Web app development: types of web apps you can create

8 min read
September 19, 2023

Gone are the days when websites were just plain pages with text and photos.

Nowadays, you can create entire functional applications on the web—everything from accounting platforms to project management tools.

Indeed, developing web apps has its advantages. For one, they’re easier to distribute since the user doesn’t need to install them. Plus, they’re trivial to troubleshoot and maintain.

If you’re interested in building your next web app, you first need to know which type you’ll create. Here are five you can choose from.

Static web apps

A static web app is perhaps the simplest kind you can build. It’s composed of a web page with all the text, images, and assets built in.

When the user’s browser requests for a static webpage, it sends it as is. All the content is hard-coded in HTML and CSS, with no scripting or pre-processing that fills the page with dynamic content—hence the static category.

Static web app

illustration: DECODE / source: Thinker’s Cloud

However, that doesn’t mean that purely static web apps can’t contain interactivity. You can use technologies to drive simple animations and dynamic behaviors in the web app.

For example, you can build a calculator web app that uses JavaScript to add two numbers in a text field. It’s still considered a static page.

Because of their simplicity, static web apps are some of the cheapest and easiest to build. That’s because they purely require front end work, thus eliminating the need for back end developers.

Of course, the drawback is that static web apps are severely limited in their application.

A lack of a back end means you can’t retrieve or store data on a database. Nor can you connect or use other tools and services.

As such, static web apps are ideal for reference sites purely for conveying information.

The best example of this is a portfolio website.

Portfolio website

source: Sitepoint

Portfolio sites exist primarily to showcase an artist or developer’s work. They don’t require any dynamic content or server processing, so they’re best as a static page.

Changes to the content, if any, don’t happen often to warrant a complex back end solution.

Another example is government websites that are mostly for conveying important information or laws to citizens.

The bottom line is that static web apps might be simplistic, but there are a surprising number of situations where they’re the best choice. So, don’t dismiss them just yet.

Dynamic web apps

A dynamic web app, as the name suggests, is where the contents of a web page are generated on the fly.

When a user’s browser requests a dynamic web page, there is also other data included with that request.

For example, a username and password field can appear when a person hits the Login button on the login page.

The server processes this user input and, if needed, also retrieves data from a database. It then places this new data on placeholders on a web page then sends it back to the user’s browser.

It could also retrieve multimedia assets and place them on the page. This is how watching Netflix is possible, for example.

The processing part of the dynamic web app is called the back end. Think of it as a program that performs the logic portion of your web app.

It also communicates with the database and other external services via API calls.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

Dynamic website

source: Adobe

The vast majority of web apps today are dynamic. That’s because they provide the flexibility and processing necessary for modern applications.

Platforms like Asana, Gmail, Intuit, and all SaaS tools are impossible without dynamic web app technologies.

However, because of their added complexity, developing dynamic web apps is significantly more expensive and time-consuming.

Unlike static web apps, you’ll also need to create the back end. This is often the most complex to develop, as it contains all the logic and algorithms that make the web app function.

You’ll also need to invest in your web app architecture, including the database systems, servers, and third-party plugins.

Nevertheless, the cost and effort of building dynamic web apps are worth it. Just make it justified.

Single-page web apps

In a single-page web app (SPA), everything is contained within a single HTML page.

However, unlike a traditional webpage, you don’t refresh the entire page to update its content.Instead, sections of the page are changed dynamically based on user input or server processing.

Here’s an outline of how it works:


source: Digital Clarity Group

There are plenty of examples of single-page web apps, including Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail.

Think of how the UI of these apps works. You’ll notice that when you click on a folder in Google Drive, for example, only the main window updates to show the contents of that folder. The sidebar and top bars remain as is.

That’s a single-page web app in action.

The main advantage of an SPA is speed. That’s because the browser selectively loads only the items that need to change. Everything else is only loaded once, which is a more efficient approach.

Another good point of SPA is that the back end code is reusable. For example, you can run the same back end for a SPA and your mobile app since a SPA functions similarly to a mobile app front end.

Furthermore, SPA gives a more natural, native feel. It gives the impression that you’re using a live application instead of a dynamic website.

However, the SPA front end is much more difficult to create as it involves complex JavaScript code.

Plus, since everything is generated dynamically, search engines can’t crawl through it effectively and can thus hamper SEO.

Despite these shortcomings, a SPA can be highly effective for the right applications.

Multiple-page web apps

A multiple-page web app (MPA) is basically how a normal website works.

Here, every section of the web app is divided into individual pages. These are then loaded as necessary when the user requests them.

image 16

illustration: DECODE / source: Lvivity

Because a multiple-page web app functions just like a typical web page, you can use existing web development techniques and tactics on it.

This includes SEO. Thus, if you rely on organic traffic to get visitors to your web app, an MPA is the better approach.

Unsurprisingly, blogs driven by a content management system (CMS) are mostly MPA. Each blog post is its separate page, which is published and retrieved via the CMS.

Another advantage is that you can use website analytics, such as Google Analytics, for your MPA. This allows you to track the performance of each page.

2019 07 31 3

source: Google

Multiple-page web apps are also easier to scale. If you want to add a new section or product, it’s just a matter of adding a new web page.

You can easily add as many pages as you like with minimal effort.

Of course, the drawback of an MPA is that it’s slower since every page needs to be refreshed. It’s also more bandwidth intensive, which can be critical if you get a large volume of concurrent users.

It’s also harder to secure an MPA, given that you have multiple pages to cover and optimize.

In the end, it really depends on your project requirements whether you’ll go with an MPA or SPA.

If your web app requires advanced functionality and responsiveness, going with a SPA is ideal. But if you’d like to manage it like a typical website, MPA is better.

Progressive web apps

A progressive web app (PWA) is essentially a website but is capable of delivering a native, mobile app-like feel. In fact, it’s even installed and opened like one.

More importantly, PWAs have features often reserved for mobile apps. These include offline capabilities, notifications, and access to the device hardware.

The thing that makes this possible—and what sets PWA apart—is the service worker. This is a script that’s responsible for caching content and data in the background.

It makes offline access and better performance possible.

image 18

source: Boxes and Arrows

You can easily build a PWA with third-party tools such as Ionic and Vue.

The main advantage of a PWA is that it performs light years ahead of a typical web app. If you need this kind of responsiveness, then a PWA is the way to go.

Of course, the drawback is that a PWA inherits the same limitations as a mobile app. Chiefly, people need to install it first before they can use it. As such, it’s not as accessible as a traditional web app.

Want to learn more about web apps?

We hope you’ve learned a thing or two about web apps today. More importantly, we hope it helped you decide which type you’ll tackle in your next project.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There are still plenty of decisions you’ll need to make before you start your project. Which tools will you use? How much budget should you allocate? What should your timeline look like?

To help you out, we’ve outlined everything you need to learn about web apps here.

Written by

Tarek Saghir

JS Team Lead

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