Hackernoon logoThe Difference Between Web Apps and Websites Explained by@andreyonopriyenko

The Difference Between Web Apps and Websites Explained

The Difference Between Web App vs Website: What’s the Difference? Andrey Onopriyenko Chief Technology Officer at KeyUA. Working in IT industry for near 12 years. The history of website vs web app development began in 1995. Since that time, business goals and implementation approaches have changed significantly. In this article, we will talk about which model best meets business needs and tell you what criteria should be considered when choosing between web applications and websites. The difference is significant and mostly aimed at satisfying the needs of businesses of various sizes.
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Andrey Onopriyenko

Chief Technology Officer at KeyUA. Working in IT industry for near 12 years

The history of website vs web app development began in 1995. Since that time, business goals and implementation approaches have changed significantly. In this article, we will talk about which model best meets business needs and tell you what criteria should be considered when choosing.

Web App vs Website: What’s the Difference?

At first glance, it is difficult for users to distinguish web applications from websites, since they have similar navigation, design, and are also both mobile responsive. Nevertheless, the difference is significant and mostly aimed at satisfying the needs of businesses of various sizes. So, let's compare the two main concepts.

What is a Website?

All websites are accessible through browsers and are statistical, which means that their content is not updated dynamically. The main objective of the website is to provide information to the user, including text, photos, videos, and so on. In most cases, the user does not interact with websites. All they can do is leave an email to subscribe to the newsletter or use a search box. Common examples of such websites are blogs, news portals, weather sites, etc. Some websites are used purely for advertising. For example, landing pages that motivate users to purchase certain goods or services.

What is a Web Application?

Unlike a website, a web application has more functionality. These are dynamic pages where users can manipulate data and totally be engaged in interaction. One of the most common examples of web applications is social networks, where users send many requests to the server and instantly receive the updated information. Since a web application is much more difficult to create due to its deep functionalities, this type of development requires an experienced team.

Nowadays the border between a website and web application is blurred. Web apps can act like websites until you sign in to a profile. So in summary, web applications are the same as websites, but with extended functionality and interactivity.

Let's take a closer look at the differences between website vs web app.

Interactivity

The first difference is the varying degree of interaction. A website has visual content, but the user cannot interact with it. Since a web application is used in a completely different way, the platform content is formed depending on the user's preferences.

For example, in social networks you see updates only from your friends or offers based on your likes. Online chats are also ways of interacting in a web application. And because of these additional functions, users visit popular web applications more than websites.

The popular website Wikipedia is viewed by about 67 million unique users every day, while the popular web appliciation Twitter is reached by over 4 billion.

Integration

Due to deeper user interaction, web applications require integration with third-party services. When considering e-commerce projects, the two most significant integrations are in CRM and payment gateway.

CRM is a system that allows you to store information about users in the database, such as their profile data, sales history, and so on. Any e-commerce site where a user can make a purchase, get a consultation, etc. is a web application.

On web pages users can only get acquainted with the product or service, such as color, size, and other details. Web applications can also be integrated with social networks, media resources, email services, etc.

Authentication

This is a process whereby users enter their data on an online platform to gain access to more advanced features. The most common example is registration, and it can be implemented both on websites and in web applications.

Authentication can take place via SMS, social networks, user login and password, fingerprint, face scan, etc. A long registration process scares users away. According to Baynard Institute, 20% of users will abandon a site if it has registration steps. It means that user authentication is necessary only in those cases where they are implicitly interacting with content and functionality, namely, social networks, online stores, etc.

Development Process

Simple websites can be created in online builders, lots of which now exist on the Internet. You do not need to be a software developer in order to build a business card website or landing page. Web applications can not be created without qualified specialists.

In this case, you will need to set up the server, configure the database, create a search engine, and write the source code. And this is another important peculiarity that distinguishes an application from a site. If you want the software to have extended functionality, then you should turn to reliable developers.

Testing

Testing is an integral part for the building of any software. This is a process in which a specialist studies the specifications and compares the expected result with the actual result. Any deviations from the specifications should be documented. In other words, a tester must make sure that a product works in accordance with the wishes of the client. In the case of a website, the time and cost of testing will be significantly lower than the cost of checking a web application due to limited functionality. When a quality assurance engineer needs to test various functions, this requires certain skills and abilities including writing automation tests.

Types of Web Apps

Before making a choice one way or the other, let's go over the types of web applications and their definition.

Single-Page Application (SPA)

The essence of this web application is that it is constantly updated, without user requests. Users don't have to move among web pages. A site constantly updates data and sends visitors notifications. The content on application pages can also be changed depending on the actions of visitors (when they hover over or click on certain buttons) and without the participation of users (when they receive incoming messages on the screen). Examples of SPA web apps are Facebook, YouTube, and Gmail.

Progressive Web Apps (PWA)

A progressive application is a modern way of online development that allows the software to compete with native applications. The essence of these apps is that they offer extra features, such as offline work, push notifications, access to equipment, and so on. Previously, these functions were available only in the process of native development (building an application that uses the original programming languages), but the evolution of IT has made the app building process more convenient and affordable.

