late 13c., "forehead," from Old French front "forehead, brow" (12c.), from Latin frontem (nominative frons) "forehead, brow, front; countenance, expression (especially as an indicator of truthfulness or shame); facade of a building, forepart; external appearance; vanguard, front rank," a word of "no plausible etymology" (de Vaan). Perhaps literally "that which projects," from PIE *bhront-, from root *bhren- "to project, stand out" (see brink). Or from PIE *ser- (4), "base of prepositions and preverbs with the basic meaning 'above, over, up, upper'" [Watkins, not in Pokorny].
Sense "foremost part of anything" emerged in the English word mid-14c.; sense of "the face as expressive of temper or character" is from late 14c. (hence frontless "shameless," c. 1600). The military sense of "foremost part of an army" (mid-14c.) led to the meaning "field of operations in contact with the enemy" (1660s); home front is from 1919. Meaning "organized body of political forces" is from 1926.
Sense of "public facade" is from 1891; that of "something serving as a cover for illegal activities" is from 1905. Adverbial phrase in front is from 1610s. Meteorological sense first recorded 1921.