An overview of all aspects of my web development workflow, from operating system to coding stack, frameworks, task runners, version control, and web host.
I’m a self-taught web developer who has been working professionally in the field since June, 2015. I’m going to write about the setup, programs, and plugins I use on a daily basis with some brief descriptions and alternate options.
It doesn’t matter what you use: Mac or Windows. Vim or Emacs. Tabs or spaces. PHP or Python. If all the options didn’t have merit, there wouldn’t be an argument. This list is not meant to be an endorsement for or against anything, just one person’s web development workflow. Learn. Be open minded. Try new things. Research. Discover what works best for you. This is not an extensive list; this is my list.
I used Windows exclusively from 1994 to 2015. Now I work on a Mac, currently running Sierra. One of the biggest game changers for my web development journey was learning how to use the command line, which is done through the Terminal application in macOS.
Edit 12/29/2016 – I wrote an entire article dedicated to setting up a development environment for macOS.
As a front end web developer, you should have all the browsers downloaded for testing. If you’re in an Apple environment, you can download virtual machines or generate screenshots of Edge at the Microsoft Developer Tools website.
You have a choice between managed hosting, or setting up your own Virtual Private Server (VPS) in the cloud through services like Digital Ocean and AWS. The tradeoff is security and simplicity with managed hosting vs. having complete control and being able to keep prices down with a VPS.
I have some experience with both, and NearlyFreeSpeech has been a great middle ground for me. It’s inexpensive, allows me more control than traditional shared hosting, and I don’t have to worry about server security and upkeep. I might change my mind in the future, but for now, it works for me.
A stack describes the platform used for web development. The server my website runs on and the professional websites I’ve made have been on the LAMP stack, which has been a stable and popular choice for many years. The LAMP stack is a generalized name, as you can easily change out Linux for Windows, Apache for NGINX, MySQL for MariaDB, PHP for Python, and so on. Every layer in LAMP is free and open source.
For local development, I use MAMP instead of installing everything manually. MAMP is easy to set up and leaves my default system settings alone, creating sandbox environment. This is preferable for me, but might not be for others.
Operating System: Linux (many distributions available)
Brackets is not the most popular choice for text editors, but after downloading and playing around with a few different ones, it remains my favorite. VSC and Atom have a delay with syntax highlighting that bothers me too much. I like to refrain from relying on a text editor for doing things like minification, prefixing, and compiling Sass, so I feel comfortable switching it up. I don’t currently use an Integrated Development Environment (IDE).
All extensions are installed by going to File > Extension Manager.
GitHub is easily the most well-known place to host public and private Git repositories. Depending on what you want to do with private repositories, other options might be better or cheaper. GitHub doubles as a web development portfolio and resume and industry-specific social media.
Content Management System (CMS)
The software used to create and manage a website through an admin dashboard.
Currently, I use the WordPress CMS both for professional projects and my personal website. The alternative option is using a Static Site Generator like Jekyll and countless others, which have many advantages like speed and increased security. WordPress is extremely popular and extendable, and it works for me at the moment. I also like to play around with and learn other systems, so I might update or change my personal site in the future.
A preprocessor is a program that takes a bit of code and compiles it into a different bit of code. In the case of CSS preprocessors, we’re compiling the Sass language into regular old CSS that the browser can interpret. I like having the ability to define variables, nest, create loops, and organize my project into multiple files, all of which and more I can do with Sass, specifically the .scss extension. I started with LESS, but as Sass grew in popularity, I switched over and now prefer it.
A base stylesheet used as a starting point for designing a website.
The first responsive designs I made were with Bootstrap, because I didn’t yet understand the underlying concepts of grids, media queries, viewports, and so on. When I realized I didn’t feel comfortable making a website without a framework, I sought to teach myself how to make a grid, navigation, and other UI elements from scratch. I started building all my websites that way, but when I realized I was re-writing a lot of the same code, I compiled it all into my own framework. Now I understand how my entire system works, only use exactly what I need, and I save a lot of time, with the added bonus of working on my documentation skills by making a page for it.
This has been my choice because I have the freedom to do so, but I also feel comfortable jumping into any framework if necessary.
Protocol that increases the security of data transmitted through the internet.
Encrypted websites are becoming the standard, and there’s no reason not to encrypt your site’s traffic with a TLS certificate. I got a $10/year certificate through ComodoSSL, which was before I learned about Let’s Encrypt, a free option. Either way, transmitted content through my website is more secure, and my site is more trustworthy.
I pay for hosting based on bandwidth usage. Utilizing a CDN was as easy as pointing my name servers to Cloudflare’s, and my bandwidth usage immediately dropped by at least 60%. My site got a speed and performance boost, I pay less for bandwidth, and it was fast and free to implement.
Performance and Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Improve speed, performance, and search rankings.
I regularly run my site through multiple speed and performance tests to see how well I’m doing and what I can improve. Much of what I’ve listed above contributes to my positive scores and high search rankings.
Adobe – I use Photoshop and Illustrator for design.
Things I don’t know about yet
Programming languages besides PHP
A lot of other stuff
There’s a lot that goes into being a web developer, and I’ve hardly even scratched the surface. I’ve tried to explain and simplify all the layers involved in making a website here, from the operating system you use to the final performance and analytics of the website. You can find tutorials for most of these concepts around the website. I hope this has given you some insight into how one individual puts all the pieces together to design, develop, and maintain a website.