Web App Development: Definition, Types, Technologies, and Benefits

by Anna Khrupa on Jan 12, 2022

Over the last decade, web apps have become such a mainstay of web development and the software industry in general that we barely notice them despite encountering them everywhere. Ever since web apps have become a reality, the possibilities for enhancing user experience and achieving business goals have been nearly endless. Here is what web apps are, how they are created, and why you should care about them.

What is a web app?

A web application, or web app, is an interactive software product that is created to perform a specific task and operates from the user’s browser. A web app always has a front-end and a back-end component. A stable, secure mechanism for storing and exchanging information is a crucial requirement for a successful web application.

Web app vs. website

Since web applications work in a client’s browser and there is no definitive way to know when you see one if you are not a software development professional, web apps are often confused with websites. So how do these two types of software differ from each other?

A website is a static page that displays information in the form of text, photos, videos, audio files, or other types of media content. Websites are not meant to be interactive, and the content on websites cannot be updated dynamically, meaning that when the content of the page changes, the only way to display it is to reload the page.

A web application, on the other hand, is a dynamic software product. It can look exactly like a website, but it will always have at least one interactive component. It means that you can interact with the app and exchange information with it without reloading the page. A web app can be created to perform one specific task, such as Gmail or Google Docs, or come with more complex functionality, such as Amazon or Kayak.com.

Web app vs. mobile app

Both web applications and mobile applications are created with the purpose of helping users access information and services in a convenient, streamlined way. And because both of them are applications and can be used on mobile devices, it’s not uncommon for people to mix them up.

A web application is designed to be accessible from a browser, and it doesn’t really matter which platform you are using. A good web app will work equally well on iOS and Android devices, as well as desktop computers.

This is not something you can expect from a mobile app. A mobile application is created specifically for one platform — an iOS native app can only be used on iOS devices. Moreover, with a mobile application, the app itself and the data it contains is tied to a specific device, and users need to download the app before being able to work with it.

Benefits of using web apps

If you have been only working with websites, the rise of web applications may not be something you can easily understand or explain. However, there is a reason why more and more business owners and developers are going for web apps instead of traditional websites. Here are just a few benefits of web app development:

  • Cross-platform compatibility. One of the best things about web applications is that they are compatible with pretty much any modern device. Desktop computers and laptops running Windows, macOS, or Linux, mobile phones and tablets with iOS or Android on board — for a web app, the type and operating system of the device doesn’t matter.
  • Wide accessibility. As a person developing a web app, you don’t need to worry about publishing your app on app stores and taking extra steps to conform to the app store requirements. The users, in turn, don’t need to install the app, which may be a problem for devices with limited storage, or regularly update the app to keep it working properly.
  • Customization and scalability. The modifiable nature of web apps makes it easy for the developer to make the necessary changes without redoing the whole app architecture. Moreover, web applications are the perfect option if you plan to scale your product in the near future and want the most cost-effective way to do it.
  • Lower development cost. The cost of developing a web application may be higher than the cost of developing a traditional website, but it cannot even be compared to the typical budget for developing a native app. Plus, a native app will require constant maintenance and updates to remain competitive, while a web app typically has more longevity.
  • Improved security. With traditional desktop or mobile applications, which store most of their data on the user’s device, safety concerns are completely justified. If a device gets lost or stolen, a stranger can get access to the sensitive information not meant for public view. This is not a concern with web apps, which store their data securely in the cloud.

Types of web apps

There are different approaches to the categorization of web apps. You can categorize them based on their purpose, architecture, and other characteristics. Here are the most popular types of web applications and their uses.

Static web applications

In a static web app, the user gets the necessary data delivered to their browser without involving the server. Static web applications may not give their developers as many possibilities as other types of web apps, but they come with a variety of benefits, including easy and rapid development, high flexibility, effortless scalability, and lightweight architecture.

Dynamic web applications

A dynamic web application generates data in real time based on what the end user has requested, as well as the server’s response. The information in a dynamic web app is constantly updated, which provides the developers with an easy way to give the customers what they want. A dynamic web application may take more time and effort to develop and to maintain compared to a static web app, but its versatility makes it worth it.

Single page applications

A single page application delivers the content using just one web page that does not need to be reloaded to display new information. Single page applications depend on the browser, not the server, to generate and display data, which makes them lightweight and fast to load. Despite their seemingly basic architecture, SPAs provide nearly unlimited possibilities to the developers and product owners, and are constantly upgraded.

Progressive web applications

Just like a single page app, a progressive web application operates from a single page without having to reload it to fetch new information. This, along with the fact that SPAs and PWAs are often built using the same languages and frameworks, leads to a lot of people thinking that a progressive web app is just a more versatile version of a single page app. However, this is a very simplistic approach. 

In reality, PWAs are more functional than SPAs and provide a better user experience even though they cost more to develop. Moreover, a progressive web app can be run without an internet connection by using cache, which is not something a single page application can do.

Popular technologies for web app development

The tech stack for developing web applications includes many of the technologies developers usually associate with web development. Here are the most popular tools used in web app development.

Front-end technologies

The front-end part of a web application is responsible for the user interface and, ultimately, customer satisfaction, which is why it requires special attention from the developers. There are successful web apps created by using HTML and CSS, but there are many other tools, primarily from the JavaScript family of frameworks and libraries, that provide even more usability and style:

  • React, a JavaScript library that is an ideal fit for large-scale, dynamic web applications with robust functionality.
  • Angular, a JavaScript library that is best suited for creating dynamic web apps and static apps with the use of HTML.
  • Node.js, a cross-platform JavaScript runtime environment that can be indispensable for building scalable web applications.
  • Vue.js, a JavaScript ecosystem that provides a wide range of options for building large and powerful web apps.

Back-end technologies

The back-end part of a web application is something most users will never see, but it has a direct impact on speed, stability, performance, and security of the app. Here are the back-end technologies commonly used to develop web apps:

  • Java, a programming language that allows you to develop complex web applications with outstanding security and stability characteristics.
  • Ruby on Rails, a framework that is ideal for smaller web app projects and database-oriented web programming.
  • Django, one of the most popular Python frameworks, allows you to implement nearly any back-end feature you can think of and provides outstanding flexibility.

Database technologies

The importance of a secure, stable database that can be easily accessed by the back-end cannot be overrated. The most popular database technology used for web app development is MySQL. Other preferable options include MongoDB, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle Database, and Microsoft Access.