Web app development: a step-by-step guide

23 min read
November 17, 2023

Developing a web app is a great way to increase your online footprint and reach more users.

But, you need to do it right.

That’s why we’ve written this step-by-step guide to help you get started with web app development.

We’ll also cover some benefits of developing a web app, what types of web apps you can create, and the top development frameworks used to build them.

Let’s dive in!

What is web app development?

First, let’s start by defining web app development.

Web app development is the process of creating an app that runs on a web server and can be accessed through a web browser.

The fact they can be accessed through web browsers sets web apps apart from desktop and mobile apps.

But, there’s one thing you should keep in mind – web apps aren’t the same as websites.

Here’s an overview of the key differences between the two:

web app vs website

source: Space Technologies

Think of it like this – while every web app is a website, not every website is a web app.

What sets them apart is their functionality and complexity.

Web apps are interactive and more difficult to build – a complex web app has more in common with a mobile app than a simple website.

And that’s why web apps are so valuable.

Benefits of web app development

Now that we’ve defined it, let’s talk about some benefits of web app development.

The top benefits of developing a web app are:

  • Accessibility and cross-platform compatibility
  • Cost-effective development
  • Scalability and third-party integrations

Let’s talk about each in more detail.

Accessibility and cross-platform compatibility

Wide accessibility is one of the key benefits of developing a web app.

We’ve mentioned that web apps can be accessed from any device that has a web browser.

On top of that, they don’t have to be downloaded to your user’s device to work as intended.

And that means that your web app can target a much bigger market – everyone who uses the internet.

Internet adoption by regioj

source: DataReportal

The reason why web apps are so accessible is because they’re inherently cross-platform apps.

They can run on any operating system, including:

  • Windows
  • Linux
  • MacOS
  • iOS
  • Android

And they can do that without needing multiple versions for each operating system.

That flexibility and wide reach is why building a web app makes sense for your business.

Cost-effective development

Another key benefit of developing a web app is that its development is cost-effective.

In other words, they’re cheaper to build than native mobile apps.

One key reason for that is that they’re written from a single codebase.

And that means you can have a single team of engineers working on your app instead of separate iOS and Android teams.

Of course, a number of factors affect the cost of developing a web app.

web app development cost factors

But, on the whole, it’s more cost-effective to develop a single web app compared to 2 native apps.

Plus, web apps are cheaper and easier to maintain and update.

Any updates you make to your app are immediately available to all users.

Also, as it has a single codebase, your engineers will have an easier time maintaining your app.

And that translates to lower maintenance costs.

Scalability and third-party integrations

Another major benefit of web apps is their scalability and wide variety of third-party integrations available on the market.

In fact, web apps are designed with scalability in mind.

They can grow and scale down based on user traffic without jeopardizing performance.

And they can scale both horizontally and vertically.

vertical vs horizontal scaling

source: Tutorial Dojo

The reason web apps can scale so easily is because of their architecture and the rise of cloud computing services like:

The cloud services in particular make building scalable web apps easy and cost-efficient.

Also, web apps easily integrate with third-party tools and systems which improve your app’s functionality and user experience (UX).

These can be:

  • Payment systems
  • Customer relationship management tools
  • Analytics tools
  • Email marketing services

And these systems will help take your app to the next level.

What types of web apps can you build?

Now, let’s quickly go over the types of web apps you can build.

They are:

  • Static web apps
  • Dynamic web apps
  • Single-page web apps
  • Multiple-page web apps
  • Progressive web apps

We’ll cover each of these in more detail.

Static web apps

Static web apps are the simplest web apps you can build.

As their name suggests, their content is static and hard-coded.

This means that they display the same content to every user without server-side processing or database interaction.

Static web app

source: Thinker’s Cloud

Building a static web app requires only front-end work, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re significantly cheaper than other web apps.

Of course, the drawback is that they’re much more limited compared to other types of web apps.

But, they still have their uses.

Static web apps are best used for:

  • Portfolios
  • Landing pages
  • Documentation sites
  • Blogs

You should build a static web app if the content you plan to publish won’t need to be updated frequently.

But, if you’re looking to build an app with complex and interactive features, dynamic web apps are the better choice.

Dynamic web apps

Dynamic web apps can change their content based on user interactions and the data they process.

The vast majority of web apps on the market today are dynamic web apps.

What sets them apart from static web apps is server-side processing and interaction with databases.


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So, when a user makes a request in a dynamic web app, the server processes their request and shows them the appropriate content.

This means that dynamic web apps need to have both a front-end and back-end.

That’s why they’re significantly more expensive to develop than static web apps.

But, all the added features and capabilities they have makes that extra cost worth it.

Single-page web apps

Single-page web apps consist of only a single HTML page.

The content on the page updates dynamically as your users interact with it.

And this means that your users don’t have to refresh the page to update its content.

