History of Front-End Web Development

The Humble Beginning of Hypertext

The web as we know it was invented around 1990, but the history of front-end development actually begins in 1960 when Ted Nelson, an American pioneer of information technology, founded Project Xandu in an attempt to create a computer network with a simple user interface. In 1969, as part of Nelson’s research at Brown University, he coined the term Hypertext and developed an application called Hypertext Editing System. Though Project Xandu did not achieve the commercial and global success that the World Wide Web later would, Nelson is still credited for his contributions to the field of front-end development.

Between 1989 and 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, an English engineer at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland was working to create the World Wide Web as we know it today. He invented a web browser, a web server, HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and HyperText Markup Language (HTML). These inventions allowed the internet to become what it is today.

Enter Styling and Scripting

PHP

In 1994, Danish-Canadian programmer Rasmus Lerdorf invented the general purpose scripting language called PHP. While the acronym PHP originally stood for “Personal Home Page” it has since been revised to stand for Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is used in a variety of ways to enhance websites through server-side scripting.

JavaScript

Not long after, in 1995, Brendan Eich, an employee at Netscape JavaScript. This innovative new programming language allowed developers to create interactive web pages with crazy new developments such as clickable buttons.

CSS

In 1996, Håkon Wium Lie, another employee at CERN created Cascading Style Sheets in response to the huge outcry for more website styling options. He later joined forces with Bert Bos, founder of a new type of browser with customizable style sheets called Argo. Together they created CSS1. Then, by combining in some of the features of Argo, like attribute selectors and generated text, they released CSS2.

Flash

Flash was originally developed by FutureWave Software in California and was called FutureSplash Animator, but the company was quickly acquired by Macromedia and FutureSplash was renamed to Macromedia Flash. Then, in 2005 Adobe acquired Macromedia and the product name change to Adobe Flash. Flash and its programming language, ActionScript, were originally designed to create fully-interactive websites, but with the appearance of HTML5, this approach became obsolete. Instead, Flash boomed in popularity for developing browser games, interactive ads, and interactive movie clips. Then, in 2010, after Steve Jobs refused to approve the use of Flash on Apple iOS devices due to security flaws, Flash declined in popularity. It was finally discontinued at the end of 2020, but will always be remembered for its long and fruitful reign in front-end development history.

HTML5

HTML5 was created in 2004, and the first version, written by Google employee Ian Hickson, was published in 2008. It quickly grew in popularity after Steve Jobs refused to support Flash, and developers began using it for many of the tasks they had previously accomplished with Flash. Now HTML5 is a web standard. While it shares some similarities with its predecessor, the original HTML created over fifty years ago, HTML5 is very different and has many more capabilities than Nelson’s HTML did. It gives some styling options, allows for responsive design, can used on all kinds of devices including mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops, and is a huge part of what makes front-end development possible today.

The End?

The world of Front-End Development is changing rapidly all the time. As new technology and new techniques develop, so too do the tools and strategies for website design. We’ve come so far from such humble beginnings and we can only imagine what the future holds.