'Front end', or 'frontend', or 'front-end'?

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John Kavanagh

There are plenty of technical terms that do not follow conventional spelling or the traditional way of piecing words together. 'Front-end' (or 'frontend', or 'front end') is one of them.

Photograph of the spine of a Dictionary and a pencil

More than http://johnkavanagh.co.uk/portfolio/ years ago I nearly missed out on what would later become one of the most important contract roles of my career (at the time).

When hunting for a new role I like to think I am diligent and thorough in my searches - I have done it often enough now to know which websites my CV should go up on, and which job boards I should be setting up alerts for or scouring daily. This role however, despite being exactly right for my skill set, completely passed me by for the simple reason that the recruiter had opted to use describe it as a 'frontend' role.

I know better than to rely simply on alerts for 'front-end' roles now, but it got me thinking about why - in computing - we tend to use the hyphenated form instead of the closed ('frontend') or open ('front end') forms.

It really all boils down to convention at this point:

  • Searching for the three different terms on Stack Overflow for example yields thousands more posts for 'front-end' than the other two.
  • Results on LinkedIn for 'front-end' outweigh 'front end' and 'frontend' more than ten-to-one.
  • The GCC Coding Conventions define 'front-end' as the adjective and 'front end' as the noun; eg: 'I am a front-end web developer working in the front end'.
  • The London meet-up dedicated to all aspects of front-end development is called 'Front-End London'.
  • Even Paul Irish describes himself as a 'front-end developer'.

Although 'front-end' does appear to be the more commonly used form, it is worth bearing in mind that they are commonly considered interchangeable (Google for example will revert definition requests for 'front-end' to definitions of 'front end'). So for the sake of not missing out on those crucial connections it is worth keeping an eye on all three forms - that isn't a mistake I will make twice.

When someone asks me what I do and I get to choose the phrase though, I am a front-end web developer.

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