What is a web application and why might it be right for your business?

Frank Zinghini

Founder & CEO
build application development

In the application development process, the first decision you must make is whether to build a web application or a desktop (native) application.

Web applications have become the preferred method in many cases, thanks to advances in mobile technology, browsers, broadband, and data compression. Browsers have gotten better, broadband has become more widely adopted, and cellular and wireless networks are widely available, which means people can use web-based applications just about anywhere.

This article takes a closer look at the reasons web application development is often the right call for your business.

What is a web application?

A web application runs on a web server and is accessible via the user’s browser. It could be hosted on a cloud server, or a server in your data center.

Factors to consider in web application development include design, security, and web APIs. Web application development frameworks automate some of the work, making development easier. Some of the most common web application development frameworks are:

  • Express JS — An open-source platform developed in Node.js that simplifies design and customization. It is easy to connect with databases and allows you to quickly add functionality to your web application through modules. It can also be used to develop mobile applications.
  • Ruby on Rails — This framework uses the Ruby programming language. Code reusability makes web application development faster and simpler. It also offers a tight focus on testing, making it an excellent assessment framework.
  • Laravel — This is a PHP web application development framework that is good for both small and large web applications. It speeds up web caching, and database migration removes the need for database replication when changes are made to your application.
  • Meteor JS — This is a JavaScript web framework written in Node.js. It helps load pages significantly faster, and is great for building real-time web applications.

Users will have built-in expectations around design and usability because web applications are so common now. You should adhere to navigational best practices as much as possible so your application is easy to use and offers a familiar layout.

Best User Interface/User Experience practices to consider are:

  • Be concise in your wording, using accepted industry standards and clear “action” choices.
  • Place the login button at the top right.
  • Use common signage and icons, such as a magnifying glass to represent search.

Benefits of web applications

The top five benefits of web applications are:

  • Ultimate control of the user experience — You can push out application updates whenever you want. Users are automatically on the latest version.
  • Many doors of entry —  A centralized web application is available to users via the internet. You can serve users through desktops, tablets, phones, watches, and IoT devices.
  • Zero install requirements — Users do not need to install or download anything locally on their machine. Users are more attracted to applications that do not require a download. A side benefit is that there is no need to install anything during development, including QA and security testing activities.
  • Performance management and analytics — You can monitor account activity, usage, and performance so you can make improvements and add resources as needed.
  • Less costly — Desktop applications must work on all the latest versions of MAC OS X, Windows, and Linux. This requires more development time and more programmers to complete the work.

Constraints of web application development

Web applications must run smoothly on multiple browsers. The standards for browsers are poorly defined, and often loosely adhered to.

There are a finite number of browsers, but you must test and refine your application on all of them. Your application may run well on some browsers, but perform poorly on others. Browser updates may result in your application breaking. This requires additional and ongoing tweaking and testing.

The most popular browsers in order of market share are:

  •    Chrome
  •    Internet Explorer
  •    Firefox
  •    Safari
  •    Edge

Chrome holds a substantial lead in the browser market. Be sure to devote extra resources for testing in Chrome when making a web application.

You also need test across different devices. Web applications display differently in full screen, half-width, tablet mode, and mobile phone layout. You must pay attention to all of these device formats in design, testing, and development.

When you may need a desktop application

The three main reasons you may need a locally installed application rather than a web application are:

  • Your application needs to run without an internet connection.
  • Your application has extremely high performance requirements.
  • Your application needs to talk to other devices.

Is a web application better than a desktop application for your business?

Testing for variances and updates across five browsers is a much smaller headache than dealing with the millions of desktops you must contend with in local applications. The experience with web applications is just as good today as it is on a desktop.

Users are used to working in a browser. This makes web applications comfortable to use and easy to navigate. Control over the user experience and the performance tracking make web applications ideal for most situations.

We recommend starting under the assumption that a web application is the best approach in most cases. Use the criteria for when a desktop application is required as your guide to shift to a native application.