It's typically hard for an end user to tell the difference between a web app and a website. They just type in the URL and boom, the results are there.

And this is what really matters for the user – getting the results for what they are searching. If that happens, then that's basically what they care about.

But for you as a developer, you're the one who has to build these products for the user. So you should know their differences well. Do you know the main differences between a Website and a Web Application?

We'll take a basic technical approach in this article. And although there are conflicting opinions among some developers, I will try and highlight some of the key differences which helped me understand how websites and web apps differ.

Lets get started.

What is a Website?

A website is a collection of publicly accessible pages containing either documents, images, audio, text, or other files that users can acces through the internet.

Websites can consist of a single page or many pages. In order for a user to access a website, they will need a URL which they enter in the search bar of their web browser. An example of a URL is

Types of websites

There are two main types of websites:

  • Dynamic websites
    These are more complex and have back-end interactions with the user. They use more advanced languages and databases in addition to the custom HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Unlike static they display different content depending on various factors.

  • Static websites
    These are built using simple languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. They are called static because they don't have a database a user can interact with. They display same content for every user who accesses them.

By understanding these two main types of websites, let's see some examples of websites we have today:

  • Dating websites
  • Blogging websites
  • Educational websites
  • Portfolio websites
  • Personal websites
  • Community websites
  • Government websites

Characteristics of Websites

As a developer, creating a website that is attractive to the user is one of the core tasks you'll perform. This is because sites are mostly judged by how they appear. The appearance is a main factor that will help determine how long the user will stay on your site.

To help you build beautiful site, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • It should be user friendly so your users can easily learn what the site does, where things are, and so on.
  • It shoudl contain quality content. Bear in mind that visitors will come to your site for the content, so be sure it meets their needs.
  • It should be attractive. Using simple design principles should help you give your website a professional layout and look while at the same time providing quality content.
  • It should be easy to navigate. This will make it easy for users to find what they are looking for. You can do this by adding a menu linking to various parts of the site, for example.
  • It should load quickly. In order to attract more users, be sure your sites loads quickly. This will provide a positive experience to visitors.
  • It should be responsive. Make sure your site is accessible across all devices. Keep in mind that most users are not using computers but rather mobile phones.

Why you need a Website

The main question you might ask at this point is: Do you actually need a website? Whether it's personal or even for your business? Well the answer is YES – and here's why:

  • If you have a business, a website will allow you to showcase your products to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere.
  • It will help you grow your brand as an individual or as a company.
  • It helps create social proof, so others can see what you have done and what you do (which helps build credibility).
  • It helps create an online presence where your clients are able to find you easily.
  • It can be used as a source of income via advertising, and through monetization.

What is a Web Application?

web application
A web application, also referred to as a web app, is a computer program with functionality and interactive elements. You use regular web technologies to build it but it also stores data and manipulates it according to a user's needs.

Web apps are extremely customizable and can perform a wide range of tasks and functionalities like creating, reading, updating, and deleting data in the app. They are more complex and difficult to build, so they require an experienced team of developers to create them.

Some popular examples of web applications include: shopping carts, video and photo editing apps, file conversion tools, file scanning apps, email programs, and so on.

Characteristics of a Web Application

  • They are scalable and cloud-hosted.
  • They are cross-platform applications, meaning they can be run on any OS, whether it's macOS, Windows, or Linux.
  • They should be easily tested with automation.

Why you need a Web Application

Most companies today are shifting gears toward using web applications in addition to or instead of websites. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Easy to maintain and update
  • Easily customizable - you can easily add more designs and features based on your preferences and user needs.
  • Secure - data is stored in the cloud, meaning you don't need to worry about data loss if your device is damaged. You can easily retrieve it.
  • You do not need approval from various app stores, since they can be accessed via the browser.
  • They support all modern browsers.

Differences between Websites and Web Applications

By this point you already have an understanding of what websites and web apps are. So now we'll highlight their main differences.

Let's have a summary of the key differences to better understand them:

Website Web Application
They provide visual and textual content, which can be viewed and read. The user does not only view the page contents but also can interact with it and manipulate it, for example filling forms
Authentication is not mandatory in regular websites unless you are signing up for something like a newsletter They need authentication as they offer much broader services, meaning you will need to have a username and password to access services
They will display what has been searched for by the user Tasks here are more complex, you will have to browse within to get a specific product in a page
Information here is publicly accessible Information here is restricted to registered users, meaning without credentials you might not be able to access the data
It's easy to develop since it requires only the basic web technologies. It's more challenging, because it requires a higher level of security and functionalities based on its purpose.
It is cheaper to host Expensive to host since more components are required like a database.

Wrap Up

Well to answer the question, which one should I choose between the two? It's simple:

  • if you need to showcase your skills and products, a website should be your go to.
  • if you want a online tool to help you automate your process and get visitor interactions like e-commerce, a web application is your go to.

As a developer, building websites is a relatively simple process once you know the tools and languages required. You just need the basics which you can get started with on freeCodeCamp.

On the other hand, web apps require deeper knowledge, more planning, and it can be more expensive, too. To help you get started here is a resource you can check out:
How to build a modern Web App

Now, with a better understanding of the terms you should also be able to know what you interact with on a daily basis.

If you have read this far I really appreciate it! Do share your valuable opinion by connecting with me on: Twitter | LinkedIn | GitHub

Enjoy Coding ❤