28 min read

13 Main Types Of Software Development - Explained

We cover the details of the 13 most popular types of software development with examples.

Tim Davidson
Tim Davidson

Software development has become a blanket term for writing code. For people who live on the outside of the software world, this definition is clear enough. However, if you want to work with a developer or build an application, you’ll need to get a handle on the different types of software development.

The software that lets a Tesla drive itself differs significantly from the code that lets you watch Netflix. It’s different again from the software on your mobile device, smart fridge, smartphone, and server that powers them all with data.

Each software development category has languages and frameworks designed specifically for that cause. These all have nuances and complexities that take years to master. As a result, skilled developers tend to gravitate towards a particular kind of software development.

This means that before you start shopping around for a technical partner, it’s worth figuring out roughly what kind of software development you’ll be committing to.

Sometimes the answer to this question is pretty straightforward (i.e. developing an app for iPad), but even in these situations, there is often a need to separate the codebase into two parts; the visual stuff that interfaces with your device and the backend that runs on a server and manages data.

This article aims to outline the major types of software development and expand on the types of languages and frameworks involved in everyday use cases.

Front vs Back-End

Frontend development is the side of software engineering that gives life to the elements users directly interact with. Frontend development is most commonly associated with building websites or web products with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. However, there are frontend frameworks developed explicitly for other devices.

Consider the design of an online retail website. The arrangement of products, the choice of colors, the updating of the shopping cart - all outcomes of front-end development.

Backend development, on the other hand, operates invisibly, handling server-side operations such as storing and retrieving information from the database and sending it to the front end.  The backend typically handles the resource and logic-intensive tasks. Pretty much anytime you hear “machine learning”, “algorithm”, or “artificial intelligence”, it’s handled by the backend.

Front and backend development are the two most common types of software development. They’re the entry point for most professionals and are required for pretty much every project.

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    Full-Stack Development

    Full Stack Development is the combination of backend and frontend development. This sort of software development is necessary when working with monolithic platforms that don’t separate the codebase that drives the server and the browser. Examples of this are WordPress and Shopify. Both frameworks require code to be written for dynamic generation by the server and interpretation by the browser..

    The term “full stack development” is most strongly associated with developers themselves. Someone who is comfortable working with front or backend code will often don the title of “full stack developer”.

    Since full-stack development encapsulates most of the software development blanket, hundreds of languages and frameworks are associated with this kind of development. However, these are the most popular ones (according to Stack Overflow’s yearly survey).

    • HTML/CSS/JavaScript/TypeScript  for the frontend
    • Node.js/ Python/Java for the back-end
    • React.js/Vue.js/Angular for front-end frameworks
    • Django/ Express/Laravel for back-end frameworks

    Application Development

    Application development is creating a software program (or a set of them) designed to perform various tasks required by a business. It encompasses various activities, such as designing, coding, testing, and debugging software applications. Application development aims to automate processes, enhance user experience, and increase operational efficiency.

    There are several forms of application development, including web application development, mobile application development, and desktop application development. Each caters to different platforms and user needs. For instance, web applications are designed to run on web browsers, mobile apps are specifically designed for smartphones and tablets, while desktop applications are intended for personal computers.

    To illustrate, consider the development of a project management tool. This application would aim to facilitate project tracking, resource management, and team collaboration. The most popular languages for application development include Python, JavaScript, and Java, often used in conjunction with frameworks like React, Angular, Django, Flask, and Spring.

    Some of the most commonly used languages and frameworks in application development include:

    • JavaScript
    • Swift
    • Kotlin
    • Python
    • Java
    • React.js
    • Node.js
    • Django
    • Spring Boot (Java)

    API Development

    API, or Application Programming Interface, refers to a set of rules and protocols used for software interaction. APIs allow different software applications to communicate and interact with each other, extending software functionality and enhancing the overall user experience.

    They are particularly essential in integrating different software components, simplifying the development process, and reducing complexity. By leveraging APIs, developers can utilize existing functionality, eliminating the need to create everything from scratch. This fosters the creation of ecosystem platforms where various applications can interact, providing a more comprehensive and richer user experience.

    For instance, a weather application might use an API to access real-time data from a third-party weather service. The application sends a request to the weather service's API, which returns the requested data. This data is then displayed on the app, providing users with accurate, real-time weather information.

    API development can be performed using various programming languages, including, but not limited to:

    • JavaScript
    • Python
    • Java
    • Node.js for backend
    • Express.js for API framework

    Data Science

    Data Science is a cross-disciplinary field blending programming, statistical analysis, and specialist knowledge to draw valuable insights from data. It employs a variety of methods and theories from diverse fields, including mathematics, statistics, information science, and computer science.

    It revolves around the manipulation, analysis, and visualization of data to guide decision-making processes and build predictive models. It has a broad range of applications across sectors such as healthcare, finance, and marketing. As such, its real value lies in its capacity to unveil hidden patterns and insights, empowering businesses to make decisions based on data and refine their operations.

    For example, banks harness the power of data science to detect fraudulent activities. By identifying patterns in transactional data, data scientists can construct predictive models to spot potentially fraudulent transactions. When such transactions are identified, they can undergo a more rigorous review process, reducing fraud instances and enhancing the customers' trust.

