What are web applications and how do they work?


There is disagreement in the definition of web applications. Some people think that web applications are all websites, others only those that have an interactive interface and the ability to interact with data. We as custom web app development agency also decided to express our opinion.

Next we will look in detail at what a web application is, where they are used and how they work. We will also talk about the types of applications, their differences from websites and mobile applications, and show examples of popular applications.

What is a web application?

A web application is a program that users interact with using a browser. It runs on remote servers and provides various features or services to users over the Internet. Typically, users access the same way they access sites through a URL. Web applications can range from simple tools such as email to more complex systems such as social media platforms and project management portals.

The hallmark of web applications is to help users complete tasks. For example, applications are used to track expenses, register for classes, create advertisements, scan and convert files, and more. In simple words, a web application is the same website, but with more complex functionality. Therefore, in this article we will use both the word web application and the word site.

On what principles do web applications work?

Let’s take a closer look at how web applications work. Web applications have a server and client component. Users interact with the client side through the interface presented in browsers. Upon request from the user, data is transferred to the server, where the information is processed in accordance with the business logic of the application, returning a response.

The response can be presented in different formats, such as a full page, its template, or data in JSON or XML formats. It all depends on the method of displaying (rendering) the page. The page can have two options – presented unchanged (static) or with adjustments made (dynamic). The rendering process is performed on the client side, on the server side, or shared between the client and server.

Differences between sites and web applications

We’ve figured out what a web application is – now let’s look in more detail at how it differs from a website. There are many similarities between websites and web applications. Many people argue that web applications are the next evolution of websites. However, it does not seem that traditional web-sites lose to web applications in the portfolio of a custom web app development company. However, there are critical differences between a web application and a site that should be considered.


From a user’s point of view, the difference between websites and web applications is functionality. Websites provide information, and web applications provide functionality for solving certain problems. Content on the site is available for viewing, reading or listening, but the user cannot manipulate it. Conversely, the content of web applications is not only viewable, but also involves extensive user interaction.


Web applications are much more complex than websites. Websites are a collection of static pages. Yes, a modern custom web app development studio has made websites more interactive, but they are still relatively simple to create compared to web applications. Web applications must not only provide services and run smoothly, but also process data and provide different levels of access to users. In addition, web application security requires more advanced solutions than when creating a website.

Web applications are generally created using the same programming languages as websites, including complex technologies. For front-end development, these are HTML and CSS, JavaScript, front-end frameworks ReactJS, Angular or VueJS. And the back-end is most often implemented using PHP (including Laravel, Symfony, Yii2 frameworks), NodeJS (including Express.js, Nest.js and others), Python (including Django, CherryPy and others), Ruby (Ruby on Rails) and ASP.NET (.NET). Furthermore, when consumers engage with the program, UX/UI design is crucial.


Most classic sites do not require mandatory registration, only optional to obtain expanded access to content. Web applications almost always require user authentication because they provide services tailored to specific requirements. Banking apps are an example of this. Yes, account holders are offered similar online services, but in their account each user has their own personal information, balance, payment information, etc.

Differences between mobile and web apps

With mobile apps, things differ from with web apps or websites. You can download them through app stores such as Google Play or App Store or you can find them on websites for the direct download. If you have a special launch icon on the main screen of your tablet or smartphone, then this is a mobile application. The only exception is PWA web applications. And if you need to sign in through Chrome, Safari, or your other preferred web browser to use the app’s features, then it’s a web app. Often, web applications allow you to create a dedicated icon on your desktop for quick access. But even so, it all works through the browser.

The main advantages of web applications over mobile ones:

  • Cross-platform. Available through a regular browser on various devices and operating systems (Windows, Linux or Mac OS).
  • Installation and access. No installation required, making it easy to start using. Users just need to open the application in the browser. This is especially convenient for temporary use.
  • Updates. Changes and updates are made centrally and applied instantly to all users.
  • Reduced costs. Web applications are a more budget-friendly option for any company. They do not require paying for subscriptions or purchasing licenses, and can also be used as a SaaS service.


As you can see, we at Digiteum believe that web applications are much more complex than regular websites and provide more features. We hope that it is now clearer to you how web applications differ from websites and mobile applications, as well as how diverse and useful they can be.

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