What Is A Web Application? Definition And How It Works

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 6 February 2023

Published 6 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Whether your company has a local, national or global reach, easy and quick interactions with employees and clients have become more necessary than ever in the business world. Increasingly, companies are using web applications to facilitate communication and the exchange of information. Understanding what a web application is can help you realize its importance in your everyday life. In this article, we aim to answer the question, "What is a web application?" and discuss how it works and its benefits.

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What Is A Web Application?

What is a web application can be described as a software application program that uses web-based technology to perform specific tasks. Remote web servers host web applications and store relevant information from numerous connected computers. You can use a client program to run the web applications and access or enter the required data. That is why people often refer to web apps as client-server programs.

Larry Wall developed one of the first web applications in 1987. It was a server-side Unix scripting language known as Perl and was useful for processing reports. Since then, web applications have undergone many developments, and the current ones are far more sophisticated in their features and use than the earlier simplistic ones. They are also far more indispensable for personal and business use.

Related: Difference Between A Web Application And A Website

How Does A Web Application Work?

A web app requires mainly three elements to function properly. This includes a web server to handle requests from the client, an application server to execute the tasks requested and a database to store the information. Here is how a web application typically works:

  • The user would connect to the Internet and create a request to the web server through the application's user interface.

  • The web server would process the request and send it to the right web app server.

  • The web application server would perform the required task and generate the results of the required data.

  • The web app server would send the information back to the web server.

  • The web server would send the requested information to the client's device such as a laptop, desktop or mobile phone.

  • The requested information would appear on the user's display.

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A Developer's Role In A Web Application

When developing a web app, the developer generally codes it for functionality using a combination of server-side script languages and client-side scripting languages. For instance, they may use Java, Python, PHP and ASP for the server-side script and HTML5, CSS and JavaScript for the client-side script. The purpose of the server-side script is to allow the web application to store information on the web server and to retrieve it when necessary. The client-side script is for presenting the information to the users. After the compatible browsers execute and run the program, the user can access the information they want.

Generally, small teams can conceive and design many web apps. At the start, they decide whether they require to create dynamic web apps that need server-side processing or static web applications that do not require server-side processing. The development phases consist of gathering information, planning and designing the application. It is also necessary to create and assemble content. The developers would then code the web app and test and review it for errors. After launching the web application, the developers continue to monitor it for any necessary maintenance work and feature and coding updates.

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Difference Between Website And Web Application

A website and a web application have the following differences:

Basic features and purpose

A website is a collection of static, interlinked and globally accessible web pages that you can view on a compatible browser. It provides information to the viewer using text, images and videos. A web app, in comparison, is a software program with interactive content and other elements for user engagement. The user interaction determines the value or usefulness of a web application. Increasingly, it is common to see hybrid websites that combine static and interactive elements to provide a better user experience.

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Compilation

It is not strictly necessary to precompile a website before you deploy it. Additionally, if you make site changes, you do not need full recompilation and deployment. It would be enough to update the HTML code. For a web application, pre-compilation is crucial for efficient deployment. The advantages would be a faster initial response time, source code protection and the ability to identify and catch errors early. Every time you make a change, recompilation and deployment are essential for the entire application.

Integration

It is optional for a website to integrate with a third party, and the process is relatively simple. For a web app, its complex functionality makes integration with third-party software programs and online tools trickier. But, third-party integration is essential for web applications for data collection, storage and processing.

User interaction

You can instantly access and view a website on a web browser. The most commonly used web browsers are Brave, Qwant, Mozilla Firefox and Safari. But, you can only see or read the website content on a browser. You cannot interact with it. A web app requires you to download and instal it on your mobile device. You can then access, interact with and manipulate its data in a personalised manner.

User authentication

A website does not require user authentication from its visitors. It may prompt them to sign up for updates or its newsletters, though. A web application generally requires user authentication before allowing access to its numerous options.

New updates

If you update your website, the updates become immediately visible to your visitors. To upgrade a web application, you would require to visit its website or an online app outlet and download the new version on your mobile device or computer. You would then require to install it on the device before you can use the latest features.

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Benefits Of Web Applications

Web applications have many benefits, including the following:

  • They are easy to install and use on different computers and mobile devices.

  • They only need a compatible browser for their operation and are not dependent on any particular operating system or device.

  • As they can run on multiple platforms, developers do not require to build separate client-side programs for different operating systems and computers.

  • Since a remote web server stores the web applications, there is no requirement to host them locally, and you do not require to worry about the space limitations on your hard drive.

  • Web applications are stored on a remote web server, which reduces the need for technical support.

  • It is easy to make changes to web apps and keep them updated since all updates are applied centrally on the web server.

  • As the same web application version is available to all users, so it eliminates any compatibility issues.

  • If you get a custom web app for your business, you can customise and scale it and add more functionality per your business needs.

  • They help reduce software piracy in subscription-based web applications.

  • For business users, web apps offer better work management and improved work efficiency. You can use them to integrate data from multiple sources, share data spreadsheets with your team members and collaborate on projects and reports.

  • Web applications offer a higher level of data security, as the data is stored on remote dedicated web servers. Experienced server administrators monitor these servers for any potential breaches and take action to prevent them.

  • They use cloud data storage, meaning that you would not lose your data in the event that your computer or mobile device gets damaged.

  • Different web apps can be interoperable with each other, allowing for better web integration and adaption of emerging Internet technologies.

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What Is An Example Of A Web Application?

An email program like ProtonMail is an example of a web application. Other examples of web apps include an instant messaging app like WeChat, a social media platform like WhatsApp, a retail site like Flipkart and a photo-sharing application like Flickr. Other web apps that you might have used are Zoom and Microsoft 365. Web applications can include everything from shopping carts and spreadsheets to online banking. They have become practically indispensable across different industries for almost anything you might want to undertake.

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Is Facebook A Website Or A Web Application?

Facebook is a dynamic website that has the features and functionality of a web application. For example, Facebook collects data from users, moderators, advertisers and other sources and presents each individual user with a customised webpage based on their online interactions and preferences. It provides functionality beyond just information presentation.

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Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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