In the era of the world wide web, it is literally impossible to run a prosperous business without a website or a web application. However, the trick is that these notions are used interchangeably today and hence lose their initial meaning in the funnel of faulty facts and speculation. So once and for all, it is time to define what a website is, in what way it is different from a web application, and which solution your venture needs.
At first, one might think that there is absolutely no divergence in a website vs. web application comparison. Both can be accessed from a web browser, both give some pieces of data to the visitors, and both frequently have similar features. The controversial definitions circling the web do not help the novice to clarify the matter, and only suck them into a deeper vat of misunderstanding.
The core aspects of both are also the same: both require a stable internet connection, both consist of some back-end and front-end code, and both have identical attributes (authentication, integration, and interactivity). But the attributes are present on every website and web app in different shape and functionality.
So let’s look at the fundamental definitions and unique features of each.
A website is a combination of web pages that can be accessed globally and which are located under the identical domain name. The distinctive features of a website include the provision of the information as well as the possibility to change this information in parts without the need to rebuild or reprogram the whole system.
Besides that, websites are static; this feature conveys that users cannot impact the content they see upon surfing the pages of a website.
A web application can take the form of a program or some kind of software that is accessed via a browser (this feature is identical to a website’s). The main characteristic of web-based applications (and the primary disparity from a website) is that they are dynamic. This means that by selecting an element of a web application, users can change the content shown to them; moreover, many web apps also allow changing the content for the users under a particular list of specifications to fulfill.
The distinctions of websites and web apps come in terms of their purpose, authentication, interaction with a user, task and complexity, and integration. So let’s take a peek at these characteristics one by one.
Every software and website has a unique purpose. For example, Wikipedia was initially developed to inform its visitors about information from all over the world. Whatever or whoever you might be looking for exists in this knowledge database. Facebook’s main idea was to create an open space for people to interact with each other; later on, it also became a marketplace, a learning platform, and a source of news from all over the world.
Wikipedia and Facebook are two basic and most prominent examples of a website and a web application, respectively.
The content of a website is static and public (this means that all the visitors can access it without any registrations or restrictions). Web application’s main purpose is to let its visitors interact with each other.
So while Wikipedia lets you get information, Facebook allows sharing it with your friends.
Coming back to the static and dynamic content of web applications and websites.
Since websites are primarily static, they are offering a possibility to see and read their content without affecting it in any way. Web apps give their visitors, which would then be called users, the ability to shape the existing content. So when you get to go to an e-store page, submit a feedback form, and get a discount code – this is an interaction in the form of a dialog: you give some information to the app, and it responds to your actions. The response format can be different: a chat form, an online payment that leads to purchase finalization, and even a simple download of a document.
So let’s get back to the examples of Wikipedia and Facebook. The latter is a classy example of a web app in terms of interactivity. You can select your newsfeed preferences, and the app would adjust your feed, hence showing different content to different users.
However, when it comes to the modern representation of Wikipedia, you might confront our example and say that this is an app as well; and the truth is, you will be wrong and right at the same time.
The trick of Wikipedia is that it is a website in its core, yet with the inclusion of web application features, so with smaller web apps built into the website. Today, it is a rare case that one would see a plain website without any app features on it; hence, Wikipedia is trying to adjust to the trends.
The app aspect here is the ability to change the content of the articles. You can click a button, change the text, and then wait for its approval from the administrators. So this possibility to adjust content here and now makes Wikipedia go away from a basic website category into the combination of both. However, since the primary purpose of this website’s content is more informational than interactive, it can still be put into the category of a website.
Whenever a user needs to put their login and password to gain access to a system, it is called authentication. This is a must-have element for any web application so that it could secure a user’s data and protect it from unauthorized access. Facebook, for instance, requires every user to log in to access personalized content, and message exchange, etc.
Authentication is optional for websites, yet it might take place. Most often, websites ask their visitors to register to get extended access to broader content or features. For instance, news websites frequently give a sneak peek of their news articles for unregistered readers while offering full items to registered users.
Even though the aspect of authentication could be present in both systems (website vs. web application), it is obligatory only for the apps.
The most significant difference that you need to remember when deciding between building a website or a web app for your business is the following one:
Whenever you need a concluded system that visitors can access from any browser, you need a website since it presents the collected information and data on a particular page without any restrictions. A web application, in most cases, cannot run on its own and has to be a part of a website. The beneficial side of a web app is that its overall performance is significantly greater in scope and allows executing a wide variety of functional capabilities.
The choice stands on your business goals: inform or interact; since this is the most definitive difference between the two.
If you only want people to acquire insight about your enterprise, then you can perfectly work with a website and add some app features like a contact form. Such a strategy works well for a lawyer’s or photographer’s personal website.
Yet, if you are opening an online store and need buyers to send you personal information, get personalized items selection, have a chat feature, and so on, then a web app would be your best choice.
Once the choice is made, ensure that you get onboard professional website or web app developers to build the required structural system for you. And keep in mind that it is better to go with web app developers even for a plain website. This is advised because web app developers have broader and deeper development skills that allow for more flexible and up-to-date system creation.
Even if today you stay with a website only system, web app developers can ensure that the addition of extra features in the future will not cause any issues.