Web applications (Web apps): what are they?

Kamil

.

Przemysław Ćwik

Senior Editor.

2 November 2020

Web applications: what are they and how can they help you grow your business?

Web applications are systems operating within a web browser. They can support business activities or be business itself. We explain how they differ from websites, what problems they help to solve and what benefits they bring to companies.

What is a web application (or a web app)? This question, admittedly, may sound trivial on the software house blog. Nevertheless, it is worth asking (and answering) it. First of all, because many people still do not distinguish this type of systems from websites, and the very concept of an application is mainly associated with smartphone apps. Secondly, because it is a good opportunity to mention the advantages and business benefits of web applications.

What is a web application and how does it differ from a website?

A web application is simply a program accessible via a web browser. It differs from a mobile and desktop apps mainly because it does not have to be installed on the user's phone or computer. It differs even more significantly from a website. A website is a set of web pages running under a single domain, stored on a single server and usually thematically related to each other. A website is usually of informative or "representative" nature (e.g. as a business card). It is a carrier of text, graphic or video content that can be "consumed" and, possibly, commented on.

Whereas a web application is interactive. It is simply a tool available online via a web browser which performs defined tasks. When a user takes a specific action, the application connects to the server and provides the user with a response in the form of a specific message or action. Of course, a web application is available under a specific domain and works within a website. However, the address and website are only a web-based infrastructure for an interactive system, which in this case is the "essence of things".

The above distinction is most easily explained by means of an example. If the bus operator's website contains only the timetable in a JPG file and the company's contact details, it is, indeed, a website. If the website provides a tool for searching for bus courses, booking and/or buying tickets, we are dealing with a web application. Web applications are Tripadvisor.com, Booking.com, as well as Facebook.com, YouTube.com or Google.com. Examples of a website are KISSdigital.com or MC.bip.gov.pl.

The most popular tools for creating web applications

The differences, of course, are visible "under the hood". Web pages are mainly based on the HTML markup language, cascading style sheets (CSS) used to describe the layout of elements on the page, and the JavaScript programming language (JS). The latter allows, among other things, to create complex visual effects, but also interactive elements, such as forms. They can extend the website's functionality, which does not mean that they make it a full-size application. Of course, the site can be created based on pure HTML, but it would be a very "old-school" and non-marketable solution.

Web applications are much more advanced constructions. HTML and CSS are also used in their development, because the program must be "embedded" somewhere and have a visual layer. To design interactive frontend elements we use JavaScript with a set of Ajax techniques. Frontend can be written in pure JS or with frameworks, the most important of which are Vue, React and Angular. The latter works mainly in enterprise class solutions. While the backend is created with such languages as PHP, Ruby and Python. C++ and C# are also used in enterprise systems. There are also a lot of libraries and frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Node.js or Django.

It is worth noting that creating a web application does not always involve writing a backend. In recent years, we have been observing the growing popularity of the SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) model solutions. One of them is a "branch" known as BaaS, i.e. Backend-as-a-Service. Many applications of this type support particular elements of the system, e.g. contact or registration forms. Of course, more advanced solutions are also available. Currently, BaaS applications are often more expensive than developing your own backend, but their profitability is likely to increase in the future.

Very short history of web applications

The first web applications were developed even before the creation of the global computer network and were based, e.g., on the Perl language. They were mainly used in intranets, such as academic computer networks. The beginning of the 90s was a period of domination of HTML and websites in the form of text documents, gradually enriched with new styles and graphic layers. Applications were installed mainly on desktops, and those supported by browsers were rare.

The breakthrough came in 1995 when Netscape Communications introduced JavaScript. It allowed for displaying pages with various interactive elements, including vector animation. Ten years later, Ajax technology enabled even more dynamic interaction with the user through asynchronous communication with the server.

In 2015, Progressive Web Apps (PWA) appeared, taking the user experience to an even higher level. That is just a short summary to give you the general overview. The history of web applications development is much more complicated, those interested in the topic can easily find detailed information on the Internet.

What are web applications for?

Modern web applications are really complex systems. Just look at Facebook and analyze its functions. There are so many of them that they make you dizzy. Also reservation or sales applications have advanced tools to perform complex tasks. Such systems are usually not created completely from scratch. They are developed on the basis of partially ready-made solutions (including libraries), being the result of many years of work of several hundred thousand developers.

Many web applications are used for similar purposes, e.g. sales, payment, booking, audiovisual communication, customer relationship management or teamwork. However, within each category there is a whole bunch of dedicated, tailor-made systems. Some of them are intended for customer interaction, while others are used only within the organization. It is difficult to give an exhaustive list of web applications purposes, because such programs can solve a variety of problems, including those we cannot yet imagine.

Web application advantages: for users and for business

It is worth mentioning some of the basic advantages of web applications:

These are the benefits that web applications provide to users. They also indirectly apply to business as market success depends to a large extent on the quality of the solutions offered. However, there are more "fundamental" arguments for using web applications in business, for example, they:

Advanced systems for complex problems. Web applications developed by KISS digital

The above list only indicates the areas of possible benefits resulting from the implementation of web applications. Profits from using dedicated systems to solve clearly defined problems can be massive and even decisive for further development and competitiveness of the company. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find universal solutions in this area, because a lot depends on a specific case, which requires separate analysis.

As KISS digital we have developed web applications in various fields. For example, for Eurocash S.A. Group, we have created the Click & Collect system, which allows users to order and collect goods from Delikatesy Centrum stores. This solution, which is dictated by pandemic restrictions, streamlines sales processes and minimizes face-to-face contact in stores. This web application contributes not only to greater business efficiency of our client, but also to consumer health protection.

We have also developed an ERP system for A1 Europe (Enterprise Resource Planning) which supports the company's workflow, improves project management and a number of other processes. Another type of solution from our portfolio is AgroDeal. It is a web and mobile application that enables farmers to rent agricultural equipment in the vicinity.

These are examples of web systems from completely different fields, which have an important common feature: they solve significant problems and bring significant benefits, both to business and users.

If you are looking for an experienced software house that creates advanced web applications with attention to both their technological layer and the client's business benefits – contact us!

Kamil

.

Przemysław Ćwik

Senior Editor.