Tech Insights

Web App Development: What You Need to Know

Joana Almeida
- 3 min. to read

Web app development enables web-based projects to work and act as common applications you can find on your phone, for example. Web apps prioritize responsive interactions and user engagement to deliver a service through the internet instead of having the user install the application.

A website provides text and visual content that the web user can read and see but is unable to affect in any way. A web application, on the other hand, enables the user to read the content on the page and manipulate its data. Web app development focuses on designing and programming the various interactions a user will have with your web page and how the page itself will change based on those interactions.

Both web app development and web development are necessary, but understanding the difference will assist you in understanding how they could benefit your organization. 

In this guide, we will talk extensively about web applications, what they are, the various types, their disadvantages and advantages, and how to build web applications.

What Is a Web Application?

Web applications are interactive apps developed using web development that users can access through their internet browser.

Web apps have the usual backend-end and front-end web development technologies. They are also very similar to websites, so web development and web app development have very similar characteristics. 

For example, web app developers use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for front-end development. And back-end developers for web applications similarly use server-side languages such as Python or Ruby, which web developers also use in creating websites. 

That said, web apps run on any device in a way that’s uniquely different from a traditional website. 

Takeaway

Web applications are apps developed using web development technologies that users can interact with from their internet browser. 

The Difference Between a Website and a Web App

Web applications are built to be interactive, while the primary purpose of a website is to display information. 

Differentiating websites from apps may initially seem unnecessary, but the moment you recognize the difference, you’ll understand why it matters. 

Conventional websites may have web users who click or scroll to discover more information. Or they could even input personal data for online purchases or enter an email to subscribe to the page. 

But web applications optimize the user experience enabling web visitors to do a lot more. Due to this type of engagement, web apps have to be dynamically updated.

Take Facebook or Twitter, for example. You may have noticed that using social media platforms from a web browser offers a better captivating experience than going to the website of a local deli. That’s because Facebook and Twitter are web applications, and the deli is a website.

Takeaway

Web applications are developed to be engaging and interactive, while a website’s core purpose is to display information. 

What are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)?

Progressive Web Applications (PWAs) are a type of web application new to the digital landscape. They unite the desirable features of hybrid and native apps.

Just like any web application, Progressive Web Applications reside in internet browsers. And web users can access them just like they would any website. 

Using a PWA means passing through the traditional download and install process that end-users expect with mobile applications. The great thing is that Progressive Web Applications are always available on the user’s device. 

Both Microsoft Store and Google Play Store welcome Progressive Web Apps. So in many ways, a progressive web application is just like a mobile app.

Progressive Web Applications can launch from the end user’s device without the need to launch a web browser first. They are also capable of sending push notifications straight to your mobile device. And can work offline plus load quickly.

Alex Russell and Francis Berriman, original Google engineers that named Progressive Web Applications, listed the following criteria for what fits a PWA:

  • Connectivity independent
  • Responsive
  • Safe
  • Fresh
  • App-like interactions
  • Installable
  • Re-engageable
  • Linkable
  • Discoverable

The reason Progressive Web Applications are so compelling is their performance. In theory, web applications should be compelling due to their cross-platform capabilities. But in practicality, almost everyone in the software development space believes hybrid apps and web applications have slower performance than native applications. 

Progressive Web Applications break this stereotype. However, it is crucial to state that Progressive Web Applications are not intended to usurp mobile apps’ role. 

PWAs are accurately defined as conventional websites in mobile app packaging. They are not as engaging as a traditional web app nor as inaccessible or boring as a regular website.

Takeaway

PWAs are unique in the sense that they defy what a smartphone user or a web visitor would anticipate from such an app. 

What are the Advantages of Web Applications?

Weighing the advantages of web application development against its disadvantages is crucial to understanding the entire process. 

First, we will take a look at the advantages of web application development. The major thing you will notice is that web applications are a great choice for boosting the user’s experience and engagement.

1. Better Convenience

Web applications do not have to be downloaded or installed. Or, as in the case of Progressive Web Applications, the download and installation isn’t the equivalent of an app consuming space on the user’s device. 

Though devices are constantly increasing their storage space, some end-users simply do not appreciate the bloat of having many apps. Alternatively, some don’t have the space. 

This option also frees end users from the demand for continuous updates. Plus, with progressive web apps, users can get a lot of the benefits provided by mobile apps with none of their problems.

2. Extreme Portability

End-users can access web applications from every device. With a tablet, a smartphone, or a laptop, end users can use a web application.

