Web Application

Definition of Web Application

A Web Application aka web-based application is any program that is accessed over a network connection using HTTP, rather than existing within a device’s memory. Web-based applications often run inside a web browser. However, web-based applications also may be client-based, where a small part of the program is downloaded to a user’s desktop, but processing is done over the internet on an external server. Web-based applications are also known as web apps.[1]

Web Application
source: EduCBA

History of Web Applications[2]

In earlier computing models like client–server, the processing load for the application was shared between code on the server and code installed on each client locally. In other words, an application had its own pre-compiled client program which served as its user interface and had to be separately installed on each user's personal computer. An upgrade to the server-side code of the application would typically also require an upgrade to the client-side code installed on each user workstation, adding to the support cost and decreasing productivity. In addition, both the client and server components of the application were usually tightly bound to a particular computer architecture and operating system and porting them to others was often prohibitively expensive for all but the largest applications. (Nowadays, native apps for mobile devices are also hobbled by some or all of the foregoing issues.)

In contrast, web applications use web documents written in a standard format such as HTML and JavaScript, which are supported by a variety of web browsers. Web applications can be considered as a specific variant of client–server software where the client software is downloaded to the client machine when visiting the relevant web page, using standard procedures such as HTTP. Client web software updates may happen each time the web page is visited. During the session, the web browser interprets and displays the pages, and acts as the universal client for any web application.

In the early days of the Web, each individual web page was delivered to the client as a static document, but the sequence of pages could still provide an interactive experience, as user input was returned through web form elements embedded in the page markup. However, every significant change to the web page required a round trip back to the server to refresh the entire page.

In 1995, Netscape introduced a client-side scripting language called JavaScript allowing programmers to add some dynamic elements to the user interface that ran on the client side. So instead of sending data to the server in order to generate an entire web page, the embedded scripts of the downloaded page can perform various tasks such as input validation or showing/hiding parts of the page.

In 1996, Macromedia introduced Flash, a vector animation player that could be added to browsers as a plug-in to embed animations on the web pages. It allowed the use of a scripting language to program interactions on the client side with no need to communicate with the server.

In 1999, the "web application" concept was introduced in the Java language in the Servlet Specification version 2.2. At that time both JavaScript and XML had already been developed, but Ajax had still not yet been coined and the XMLHttpRequest object had only been recently introduced on Internet Explorer 5 as an ActiveX object.

In 2005, the term Ajax was coined, and applications like Gmail started to make their client sides more and more interactive. A web page script is able to contact the server for storing/retrieving data without downloading an entire web page.

In 2011, HTML5 was finalized, which provides graphic and multimedia capabilities without the need of client side plug-ins. HTML5 also enriched the semantic content of documents. The APIs and document object model (DOM) are no longer afterthoughts, but are fundamental parts of the HTML5 specification. WebGL API paved the way for advanced 3D graphics based on HTML5 canvas and JavaScript language. These have significant importance in creating truly platform and browser independent rich web applications.

The Need for Web Application[3]

Web applications are more popular because of the following reasons:

  • Compared to desktop applications, web applications are easier to maintain by as they use the same code in the entire application. There are no compatibility issues.
  • Web applications can be used on any platform: Windows, Linux, Mac… as they all support modern browsers.
  • Mobile App store approval not required in web applications.
  • Released any time and in any form. No need to remind users to update their applications.
  • Web applications can be accessed 24 hours of the day and 365 days a year from any PC.
  • Both computer and mobile devices can be used to access the required data.
  • Web applications are a cost-effective option for any organization. Seat Licenses for Desktop software are expensive where SasS, are generally, pay as you go.
  • Web-Based Apps are Internet-enabled apps that are accessed through the mobile's web browser. Therefore, you don't require to download or install them.

How a Web Application Works[4]

Web applications are usually coded in browser-supported language such as JavaScript and HTML as these languages rely on the browser to render the program executable. Some of the applications are dynamic, requiring server-side processing. Others are completely static with no processing required at the server.

The web application requires a web server to manage requests from the client, an application server to perform the tasks requested, and, sometimes, a database to store the information. Application server technology ranges from ASP.NET, ASP and ColdFusion, to PHP and JSP.

Here's what a typical web application flow looks like:

  • User triggers a request to the web server over the Internet, either through a web browser or the application’s user interface
  • Web server forwards this request to the appropriate web application server
  • Web application server performs the requested task – such as querying the database or processing the data – then generates the results of the requested data
  • Web application server sends results to the web server with the requested information or processed data
  • Web server responds back to the client with the requested information that then appears on the user’s display

Types of Web Applications[5]

This classification is based on how web apps show the content they accept. Based on this, we have up to 6 different types of web applications.