The concept of a progressive application was born in 2015 through the merger of a website and a mobile application. This was the result of some basic browser restrictions, including the speed and quality of the Internet connection, that all users and developers faced. Also, a progressive application can be implemented as a separate program, which must be installed on your device. Striking examples of such software are Skype, AliExpress, Telegram, Spotify, and PayPal.

Static Web Applications

Static web applications have a limited set of functions and rarely changed content. Typically, small businesses or single entrepreneurs resort to such methods in order to create an information site. Unlike other types of web applications, user interaction is minimal. Examples are Mint, Dropbox, and Play Works.

Dynamic Web Applications

These are technically more complex projects. Their content is updated every time a user interacts with the platform. At the same time, the information is updated very quickly and does not require access to the server. Such applications also have a control panel that allows administrators to easily change site data without technical knowledge. The most popular examples are Netflix and HubSpot.

Hybrid Apps

In some cases, the approach of creating traditional and static web applications may be mixed. Hybrid applications are born to save the fully generated content pages and then display special data without requesting the server. The essence of the hybrid approach is that some functions of the platform are processed by the browser, and the rest by the server. It’s a good solution for many large companies. Airbnb uses this approach.

Shop Online Or E-Commerce

This type of development involves integration with payment systems. Web applications sell goods or services and also check users' personal data. Due to the online payment function, such projects should have a high level of security in order to protect customers' money during the transaction. Popular e-commerce web apps are Amazon, Etsy, AliExpress, and WizzAir.

Portal Web App

Such applications allow users to see useful content, i.e. the information that they are most likely to prefer. These platforms study the behavior of visitors in order to develop an algorithm for displaying content based on their preferences. They also allow users to generate their own content and communicate with other accounts. Examples are Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and Western Union.

Online Web Apps With A Content Management System

These are third-party applications that control site content. Usually they are used for corporate needs. The administrator makes, changes and manages the site data without changing the source code. Also, such software is actively used to manage blogs. Top apps are WordPress, Wix, and Joomla.

What to Choose for Your Business: Web App or Website

In many respects, the web site and web applications are similar, nevertheless, their differences are aimed to satisfy the needs of various types of businesses. So, before deciding what type of development is needed in your case, consider a few essential aspects.

  1. Your business goals. If your business is not focused on selling online, social networks, or interacting with users, and you conduct business offline, then developing a traditional website is best for you. If you need static advertising pages, a one-page online brochure, or just a business card website without lots of functionality, then think of creating a simple website.
  2. Your budget. Web application development is a more complex and lengthy process, and therefore more costly. You will need to hire an experienced team including a developer, designer, tester, and so on. A website can be created at minimal cost using online constructors.
  3. Marketing approach. If you want to improve your marketing strategy, a web application is what you need. This will allow you to interact more closely with users and motivate them to purchase your goods and services.

Website Project vs Web Application Project: What Technologies to Choose

Even if you do not want to get into technical details, if you plan to maintain your online business in the future, it will still be useful for you to familiarize yourself with the basic technical stacks for developing Internet platforms.

Website - Simple web pages are developed using front-end programming languages HTML, CSS, JavaScript (the front-end means everything users can see on the screen and what they interact with). Those languages are pretty easy to run, so a website can be built in several days. You can also use a tool like Bootstrap, which provides access to a variety of websites and application templates.

Web App - Web apps include several components: installing a server, setting up a database, writing source code (backend - a component that sends requests to the server), and creating a search engine. The technologies that are used to develop web applications are more complex and advanced. It takes at least 3 months to make a solid web app.

Stacks that were used to create the most popular online platforms:

Netflix:

  • Server - AWS, Node.js
  • Databases - Amazon RDS
  • Backend language - Java, Flask (Python framework)
  • Frontend language - React

Amazon:

  • Server - AWS
  • Databases - Amazon RDS, MySQL, DynamoDB
  • Backend language - Java
  • Frontend language - AngularJs, GWT

Instagram:

  1. Server: Nginx
  2. Databases: PostgreSQL
  3. Backend language: Django
  4. Frontend language: React

How Much Does it Cost to Develop?

When it comes to price, a web app will cost you more. The price is affected by such features as the complexity of the project, the amount of time needed for development, hourly rate, and the number of team members. Since the development of web applications is a more complex process, requiring advanced knowledge in various fields, the cost of building a project is not cheap.

On average, experienced developers will charge you $50 per hour. You can find lots of offers at a lower price, but most likely you will get poor quality of implementation. If you need a website, you may agree to a lower rate, as this is a less labor-intensive process.

The Closing Act: Website vs Web Application Projects

When considering a web app versus website, it must be understood that web applications bear additional responsibility in protecting the personal data of users, ensuring secure transactions, and increasing overall protection of the platform. Websites are also susceptible to hacker attacks, but these actions do not typically harm users.

Another issue that matters is the objectives of your business. There is no need to create complex apps if your business isn't involved in online marketing campaigns or sales.

Previously published at https://keyua.org/blog/web-app-vs-website-the-main-differences-right-choice/

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