What is the difference between a web app and a website?

Quick and easy answer, if you have to log in to use it, at least part of it is a web application.

More involved answer; A website shows static or dynamic data that is predominantly sent from the server to the user only, whereas a web application serves dynamic data with full two way interaction.

A website shows essentially the same data. Some of it may be dynamic (e.g. CNN or BBC website), but it is generally a one way affair – you are a consumer only.

A web application is two way; you see data that is not only dynamic but often also specific to you. You can work with this data through the web application to publish new content or send meaningful requests back to the server or through the server to third parties (including other users). Examples include;

  • a stock/share dealing application with real time price data and account, allowing you to deal in real-time.
  • a photo editing application.
  • a wedding wish list generator, shareable with your guests
  • a web game with a persistent world
  • A wordpress site’s publishing interface (where you write blog posts and generally manage the site) is a web application but the blog itself is not.
  • Youtube after you log in (so you can post comments or videos).

You can categorie 6 different types of web applications:

1. Static web application

If you choose to create a static web app, the first thing to know is that this kind of web app displays very little content and is not very flexible.

They are usually developed in HTML and CSS. However, animated objects such as banners, GIFs, videos, etc., may also be included and shown in them. They can also be developed with jQuery and Ajax.

In addition, modifying the contents of static web apps is not easy. To do this, you first have to download the HTML code, then modify it and finally upload it again to the server. These changes can only be made by the webmaster or by the coders who planned and designed the app in the first place.

Examples of static web app development include professional portfolios or digital curriculum. Similarly, a webpage introducing a company could also make use of this kind of web application to display contact information or the like.

2. Dynamic web application

Dynamic web applications are much more complex at a technical level. They use databases for loading data and their contents are updated each time the user accesses them. They generally have an administration panel (called CMS) from where administrators can correct or modify the app’s content including text and images.

Many different programming languages can be used for dynamic web app development. PHP, CFM and ASP are the most common languages used for this purpose because they allow you to structure the content.

In this kind of app, upgrading content is very simple and the server doesn’t even have to be accessed when modifying it. In addition, it allows the implementation of plenty of features such as forums or databases. Design − besides content − can be modified to match the administrator’s preferences.

3. Online store or e-commerce

If the web application is an online store or shop, its development is likely to resemble that of an e-commerce site. This kind of app’s development process is more complicated because it must enable electronic payments via credit cards, PayPal or other payment methods. The developer must also create a management panel for the administrator. It will be used for listing new products, updating or deleting them and managing orders and payments.

types of web applications
Image from  Miske via Unsplash

4. Portal web app

By portal, we are referring to a kind of application in which we access several of its sections or categories through a home page. These apps can include plenty of things: forums, chats, email, browsers, areas accessed through registration, latest content, etc.

5. Animated web application

Animation is inevitably associated with FLASH technology. This programming approach allows presenting content with animated effects. It also enables more innovative and modern designs and is one of the most widely used technologies by designers and creative directors. The drawback inherent to developing animated web applications is that this kind of technology is not suitable for web positioning and SEO optimisation purposes because search engines cannot correctly read the information they contain.

Moreover, Flash sites are becoming less common due to 1) the code complexity of Flash, 2) security concerns and 3) the advent of HTML5 code, which provides much of the functionality of Flash, without its issues.

6. Web application with a content management system

Content must be continually updated when it comes to web app development, so installing a content management system (CMS) is a serious option to consider. The administrator can make use of this CMS to implement changes and updates.

These content managers are intuitive and very easy to handle. Some examples of content management systems are:

  • WordPress: it’s undoubtedly the most widespread content manager around. There is plenty of information, tutorials and guides available on the internet that will help you customise it and understand how it works. In addition to all this, it’s free.Image from Linux Screenshots via Flickr
  • Joomla: this cm is the second most popular after WordPress. It doesn’t have as many users as the latter but does have a strong community and is also very intuitive.
  • Drupal: it’s a free software CSM. It’s very adaptable and is especially recommended for building up communities.

This kind of web application is very common among content pages: personal blogs, corporate blogs, professional blogs, news pages, articles, media, etc.