Web Development Languages 101

A web development language is a set of instructions written for a computer to understand and follow. Like any other language, it is a means of communication. A web development language is designed to allow a programmer to communicate with a computer and make it perform desired actions.

Web development languages have their own syntax and structures that must be followed for a computer to execute instructions without error.

This article explores the most popular web development languages of 2023 and helps you get familiar with each of them.

Web development language basics

Web development languages are tools for creating dynamic web apps, like social networking sites, e-commerce platforms, content management systems (CMS), and more.

Web development languages are often considered the best way to learn coding. Whether you’re into it for a serious career choice or as a side interest, web development lets you play, learn, and experiment with the building blocks of our digital world.

There are two broad categories of web development languages: front-end and back-end web development.

Front-end development, also called client-side development, refers to creating what users see when they log on to a website or web application. It includes the web design, content, user interaction, and user interface of that particular mobile app. This part of web development is written using three languages:

  • HTML. Hypertext markup language (HTML) is the backbone of any website or web application. Every web page is written in this language. Think of it as lines of code that determine the font, color, design, and look of a web page.
  • CSS. Cascading style sheets (CSS) is responsible for the cosmetic side of a web page, so to speak. The CSS coding language sets the style and appearance of a website or application. CSS determines how HTML elements display on the screen.
  • JavaScript. The JavaScript web development language builds interactivity and functionality into a web page. It allows programmers to make animations and control multimedia and  other dynamic features on a web page.

Back-end development, or server-side development, is about the inner workings that ensure a web page or application is working correctly. Back-end development relates to what goes on behind the scenes. It usually includes three elements: a server, an application, and a database.

A back-end developer’s job is to build the foundational structure of a website or web application. They are responsible for updating and monitoring a website’s functionality.

Back-end development languages determine a website’s responsiveness, compatibility, and speed. They are crucial for building dynamic websites and applications where content is constantly changing and updating.

Back-end developers use a variety of different languages, including:

  • Java
  • PHP
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Python
  • .Net
  • Node.js

Someone who can do both front-end and back-end web development is called a full-stack web developer.

Types of web languages

Are you wondering why there are so many different types of languages? We get it! It can be confusing.

The answer is simple. Or at least, simple-ish: Each language is designed for a specific purpose and function... but those functions often overlap with other languages. However, each language has its own core competence and is capable of doing things that others cannot.

All web development languages operate in one of these four function areas:

Site markup

Developers create a webpage by “marking up” text, images, and other content that a computer can read and display to the user. The markup determines how a page looks and works.

Markup languages like HTML are the building blocks of websites. They help style, organize, and house a website’s content and make it more interactive. While HTML is by far the most popular markup language, it’s not the only one.

XML, or eXtensible Markup Language, was developed to overcome some of the limitations of HTML. It allows for the definition of new text elements, something not possible in HTML.

CSS is another markup language used to write embedded files into an HTML script to create a more interactive site.

Client-side scripting

Client-side scripting is used to achieve interactive user elements on a webpage, including animated buttons, drop-down menus, and navigation tools. Client-side scripting involves writing embedded programs into a webpage. These programs are processed within the client’s browser and don’t need to access a web server.

Client-side scripting allows a webpage to be built around a user’s data and options. JavaScript, CSS, and jQuery are today's most widely used client-side scripting languages. They are relatively easy to learn and require little programming knowledge to start.

Server-side scripting

Server-side scripting allows developers to customize website content for individual users based on their habits and preferences. For instance, an e-commerce website can store your credit card data to make future payments easier.

Server-side scripting makes it possible for websites to display a dynamic interface for each user—allowing companies to achieve a deeper engagement with users through their website.

Several languages are used in server-side scripting, including Perl, PHP, Active VFP, ASP, and C.

Database technology

Database technology is another crucial element of web and software development. Database technology allows developers to store, retrieve, and update data to display webpages customized to a particular user. One example is a website with sign-up and login functions, which use a database to authenticate users.

Database technology helps a website run smoothly by ensuring easy accessibility to data. It requires management and maintenance as a website develops.

SQL, or Structured Query Language, is currently the benchmark among database technology languages. C#, R, PHP, and Python are some of the other widely used languages in this category.

Most popular web languages

If you’ve decided to invest time and energy into learning a web development language, you’ll want to focus on one that is in demand. The popularity of web languages rises and falls according to evolving technological trends and market demands. You don’t want to waste resources learning a language that’s going to be out of style by the time you’ve mastered it.

Ideally, you should rank web languages based on both current and projected popularity and usefulness. That means figuring out which languages are popular today and which are likely to see increased demand going forward.

Having a keen sense of trends in the web development market is key when it comes to prioritizing your best options.

This is how the results stacked up in the 2022 Stack Overflow survey when it came to the “most popular” web development languages:

  • JavaScript. This is currently the most commonly used web development language in the world. Its popularity is partly because it’s one of the easiest coding languages to learn, with no prior coding experience necessary. JavaScript framework’s usability and wide support community make it the market leader. As author Reg Braithwaite puts it humorously, “The strength of JavaScript is that you can do anything. The weakness is that you will.”
  • HTML/CSS. The conjunction of these two languages continues to be the bedrock for web developers. They are both easy languages that beginners should learn before going on to more advanced coding.
  • SQL. SQL is a highly functional language that lets developers easily manage and manipulate databases. No wonder it is the third most-used programming language among developers worldwide. Popular relational database management systems like MySQL use SQL.
  • Python. This is an easy-to-learn language that is popular among both beginner and experienced developers. It’s an empowering tool that allows the use of several different programming styles at once. Former Google computer scientist Peter Norvig spoke on how Python has been an important part of the company. “Today, dozens of Google engineers use Python, and we're looking for more people with skills in this language," he said. Django is a popular, high-level web development framework based on Python.
  • TypeScript. A relative newcomer in the list of web development languages, TypeScript is used for front-end and back-end development. It’s a typed version of JavaScript developed by Microsoft that continues to make headway among developers.

