The Best Coding Languages for Web Development in 2022

The last few years have shown a booming industry boom even further. Web development has become increasingly important to every industry. In this article, we look at some of the best coding languages for 2022. 

When the web started, deciding what language to use was relatively easy. The 1993 version of this article would be quite succinct: What’s the best language for Web Development? HTML.

Of course, HTML was also the very worst web development language because it was, in fact, the only web development language.

Soon, however, more languages were added to the lexicon of the web. As the web has grown more complex and interactive and started to become more cooperative between client and server, ever more languages have accrued to the point where articles on which language to use are… less succinct.

Best Coding Languages

So, what are the best coding languages for the web? And to give a straight, no-nonsense definitive answer, I can confidently say: It depends. There’s a right tool for the right job, so the best language depends on what you’re doing. But it also often depends on personal preference, and there are as many opinions as there are developers.

What Languages Should a Web Developer Know

On the front-end, we’re dependent on what the browser can interpret. Three languages have emerged to handle different aspects of modern front-end websites: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These are the only coding languages that browsers natively recognise, and since each handles a different aspect of web development, you really need to know all three.

HTML

HTML was the first language of the web and was all there was for a time. Today, HTML defines the content and structure of the page. HTML is the lynchpin that everything else hangs from. Every other web development language can be defined by how it interacts with HTML, be it generating or altering the HTML or defining how it looks. In HTML5, it is also the most important component to aid in building accessible and inclusive websites to support the needs of all its visitors.

So, HTML is the most important language you can learn for the web. Everything else depends on it. Even if you’re not writing HTML directly, either generating it through a server-side template language or from client-side JavaScript, you still need to be familiar with it to create a correct result.

CSS

CSS was created to make up for the shortcoming of HTML. HTML doesn’t have much scope for altering its visible style beyond the browser defaults within itself. CSS allows us to alter pretty much every visible attribute of our HTML. Now, it even gives us access to hardware-accelerated animations, basic user interaction through pseudo-classes like :hover and even 3D effects. You can build a website without CSS, but no one would want to use it, so again, you absolutely need to know CSS for the modern web. It’s also a good rule of thumb to turn to CSS in the first instance for any animation or transitions on your page. This could also be done by JavaScript, but in general isn’t hardware accelerated, while CSS is, so CSS will be more efficient and performant.

JavaScript

JavaScript is the third and final language that web browsers natively support. Unlike CSS or HTML, it is also a “real” programming language. It has powerful features to hook into the underlying HTML of the page and alter it after loading the page. This lets us change the page dynamically as we please. You can build a web page without JavaScript, but it would be largely static and uninteresting on the modern web that is increasingly being dominated by web apps.

JavaScript allows us to:

  • Dynamically react to the users’ actions
  • Alter what is displayed based on data streamed from a server or API
  • Even generate the entire page itself.

In fact, of all the available options, JavaScript is perhaps the most versatile. JavaScript lets us generate entire web apps in the client’s browser through front-end frameworks like Vue or React. But unlike any other language listed here, it can be used on both the front and backends. Node.js lets us run JavaScript code outside of the browser, allowing us to code command-line tools and entire server stacks in JavaScript.

So, with JavaScript, we can write an entire web app end to end without writing code in any other language. This approach can be very powerful and is used by some big players on the web. For instance, streaming service Netflix runs end to end JavaScript: The server-side is built using Node.js while the front-end uses React to build the user interface. Having a single language end-to-end is obviously hugely beneficial as you can leverage and share existing skills and have much closer integration between the back and front ends.

Further, with frameworks like React Native, JavaScript code can even be compiled into native apps for use on phones and tablets.

So, JavaScript is a very important tool to learn. Other languages might be preferable to a particular developer or more suitable for a particular task, but nothing is as versatile and as widely supported. No other language can write a web app end to end and then turn it into a native app.

Backend

We’re not dependent on native support from the browser on the backend. Pretty much anything can be utilised for server coding, from compiled languages like C to shell scripts. Despite this, several languages have distinguished themselves as particularly useful:

PHP

PHP is currently the most widely used language for web development. This is in no small part due to the WordPress content management system, which is written in PHP. PHP was built specifically for web development and has several mature frameworks such as Slim and Laravel. It also has a great many database interfaces, giving developers a far wider choice than most languages. PHP is well known to have a shallow learning curve, making it easy to pick up and get started with. Since PHP is structured more like a templating language and written directly into HTML templates, it can be easier for front-end developers to get started with.

Python

Python is a general-purpose language, especially popular in AI, data science, and scientific applications. It is consistently counted as one of the most popular programming languages. Python recently topped the TIOBE index of influential languages, previously dominated by C and Java. It has been designed to be easy to learn and use and is well-suited to building small to large projects. For web development, it has some large and well-supported frameworks to help build server backends, notably Flask and Django.

Java

Java is also a general-purpose language that has been extremely popular and influential, staying in the top three (and sometimes topping it) of the TIOBE index for the last decade. Until Kotlin recently replaced it, Java was the official language for Android development and can still be used for that purpose. C type languages heavily influenced Java, and in turn (as the name might suggest) heavily influenced JavaScript, so it may have a lower barrier for entry for those who already know those languages. Because it is an Object-Oriented language and places particular emphasis on Object-Oriented concepts, it may have a higher barrier to entry for new coders. Some big names use Java for their own server infrastructure, most notably Google, particularly because it is ideally suited for large complex projects. Though equally, it can be overkill for smaller, simpler ones. 

Easiest Programming Language for Web Development

For backend server development, the two front runners are PHP and Python. PHP probably has the edge in ease of development. In fact, some people criticise PHP as being too easy to learn. PHP is specifically designed for web development and has greater support for databases and more web-development frameworks than Python. PHP can become harder to manage on large and more complex projects, and some people find Python easier to learn. Python, however, is much more suited to general-purpose programming. So it may be a better language to learn in the long run. It’s also easier to deal with for long-term projects and has better options for managing its environment.

Ultimately though, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. JavaScript is generally seen as harder to deal with and learn than either PHP or Python. Yet, if you need to build a web app that needs to run on a variety of end clients with native apps for mobile, it may be a better choice. It may be easier to use frameworks like React/React-Native and Node.JS and write the server, front-end and mobile app code in the same language and reduce duplication of effort. Equally, if you’re aiming at something large and complex or need to work natively on Android, Java might be easier in the long run.

Really the correct answer to the question “what is the easiest programming language” is “for what and for whom?” This means that you should strive to be as language agnostic as possible. Every language is a tool, and it’s a tool that fits a particular use case. You don’t want to hammer in a screw any more than you want to screw in a nail.

Sean Young, Code Institute Student

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