  • Static Web Applications: The first thing to know a static web app is that this type of web application displays very little content and is not particularly flexible. Static Web Applications are usually developed in HTML and CSS but these are not the only platforms to develop the static app; you can use jQuery and Ajax as per your own convenience. You can also include or display animated objects, such as banners, GIFs, videos, etc. in the static app handily. Unfortunately, modifying the content of static web applications is not easy. To do this, you first have to download the HTML code, then modify it and finally send it back to the server. These changes can only be made by the webmaster or development company that planned and designed the first Application. Examples of the development of static web applications include professional portfolios or digital resumes. Similarly, a page presenting a company could also make use of this type of web application to display their contact information.
  • Dynamic Web Applications: Dynamic web applications are much more complex on a technical level. They use databases for data loading and its contents are updated each time the user accesses them. They usually have an administration panel (called CMS), where administrators can correct or modify application content, whether text or images. Different programming languages can be used for the development of dynamic web applications. PHP and ASP are the most common languages used for this purpose because they allow the structuring of contents. In this type of application, updating the content is very simple and the server does not even have to be accessed for the modifications to be made. Also, it allows you to implement an abundance of features, such as forums or databases. The project – in addition to content – can be modified to match the administrator preferences.
  • Shop Online Or E-Commerce: If the web application is an online store, its development is likely to resemble that of an m-commerce or e-commerce site. This type of application development process is more complicated because it must allow electronic payments that can be made from credit cards, PayPal or other payment methods. The developer must also create a management panel for the administrator; that will be used for the listing of new products, update them, delete the entries, and to manage applications and payments. Your web application fits on mobile devices the same way as a mobile app does, making it possible to interact with it as if it were a native application.
  • Portal Web App: Through the portal, we are referring to a type of application that accesses the various sections or categories through a home page. These applications can include many things: forums, chats, e-mail, browsers, areas accessed through registration, the latest content, etc.
  • Animated Web Applications: The animation is inevitably associated with Flash technology. This programming approach allows you to display content with animated effects. This type of application allows more creative and modern designs and is one of the key technologies used by designers and creative directors. The disadvantage inherent in the development of animated web applications is that this type of technology is not suitable for web positioning purposes and optimization of SEO because search engines cannot properly read the information they contain.
  • Web Applications With A Content Management System: The content should be constantly updated when it comes to web application development so that the installation of a content management system (CMS) is a serious option to consider. The administrator can make use of this CMS to implement changes and updates alone. These content managers are intuitive and very easy to handle. Some examples of content management systems are:
    • WordPress: is undoubtedly the most widespread around content management. There is plenty of information, tutorials, and guides available on the internet that will help you customize it and understand how it works. Besides all this, it’s free.
    • Joomla: This CMS is second only behind the WordPress. It does not have as many users as the last, but has a strong community and is also very intuitive.
    • Drupal: it is a free CSM software – very adaptable and is especially recommended for building communities. This type of web applications is very common among the content pages: personal blogs, corporate blogs, professional blogs, news pages, articles, media, etc.

Mobile Apps Vs. Web Apps[6]

Native mobile apps are built for a specific platform, such as iOS for the Apple iPhone or Android for a Samsung device. They are downloaded and installed via an app store and have access to system resources, such as GPS and the camera function. Mobile apps live and run on the device itself. Snapchat, Instagram, Google Maps and Facebook Messenger are some examples of popular mobile apps.

Web apps, on the other hand, are accessed via the internet browser and will adapt to whichever device you’re viewing them on. They are not native to a particular system, and don’t need to be downloaded or installed. Due to their responsive nature, they do indeed look and function a lot like mobile apps — and this is where the confusion arises.

Let’s consider the Yelp native app vs. the web app. If you install the Yelp app on your mobile and then access via the browser on your phone, you’ll notice that the web app has been made to look and feel like the native mobile app: it turns your browser bar red, and when you scroll down, locks the search bar in place.

Mobile App Vs. Web App
source: Career Foundry

While the designs are similar and follow the same fonts and colour scheme, these are essentially two different products.

Web apps need an active internet connection in order to run, whereas mobile apps may work offline. Mobile apps have the advantage of being faster and more efficient, but they do require the user to regularly download updates. Web apps will update themselves.

Above all, mobile apps and web apps are designed and built very differently. To further differentiate between the two, it helps to understand how each is developed.

The Evolution of Web Applications[7]

Most web applications are based on the client-server architecture where the client enters information while the server stores and retrieves information. Internet mail is an example of this, with companies like Google's Gmail and Microsoft's Outlook offering web-based email clients.

Over the past several years, there's been a big push for web applications to be developed for functions that do not normally need a server to store the information. Your word processor, for example, stores documents on your computer, and doesn't need a server.

Web applications can provide the same functionality and gain the benefit of working across multiple platforms. For example, a web application can act as a word processor, storing information in the cloud and allowing you to 'download' the document onto your personal hard drive.

If you've been using the web long enough to witness how popular web applications like Gmail or Yahoo mail clients have changed over the years, you have seen how sophisticated web applications have become. Much of that sophistication is because of AJAX, which is a programming model for creating more responsive web applications.

G Suite (formerly Google Apps) and Microsoft Office 365 are other examples of the newest generation of web applications. Mobile applications that connect to the internet (such as your Facebook app, your Dropbox app or your online banking app) are also examples of how web applications have been designed for the ever increasingly popular use of the mobile web.

See Also

Web Browser
Web Content Management
Web Content Management System (WCMS)
Web Development
Web Ontology Language (OWL)
Web Portal
Web Presence
Web Service Choreography (WS-Choreography)
Web Service Choreography Interface (WSCI)
Web Services Business Process Execution Language (WS-BPEL)
Web Services Description Language (WSDL)
Web Services Flow Language (WSFL)
Application-Capability Reference Model (ARM)
Application Architecture
Application Development
Application Infrastructure
Application Infrastructure Suite (AIS)
Application Server
Applications Architecture
Applications Portfolio Analysis (APA)
Internet Connection Sharing (ICS)
Internet Crime
Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP)
Internet Privacy
Internet Protocol (IP)
Internet Reputation
Internet of Things (IoT)
Search Engine
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Privacy
World Wide Web (WWW)
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)


  1. Definition - What is a Web Application Techopedia
  2. History of Web Applications Wikipedia
  3. Why you need a Web Application? Guru99
  4. How do Web Applications Work? Stackpath
  5. What are the Different Types of Web Applications? Clustox
  6. Mobile Apps Vs. Web Apps Career Foundry
  7. How Have Web Applications Evolved? Lifewire