Considerations for choosing a web language

Choosing the right web development language to learn is challenging. On the subjective side of that decision, you need to balance your personal goals and career aspirations. On the objective side, you might want to think about how much tactical advantage a particular language gives you in the workplace. There are no surefire answers, but the following are the most important considerations when it comes to choosing a web language:

  • Job salaries. According to the Stack Overflow survey cited above, Rust, Elixir, Clojure, TypeScript, and Julia are the five “most loved” web languages in 2022. When it comes to “most paying” languages, though, the list runs like this: Clojure, Erlang, F#, Lisp, and Ruby. That means the most popular web programming languages may not be the highest paying. Web development is a well-paying gig regardless of your specialization, with a median pay of $69,430 a year. The particular language you choose will still play a big part in determining the kind of job you land and what it pays.
  • Adoption rates. Adoption rates refer to the speed at which any new technology is adopted and used by the public. It represents the number of people using that technology over a specific period. When it comes to web development languages, adoption rates fluctuate every month and throughout the year. The key is to choose a language and stick with it. Even if it goes out of demand, you can use your skills to quickly learn another language.
  • What’s new. There are already several hundred web development languages in use, but more are being developed every day. While some languages have stood the test of time, there are newer and more dynamic languages that allow you to do things faster. Languages like Elixir, Go, Dart, Julia, Pony, and Kotlin, to name a few, are the newest kids on the block. Most of them are highly popular among developers because of the innovations they bring to the game.
  • What’s going away. The programming world is constantly evolving. What’s hot today may be outdated tomorrow. Languages that disrupt the coding world and take it by storm are rare. Many others find their way to popularity before rapidly disappearing. Today, languages like Cold Fusion, COBOL 60, Delphi, PASCAL, and VB.Net are not used much.
  • Special functions. Some languages have special functions that no other script provides. That makes them indispensable for both developers and client organizations. For instance, Java includes a static type checker in its functions, which Python doesn’t have. This is partly why Java is ahead of Python in the most-used languages list. Special functions make languages reliable and relevant over the long run. That’s one consideration to keep in mind while choosing a language to learn.

The best web languages to learn now

A wide variety of factors come into play when deciding which web development language to learn. You can be just starting out with coding, or you could be an accomplished developer trying to re-specialize. Either way, choosing the best programming language can help speed up your career.

With that in mind, here are the top web development languages to learn now:

  • JavaScript. Besides web development, its uses span game development, web servers, iOS and Android app development, and more. Developers use JavaScript to manipulate the “personality” of a webpage. All the bells and whistles that make a website more engaging—animated graphics, clickable buttons, site navigation tools, interactive maps—are all mostly JavaScript enabled. The JavaScript language should be your first choice if user experience ranks high on your list of priorities.
  • Python. A general-purpose language, various industries use it for a wide range of different purposes. Python is indispensable if you are hooked on popular trends in web development, like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and big data. It is fairly easy to learn for those familiar with coding and allows developers to test their scripts on the go.
  • SQL. The first choice for developers working on huge datasets, SQL is highly portable and interactive. The learning curve for SQL is steep, but mastery over this language can be a jackpot in terms of career opportunities. It allows superior documentation and fast query processing. The commercial application of SQL has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades.
  • Java. One of the most prolific and cross-platform web development languages out there, Java is used for a variety of purposes, from applications for macOS and Windows operating systems, AI, cloud applications, mobile applications, web development, and more. A strong foundation in Java will give you access to many other languages. Java offers high security and features like platform independence, making it a favorite with companies like Adobe, Amazon, and Instagram.
  • Go. This is a highly efficient programming language capable of executing multiple processes simultaneously. Go is high on developers’ most-wanted lists due to its dynamism and functionality. Introduced by Google in 2007, Go supports automation, AI, and data science projects. It won’t likely lose popularity anytime soon and is a safe bet for developers eager to have another language in their pocket.
  • C#. A well-loved improvement on the C++ programming language, C# is an open-source language widely used for web and desktop applications. There is a huge community to support new developers, making it easier to learn than some of the other languages. Hiring managers are partial to people with C# on their resumes. C# is yet another language that will be in demand for a long time.

Depending on the resources available, you can get started in several ways. A full college program is ideal for the highest level of professional development.

A faster way to learn a program is through a coding boot camp, which can give you the hands-on skills to land an entry-level job within three to six months.

If you’d rather not spend a lot of money and instead want to learn it yourself, books, tutorials, and online courses can help. This is a low-cost way to do it, provided you have the self-motivation and discipline needed to get through.

Whatever you choose, there’s no better time than right now to learn a popular programming language and start your coding career.

Work as a web developer or hire one

If you’re a skilled website developer and want to work at your own pace, sign up as an independent professional to find web development jobs. Upwork gives you access to thousands of projects based on your proficiency and preferences. Browse projects based on your interest, select the ones you want to work on, and get paid.

If you want to hire a freelance web developer for your web development project, you’re in the right place! Upwork is the world’s work marketplace for professional web developers and agencies.

Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this section. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.

Projects related to this article:
No items found.

Author Spotlight

Web Development Languages 101
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

Get This Article as a PDF

For easy printing, reading, and sharing.

Download PDF

Latest articles

X Icon