    Data scientists work with a vast array of languages and frameworks:

    • Python
    • R
    • Java
    • Scala
    • Pandas for data manipulation
    • Scikit-learn for machine learning
    • TensorFlow for deep learning
    • Matplotlib for data visualization

    Mobile Development

    Mobile development is the art of building software applications tailored for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. They leverage the unique characteristics of these devices, offering users a seamless and intuitive experience.

    There are various strategies for mobile development, such as native, hybrid, and web app development. Native apps are created for a specific platform (like iOS or Android), utilizing the respective platform's programming languages and development tools. Hybrid apps are crafted using web technologies and then packaged as native apps, enabling them to function on multiple platforms. Web apps, however, are websites that emulate the native apps' look and feel but are accessible via a web browser.

    Consider the development of a mobile fitness app. This involves creating features such as activity tracking, meal planning, and goal setting. Developers would need to ensure that the app functions smoothly across various devices and operating systems.

    Mobile developers often employ:

    • Swift, the language of choice for Apple applications
    • Kotlin, widely used for Android development
    • Flutter, bridging the divide between iOS and Android
    • React Native, a staple for cross-platform application development

    Desktop Development

    Desktop development involves designing software applications for desktop and laptop computers. These applications are engineered to operate on a desktop operating system, such as Windows, macOS, or Linux.

    Although there has been a noticeable shift towards web and mobile development in recent years, desktop applications continue to play a pivotal role in various sectors. They boast powerful computing capabilities, larger displays, and a rich user interface, often more intricate and feature-rich than what's feasible on mobile or web platforms.

    A video editing platform is a good example. It capitalizes on desktop computers' superior processing power and storage capacity to manage the demanding tasks associated with video editing.

    These developers often use:

    • C#, a go-to language for Windows applications
    • Java, a language known for its cross-platform capabilities
    • Python, favored for its extensive libraries
    • C++, used for high-performance software
    • The .NET framework, popular in Windows application development
    • Electron, helpful in creating cross-platform desktop applications

    Software Tools Development

    In the sphere of software development, crafting software tools refers to designing and developing applications or systems that aid developers in their day-to-day work. These tools encompass a wide range, from straightforward coding libraries that simplify programming tasks to intricate systems such as Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) that streamline the entire development process.

    Take the design of an IDE as an illustrative example. It's an all-encompassing software suite that offers a range of development utilities, including a code editor, build automation mechanisms and a debugger.

    The choice of languages and frameworks for crafting software tools is diverse, but some commonly used ones include:

    • Python, favored for its readability and simplicity
    • Java, renowned for its universality
    • C++, appreciated for its performance capabilities
    • Eclipse, a popular open-source IDE
    • Visual Studio, Microsoft's comprehensive IDE

    Security Software Development

    Security software development encompasses creating programs designed to protect computer systems and networks from threats and vulnerabilities. As cyber threats continue to evolve, the importance of cybersecurity becomes more pronounced.

    Professionals in this field, such as penetration testers, use their expertise to identify and exploit system vulnerabilities, mirroring the tactics of cybercriminals. This process helps to uncover security flaws and develop appropriate countermeasures. Antivirus, designed to scan and purge malicious software from a system, serves as a classic example of this type of security measure.

    The selection of languages for developing security software typically includes:

    • C and C++, known for their system-level access and control
    • Python, for its simplicity and extensive libraries
    • JavaScript, popular in web security
    • Tools like Metasploit and Wireshark for vulnerability and network analysis

    Cloud Computing Development

    Cloud computing development involves designing and implementing applications that are hosted on remote servers and delivered over the Internet. This type offers several benefits to businesses, such as cost savings, increased scalability, and improved data security.

    The market for cloud computing has been expanding rapidly. As of 2023, market research predicts a substantial growth trajectory as more businesses migrate their services to the cloud. An example of such is the creation of a cloud-based file storage system, allowing users to store and access their files from any device with an internet connection.

    Languages and frameworks commonly used in cloud computing development include:

    • Python and Java, for their robust libraries and scalability
    • AWS and Azure, industry leaders in cloud services
    • Docker and Kubernetes, for containerization and orchestration of applications.

    Video Game Development

    Video game development is a process that involves the creation of compelling narratives, characters, and environments, as well as the implementation of game mechanics and controls. It ranges from developing simple mobile games to complex, immersive console and PC games.

    Video game development is a unique domain where different languages and frameworks have their own strengths:

    • C++ and Python, for their performance and simplicity
    • Unity and Unreal Engine, popular game development platforms
    • Blender and Maya, for 3D modeling and animation.

    Embedded Systems Development

    Embedded systems development involves creating specialized computer systems designed to perform a few dedicated functions within larger mechanical or electrical systems. These systems can be found in a multitude of devices, from digital cameras to aeroplanes.

    Developers working with embedded systems often require expertise in middleware –the software layer that bridges the gap between the operating system and applications, enabling communication and data management in distributed applications.

    An example of embedded systems development is the creation of the software for a digital camera's system. It is created to control everything from capturing and processing images to operating the camera's user interface.

    When it comes to embedded systems development, these languages and tools tend to be popular:

    • C and C++, due to their low-level capabilities and efficiency
    • RTOS (Real-Time Operating System), a specialized operating system for embedded applications
    • ARM architecture is commonly used in the design of embedded systems.


    Hopefully, this gives you a round-up of the main types of software development. Each type has its own sub-sets, but this list should be enough to point you in the right direction!

    Written by
    Tim Davidson

    Tim Davidson

    Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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