Here’s how they work compared to the classic multi-page web apps:

single-page vs multiple-page web app

source: Digital Clarity

The main advantage of single-page web apps is their speed, as they load only the relevant parts of the page.

For example, when you refresh your Twitter feed, only the feed gets reloaded while the sidebar stays the same.

This means they’re significantly faster and more efficient than traditional multiple-page web apps.

Single-page apps also give your users a more fluid and app-like experience.

They’re the right choice for:

  • Analytics platforms
  • Project management tools
  • Email clients
  • E-commerce apps
  • Communication apps

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Multiple-page web apps

Multiple-page web apps are web apps that, as the name suggests, load a new piece of content when the user requests it.

It’s the traditional way websites and web apps work.

Each user interaction with a multiple-page web app sends a new request to the server which then sends a new HTML page to the user.

Here’s how that works:

Multi-page web app lifecycle

source: Lvivity

Because they have to constantly send requests to the server, multiple-page web apps are slower than single-page apps.

But, they’re also simpler to build and easier to scale.

They’re a good choice if you’re building a:

  • Educational web app
  • Job portal
  • Travel web app
  • Banking web app

This is because they’re the better choice if your web app contains a lot of information and doesn’t need constant updates.

And the best part?

You’ll be able to manage it like a typical website.

And that makes maintenance and updates significantly easier.

Progressive web apps

Progressive web apps are web apps that combine web and native mobile app technologies.

In simple terms, they’re web apps that feel like native mobile apps.

They’re built just like any other web app using:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript

But, there are several elements that set them apart from other web app types:

Progressive web apps

source: TechAhead

The key element here is the service worker.

It’s a background script that caches data and content, allowing offline access.

Also, progressive web apps can be installed on users’ devices.

This way, they can get a similar experience to using a native app without actually needing to install one.

Some top examples of progressive web apps are:

And if big companies like that build them, you should consider doing it, too.

Top web app development frameworks

Now, let’s also take a look at some of the top web app development frameworks:

  • React – Developed by Facebook, React is a Javascript library for building user interfaces (UIs). React is flexible and easy to use and is especially suited for developing single-page web apps.
  • Angular – An open-source TypeScript-based framework developed by Google, Angular is one of the most popular front-end development frameworks for web apps.
  • Vue.js – Vue.js is a progressive, open-source Javascript framework. It’s especially popular for building UIs and single-page web apps.
  • Express.js – Express.js is an open-source back-end framework for Node.js and it’s one of the most popular backend frameworks for web app development.
  • Spring – Another open-source back-end framework, Spring is one of the most commonly used frameworks for enterprise web app development.
  • Ruby on Rails – Ruby on Rails is an open-source back-end framework written in Ruby. Known for its convention over configuration approach, it’s a good choice for quick web app development.
  • Laravel – A PHP-based full-stack web development framework, Laravel is one of the easiest web development frameworks to learn.
  • Django – Django is a Python-based back-end framework, good for building large-scale web apps.

The frameworks your engineering team will use to develop your web app will depend on the type of web app they’re developing and their individual expertise.

Now, we’ll cover how to develop one step-by-step.

Web app development guide

Here, we’ll discuss the steps you need to take to develop a web app.

They are:

  • Do market research first
  • Create a software requirements specification
  • Design your web app’s UI
  • Choose the right tech stack
  • Develop your web app’s front-end and back-end
  • Thoroughly test your web app
  • Launch your web app

We’ll also give you key tips for each step.

Let’s go!

Do market research first

You can’t develop a successful web app without market research.

That’s because you can’t have a successful app without knowing your market and your target audience.

And market research will help you do just that.

Target market vs target audience vs target persona

It will help you position your web app and get a product-market fit.

And that’s essential if you want your app to be successful, like startup coach Marc Andreessen said:

The only thing that matters is getting to product/market fit. Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

Also, market research will help you validate your app idea.

And validating your app idea is one of the most important steps you need to take before developing your app.

It will tell you if your plans are viable and whether or not you need to pivot to a different idea.

That’s important because having no market need is one of the main reasons startups fail, according to CB insights:

YE2iFXfO11 C0vNrrz91EIYzcRP7fM5iT8ydou0FppUMTJpXbB0xXUbbYe19qbgm7ufmC9N3XGtij9bHbJ IBUy7 w5wfqhoUrS7zcPpiRUI22VkPlK1WPiEO1QdCqQe4K olnV74eX8mbwYnr2MoKo

source: CB Insights

But, if you validate your app idea, you’ll prevent that from happening.

Also, if you do market research, you will:

  • Learn how your competitors position themselves
  • Which features you should prioritize
  • Know how to position your app

And that will set your app up for success.