Simply put, web apps are completely multi-platform. They offer consumers an engaging exchange regardless of the operating system it runs on, whether PC, iOS mobile apps, Android, etc., as long as they maintain internet connectivity. 

3. Easy Development

Web apps simplify the development and hiring process. 

For instance, if you want your mobile application to be featured on both Google Play Store and Apple App Store, you will also need 2 distinct apps if you opt for native development. 

In essence, if you want a mobile app on every platform,  you would require 3 times as many resources. 

Web app development eliminates these frustrations as there is strictly one codebase.

What are the Disadvantages of Web Applications?

Web app development possesses a couple of disadvantages, as listed below.

1. Limited Access 

Typically web apps require internet access to even work, let alone perform adequately. Though Progressive Web Applications eliminate the stereotype, the most engaging web applications will not respond without an internet connection.

2. Restricted Functionality

Native technology always has the edge over non-native technologies. Because web apps are not native, they do not possess the capacity to interact effectively with your device’s operating system and hardware. 

Since system settings are different from device to device and web apps are cross-platform, developers do not build applications to work with laser specifications for each device. This restricts functionality compared to the functions of an app built just for a particular OS or device. 

3. Lower Speed 

Irrespective of all the accolades, web apps do not replace mobile apps and will operate slower than an app hosted on a local server. 

Progressive Web Applications try to control this disadvantage, but to date, there is zero veritable evidence that they have succeeded in eliminating the con. 

Types of Web Applications

There are various types of web application frameworks with varying behaviors based on how they are built. Though the various web application types use web technologies, they typically are grouped into a single page, server-side, and client-side applications. 

Single-Page Applications

Single-page applications (SPA) are different from the conventional multi-page app, where fresh pages load only after clicking a link. Rather single-page applications have the advantages of both server-side and client-side applications. 

SPAs possess this ability from just one page, usually using an infinite scroll ability to show all its content. Though server-side rendering has the disadvantage of long wait times, JavaScript frameworks such as Vue.js, React, and Angular use dynamic routing to get just the data necessary per time. 

Many web app developers use the power of server-side rendering to develop single-page applications that do not need the entire page to reload to carry out an action or acquire new data. 

Client-side Web Applications

This type of web application is for front-end development. This means the application’s user interface is the primary focus for developers when building mobile apps. Such web apps prioritize user experience and offer end-users high-performance capabilities.

Any business logic or data that the application may use to work is dynamically loaded at the start. Due to such client-side rendering, there is little or no buffering time for page loading. This boosts interaction speed with the content, making the page responsive.

Server-side Web Applications

Server-side web apps are hand in hand with back-end development. This type of development consists of developing Application Program Interfaces (APIs), databases, servers, and every other background process in an application.

While server-side applications still show content and user interfaces, the most dynamic aspects of code are in the webserver. 

This type of web application works perfectly with static content, as with Server-Side Rendering (SSR), it can take time for the browser to transmit a request to the server and wait for a reply. 

On the positive side, server-side web applications are generally more secure and provide more browser compatibility than web apps on the client-side. 

7 Steps to Developing Web Applications

Now that we know a bit about web apps and their pros and cons, it’s time to consider building one of our own. But how to develop a web application?

The web app development process isn’t much different from the regular SDLC or software development life cycle. Let’s define a common web app development framework to learn how to create a web application.

1. Know the Problem 

Creating a web application starts off by knowing and understanding the problem you intend to solve with your app or defining what you want end users to use your web application.

People have ideas all the time, but they aren’t worth implementing most times if it does not offer smart solutions to problems. 

2. Map Out the Workflow 

Workflows create a form of systematic organization for the different segments of your web app development. Brainstorm about what your web application will consist of and how to satisfy the requirements using your current budget and resources. 

Since this is software development, your workflows must be technical and business-oriented. Also, adjust it per the timeframe that you want your web app to be ready for the end-user.  Develop algorithms that will move your development forward from step to step. 

3. Prototyping

Prototyping is an early stage of web app dev that consists of creating an incomplete yet working app to better understand what the end product may look like. This is akin to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 

4. Prototype Validation

This is the idea that your app prototype must be good enough to provide you with validation for continuing your project because end users are already interested in what the final product would be. 

To validate your prototype, you just have to show your web application to potential end-users. Get feedback and build from there. 

5. Develop the App

To build your app, you need to know which back-end and front-end technologies and frameworks can confidently satisfy the requirements of your project. After locating and gathering all the necessary tools, you can begin developing your web application.

6. Testing 

The test phase for most software development teams is a continuous process throughout the project’s life cycle. This ensures that every iteration of your web application is error-free.

