than another. Of course, some performance tests highlight the speed of certain people to perform specific operations. However, in most cases, these performance differences will be imperceptible in real-world situations.

The popularity of languages

When choosing your programming language, you must consider a phenomenon called hype . Even in IT development, there are fashions. For example, five years ago, the  hype was for Ruby; Currently it’s more Javascript. These fashion effects are interesting, because they say things about the market, about the dynamics of a language. However, they should not be given disproportionate importance, for example, a language like PHP is often seen as the “ugly duckling” of programming languages , yet it is the most widely adopted language on the web.

What matters above all is using the chosen language well and applying good programming practices . Because if the code of an application is of poor quality, even if it is designed with a powerful language, that will not make it better.

You should also be aware that the popularity of a language varies depending on the location of the world. Using Google Trends, we notice in particular that we are more likely to use the Python Django framework in France and Germany, while the Laravel PHP framework is more popular in Italy or Spain.

Using a framework

In order to design a web application, a good practice is generally to use a framework . A framework (a framework in the language of Molière) is a kit of already programmed components . This therefore makes it possible to start the project without having to reinvent everything. A framework therefore allows a significant gain in productivity. They generally facilitate the integration of functionalities, such as routing, authentication, etc. You may want to start from a blank sheet but this generally requires larger investments and this is not always justified. Finally, it generally requires superior technical expertise.

Each of these four languages ​​offer several  frameworks , allowing the design of an application. Here is the framework that we select for each of these languages:

Each of these frameworks is very well designed and allows you to design a very wide variety of applications. Also note that what you can do with one, you can often do with another.

The ecosystems of each language

Example of a scatter graph made with Matplotlib in Python

Each of these languages ​​has an ecosystem made up of tools, of which frameworks are a part. In addition to frameworks, there are libraries. These allow you to add features to your program. For example, a library can help you use an API .

When choosing the programming language, if you have specific functional needs, check beforehand if the language you are considering offers libraries allowing you to implement these functionalities. Again, this will save you time

For example, if you need a library to manipulate data (whether we are talking about Big Data or even more modest projects), Python will be the appropriate language thanks to these libraries NumPy, Pandas, Matplotlib, etc. These libraries notably facilitate the manipulation of data sets and their visualization.

Finally, frameworks and libraries are often developed in open-source , in other words, they are generally the result of collective development under a free license. This therefore means that you can use them in your project without having to pay a royalty or be dependent on a software publisher.

In conclusion, there really isn’t a right answer to “What is the best language?” The choice of language must be made according to your context: is this library available? What language does my team know? Once these questions are asked, the answer will certainly become more obvious.

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