Key tips

Now, let’s cover some key tips for successful market research:

  • Focus on identifying your users’ needs – once you’ve nailed down who your target audience is, you need to research their needs and how your app can meet them 
  • Analyze your competitors – a thorough competitive analysis will help you find unexplored gaps in the market
  • Set clear goals for your research – your research needs to be focused if you want to get actionable insights from it

Now, let’s move on to the next step in the web app development process – creating a software requirements specification.

Create a software requirements specification

Would you start building a house without a blueprint?

Of course you wouldn’t.

Similarly, you shouldn’t start building your web app without writing a software requirements specification (SRS) document.

The SRS will act as a blueprint that will guide your entire development process, from planning to launch.

Here’s an example of what a table of contents for a SRS document looks like:

SRS table of contents

source: KrazyTech

Of course, every app’s SRS will be unique.

But, there are two key areas you should cover in your document – the functional and non-functional requirements of your web app.

Here’s a breakdown of what each covers:

functional vs non-functional requirements

source: DDI Development

Your app’s functional requirements cover what your web app should do when users interact with it.

They cover all the features and functionalities your app needs to work properly.

On the other hand, non-functional requirements cover how your app does things and are focused on performance and security metrics.

Think of it like this – functional requirements cover what your app does and non-functional requirements cover how it does it.

But, why is an SRS so important?

That’s because it will help align everyone working on your app and help you create a clear development timeline.

A detailed SRS will also help you avoid scope creep and keep your app’s development focused.

It’s also handy as a common reference point your whole team can consult at any stage of development.

In short, it’ll help keep everyone involved in your app’s development on the same page.

And that will help you develop your app faster.

Key tips

Now, we’ll give you some key tips on writing an effective SRS document for your web app:

  • Be clear and concise – use simple and clear language to avoid misunderstandings down the line
  • Involve your engineers when writing the SRS – this way, you’ll be able to write a comprehensive and technically sound SRS while also involving them from the start
  • Regularly review your SRS during development – this will ensure that it’s aligned with your goals and you can revise it if requirements change during development

Now, let’s talk about the next step – designing your web app’s UI.

Design your web app’s UI

Your web app’s user interface (UI) design can make or break your app.

It’s a key component of your app’s UX and getting it right is essential.

And that’s not just idle talk.

Zippia’s research has shown that 94% of users will leave a website if it has a low-quality design.

Also, according to Forrester, a good UI can increase conversion rates by up to 200%.

These numbers show just how valuable a good UI is.

So, how can you make sure you nail your app’s design?

A good place to start is following established design guidelines, like Google’s Material Design.

Google Material Design

source: Google Material

These will help you design an effective and user-friendly UI for your web app.

And that’s key for your app’s success.

Also, make sure your UI’s design has accessibility in mind – according to WHO, 1.3 billion people (16% of the population) around the world experience some form of disability.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) pictured below are a good guide for designing an accessible app:

WCAG 2.0 guidelines

source: Sonix

They’ll help you design a truly accessible app which will improve your users’ experience when using it.

But, what does the design process itself look like?

It’s usually done in 5 stages:

User research is self-explanatory – this is where you research your users’ needs and pain points.

This is a key step because your findings will guide the rest of your design process.

Once you’ve done that, you should move on to wireframing.

A wireframe is an initial sketch of what your app’s UI will look like – it can be as simple as a hand-drawn rough sketch.


Once you’ve sketched out your wireframe, you should design a mockup of your app.

This is a representation of what your app’s final design will look like.

Then once you’ve gathered feedback on the mockup, you should build a prototype.

A prototype is an interactive design validation tool that’s used to test the usability of your web app’s design.

And you’ll need one for the final step – usability testing.

This is where users test out your app’s design and you catch any design flaws you might have missed previously.

And once you’ve done that and made your final tweaks, your app’s design is finished.

Key tips

Now, we’ll give you some key tips you should follow when designing your web app’s UI:

  • Design your app’s UI with your users in mind – a user-centered design will ensure your app meets your users’ needs and solves their pain points
  • Follow design best practices – this way, you’ll ensure that your app is keeping up with market trends and delivers the best UX possible
  • Create a feedback loop – you should get feedback from your users at every stage of the design process and iterate your design based on that feedback

Next, we’ll discuss choosing the right tech stack for your app.

Choose the right tech stack

Choosing the right tech stack is crucial when developing your web app.

It doesn’t just affect your initial development process but your app’s long-term success, too.

Here’s a more detailed look at what a typical web app development tech stack looks like:

web app development tech stack

source: K&C

So, how do you make sure you choose the right tech stack for your app?

There are 3 key elements you should consider when choosing one:

  • Your web app’s requirements
  • The stack’s scalability
  • Your team’s expertise

The tech stack you choose should be aligned with your app’s functional and non-functional requirements.

The technologies and tools you choose to use have to be able to fulfill the requirements you’ve set.

Also, the stack needs to be scalable.

This is especially important if you’re anticipating strong user growth and increased data volumes.