Also, software quality assurance is a crucial aspect of developing a web app. This must happen before releasing your web application to end-users. 

7. Launch your web application

Like a website, a web application has to be hosted on web servers. This means that putting your web application into action necessitates buying a domain name and a cloud hosting provider. 

Frameworks and Technologies for Web Applications

Now that we know how to create a web app, we need to define the tools used to do it. For successful web app development, your organization will require the right back end and front end tools. The technologies and frameworks are different for each of these parts of your web app.

Front-end

The front-end part of a web application involves developing the client-side that most users will see and experience. The tools for development have remained pretty consistent throughout web app development history. 

JavaScript

JavaScript has been the go-to language for front-end web pages and web app programming almost since its inception. The language has adapted and expanded over the years as web pages and apps saw the need to become ever more dynamic.

Nowadays, several frameworks and libraries have been developed to expand on JavaScript’s capabilities and allow developers to easily create complex interfaces far faster.

HyperText Markup Language (HTML)

HTML is the basis of practically every web page that you’ve ever visited. Its main function is to define and structure the contents of the page, such as text, images, or even video and audio.

Cascading Style Scripts (CSS)

CSS serves as a sort of dresser for web pages. They indicate how elements of a web page (defined in the HTML) are supposed to look like (such as color and font, in the case of text), and their layout and positioning.

CSS is in great part responsible for what makes web pages look so appealing to end-users.

Back-end

The back-end part of a web application involves developing the server-side that powers the app behind the scenes. The tech stack of your application should be planned carefully so that all components communicate effectively and provide the best performance for your end-users. 

Programming Languages

When developing the functionality of your app, you will need to develop algorithms, communicate with other parts of your back-end (such as databases) and possibly develop or interact with APIs.

To do so, you’ll need to program these functionalities. Some of the most commonly used programming languages used for this purpose are Python, Java, PHP, Ruby, Ruby on Rails (RoR), and Django.

Several frameworks have surfaced over the years to help streamline the development of back-ends, each with its own programming language of choice.

Databases

Databases are the most common technology used to store all the information pertaining to a web app, be it client data or even product specs and inventory.

The go-to platforms for databases usually revolve around Structured Query Language (SQL) based solutions, such as Oracle, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

Servers

Servers house the services that the front-end application (and thus their users) will communicate with. All information requested will usually go through a server to verify the user’s credentials and access rights to establish security for the platform. Servers will usually also house the needed databases for the application to work.

The most common web server platforms are Nginx, Apache, and Microsoft’s Internet Information Services (IIS).

Application Programming Interface (API)

APIs are the gateway to back-end technologies. They expose certain information and even functionality of a service to integrate it with other relevant applications and services.

Depending on the web app, it can consume an API from an external source, provide one for use in other apps, or both.

Paying with PayPal in a store, getting weather information for a certain location, and flight information aggregators are all examples of apps or widgets that use APIs from third parties to provide a service or deliver information.

Web Application Examples

Let’s look at a few examples of Web Apps that you can use (or even are using in your day-to-day right now!) in the comfort of your browser.

Google Docs

Google Docs (and by extension Google Drive) is a web app that is meant to replace the most common applications offered by office suites, such as solutions for writing documents, creating spreadsheets, and making presentations.

By virtue of being a web application, it offers other secondary features that make it very appealing when compared to its counterparts, such as multi-user real-time editing and collaboration.

Spotify

Spotify is one of the most recognizable and largest music streaming services.

You can use their web app to listen to music, share playlists and receive new music recommendations based on your current favorite music.

Dropbox

Dropbox, much like Google Drive and other file-sharing apps, is a service that allows users to store files in the cloud. You can access your files synced on your own PC, but there is another solution: by using their web app, you can view and access all your files in your browser and even download and upload new ones if needed.

Toggl Track

If you need an app to keep track of your time across several tasks or projects, Toggl Track can easily fill that need. You can easily set up reports that tell you how much time you spent on tasks in a time frame related to a certain project, a certain client, or any combination of those options.

Evernote

Evernote provides its users with a note-taking app that can either be used on a PC or directly on the web using their web app. You can set up notebooks that allow you to categorize your notes, clip internet articles for later reading or studying, or even create to-do lists to never forget to do anything.

Hire a Remote Web Application Developer

Like any software development project, web application development requires time and resources that must be handled adequately. At DistantJob, we can help you find and hire a remote web app developer for half the cost and twice the speed.  

 If you are a web developer, we can match you up with the right project and organization. Just contact us, and we’ll set you up. 

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