/ Articles

What is a Web Application?

Most of us are familiar with what an application is. They’re the programs we run on our computers. The apps on our tablets and smartphones are applications. We interact with applications on a daily basis. But some people may not be quite as familiar with a specific type of application that’s growing in popularity day by day. The web application.

At its most basic a web application is a program that runs in a web browser. As opposed to a program that you install on your computer, a web application downloads into your browser like a web page. But unlike a web page, which generally features relatively static information and limited interactivity, a web application is extremely dynamic.

Web Applications Versus Desktop Applications

A desktop application is any program that installs onto your hard drive and runs locally on your computer. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Adobe Photoshop are all examples of desktop computer applications. Really all classic computer programs are desktop applications. They generally don’t require a network connection for basic operations because they are self-contained, sitting on your hard drive running on your local hardware.

Web applications, on the other hand, live in the cloud. You don’t have to install any software on your hard drive. Instead you direct your web browser to the URL address for the web app you want to use and your web browser downloads all of the necessary code for the app to run.

Google Docs is a good example of a web app. It’s a word processor on par with Microsoft Word, but you don’t have to install on your computer to run the application. You simply go to docs.google.com and log into your account.

This portability offers certain advantages over the standard desktop application model. With a desktop application if you want the program available on multiple computers you have to install it on all of the machines individually. With a web-based application there’s nothing to install. You can run the app on any machine you like simply by browsing to the proper web address.

Web Applications Versus Websites

Websites are what you classically think of when you think of websites. They provide relatively static content on a page with links to other pages that display their own static content. CNN’s website or The Weather Channel online are good examples of websites. They aren’t particularly interactive and don’t require much feedback from the user. You read the content on one page, click a link, and then read the content on the next page that loads.

Web applications are fully interactive and require constant feedback from the user. The content is highly dynamic and dependent on user activity. As we mentioned in the last section, a web application is like a desktop application, and features that level of interactivity. The only difference is that it runs in a web browser instead of off of your computer’s hard drive.

Progressive Web Apps

Progressive web apps are the latest iteration of the web application model. These apps seek to better emulate the experience of a desktop app in a web app environment. They take advantage of new APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) like Service Workers, which are bits of Javascript code that allow web applications to function in an offline mode, to send push notifications to mobile devices, and to degrade gracefully in the case of network connectivity problems. The idea is that the user should never encounter a situation where it becomes evident, because of poor performance, that they’re using a web app instead of a desktop application.

How Businesses Can Benefit From Progressive Web Applications

It’s a matter of scale. Home computer users might have a handful of computers or mobile devices. By contrast, even small businesses often have dozens of computers, tablets and smartphones running software in the office and offsite. And medium to large enterprises can have hundreds or even thousands of devices. Using desktop software necessitates a separate installation on every one of those machines. And when the application needs updating it can be very taxing on your IT department’s resources because each computer, laptop and mobile device need to be updated separately.

Now consider the same scenario using a web app, or a web app which shares data with a mobile app (which are often just web apps wrapped in native mobile app shell.) No program installations are necessary on any of your company’s desktop or laptop machines because the program runs in the cloud. And updates are a thing of the past. When a web-based application is updated it happens on the server automatically. The user doesn’t need to do anything. The next time they browse to the application the updated app will get served up.

Custom Web Applications Increase Business Efficiency

Every business is different, and each has its unique software needs. In many cases off-the-shelf software is adequate to satisfy certain business functions. Microsoft Word, as a desktop application, or Google Docs as a web application are both perfectly adequate to handle a company’s word processing needs. But for software needs unique to your business a custom built application is the best solution. And a custom built progressive web application is the ideal method for rolling out this software functionality to your employees.

Consider some of the more common custom business applications and how they can benefit from the web application model. Businesses often need a convenient way to keep track of their customers, vendors, business leads, and related data. CRM or Customer Relationship Management software helps employees make sense of what can be a massive amount of information. Now imagine if your employees could have easy access to this essential data from anywhere, in the office, on the road, and at home, from their desktop machines, laptops and mobile devices, without ever having to install a program and without the need to keep the software updated.

These same web application benefits apply to business process automation software, project management software, customer information portals and a host of other necessary business management functions. Handling these essential business services with a progressive web application that is imminently reachable, constantly available and one that degrades gracefully when disconnected from the internet can be one of the single best ways to upgrade your internal infrastructure, to the benefit of your employees, your customers, and your bottom line.

Let Us Design a Custom Web Application For You

We can design web-based application solutions that benefit every aspect of your business. We utilize modern tech stacks like Node.js, React, and Ruby on Rails, paired with the latest APIs to create truly progressive web applications that perform like a desktop application without any of their drawbacks. Contact us today to find out how we can get your business humming.


Jason Bloom Jason Bloom Professional Content Writer at Puget Tech READ MORE