Finally, your tech stack should reflect your team’s expertise – after all, they’re the ones who’ll be developing your app.

If you pick tools and frameworks they’re familiar with, you’ll significantly speed up your app’s development and make their jobs easier.

And that’s what you should always aim for.

Key tips

Now, we’ll cover some key tips that will help you choose the right tech stack for your app:

  • Choose frameworks and tools with community support – a large community means they have better support and more third-party libraries and tools your engineers can use
  • Pick a tech stack your team is familiar with – not only will you develop your app faster, you’ll also reduce your costs
  • Focus on compatibility – make sure the elements of your tech stack are compatible with one another and work well together

Let’s now talk about the next step – developing your web app’s front-end and back-end.

Develop your web app’s front-end and back-end

Once you’ve finalized your web app’s design and chosen your tech stack, it’s time to develop your app’s front-end and back-end.

This is the step when your app goes from idea to reality.

But, what’s the difference between your app’s front-end and back-end?

The front-end is what your users see and interact with in your app.

It includes everything they experience directly:

  • Visuals
  • Images
  • Text
  • Buttons
  • Navigation interfaces

Front-end development is where your design comes to life and doing it right is key if you want your app to have good UX.

On the other hand, the back-end is the part of your web app that your users don’t see.

The back-end is where the magic happens – it’s where your app processes data.

It includes your app’s:

  • App server
  • Database server
  • HTTP server

Here’s how the different back-end elements interact with each other and your app’s front end:

web app front-end and back-end

source: DDI Development

All of these elements need to work well together if you want your app to work properly.

And that should be your top priority at this stage of development.

Key tips

Now, we’ll give you some tips your engineers should follow when developing your web app’s front-end and back-end:

  • Build a CI/CD pipeline – a CI/CD pipeline will help you deploy any changes you make to your app faster 
  • Make sure the code is readable – clean and readable code will make future maintenance easier and reduce the risk of bugs
  • Keep up with trends and best practices – staying up to date with new developments will help you build a better app

Next, let’s take a look at another critical step in your web app’s development – thorough testing.

Thoroughly test your web app

Thoroughly testing your web app before launch is an absolute must.

And if you don’t, you risk losing a lot of money – slow-loading websites cost their owners $2.6 billion in lost revenue every year.

You shouldn’t risk your app becoming a part of that statistic.

That’s why you should have rigorous quality assurance (QA) protocols in place and do in-depth testing before launch.

And you’ll get plenty of benefits if you do, the main being:

benefits of software testing

But, how exactly can you test your web app?

There are a number of testing methods your QA team can use, such as:

  • Unit testing
  • Integration testing
  • Performance testing
  • Regression testing

And that’s just scratching the surface.

Rigorous and thorough testing will improve your app’s UX and performance.

It’ll also minimize the risk of bugs derailing your app’s launch and your users’ experience.

And that’s why it’s so important.

Key tips

Now, let’s discuss some key tips that will help your QA engineers effectively test your app:

  • Plan your testing strategy – set clear goals you want to achieve during testing and plan for different types of testing
  • Automate your tests – use tools like Selenium to automate testing and save time
  • Monitor and test your APIs – make sure the APIs your app uses are reliable and perform well

Now, let’s discuss the final step in your app’s development – launching your web app.

Launch your web app

The launch is the make-or-break moment for your web app.

If you plan your launch poorly you’ll ruin your app’s chances of success.

That’s why it’s critical you carefully plan your launch.

So, how can you do that?

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The first step is choosing a hosting platform for your web app.

You can go with traditional hosting services if you don’t expect a lot of traffic.

But, if you want your web app to scale easily, you should go with the cloud services we’ve mentioned previously.

There are 3 key factors you should consider when choosing your hosting provider:

  • Reliability
  • Scalability
  • Cost

In any case, you should pick the one that best meets your specific needs.

Next, you should also optimize your web app before launching it by:

This will ensure your app works well in a production environment.

Also, make sure you continuously monitor your app after launch.

Tools like Google Analytics and New Relic will help you track your app’s performance and how your users use it.

And those metrics are key for its long-term success.

Key tips

We’ll now discuss some key tips to make your web app’s launch successful:

  • Launch your app with a special event or promotion – this way, you’ll generate buzz and get eyes on your app immediately after launch
  • Get feedback from early users – if you encourage them to give feedback, you’ll be able to quickly solve any post-launch problems and improve your app
  • Have a customer support system in place – having one from the start will help you retain your early users and answer any questions they might have

Now, let’s go over some frequently asked questions about web app development.

Web app development FAQs

We’ve noticed some questions about web app development keep popping up – we’ll answer the most common ones here.

What is web app development?

Web app development is the process of creating an app that runs on a web server and can be accessed through a web browser.

What’s the difference between a website and a web app?

The main difference between websites and web apps is their functionality – websites usually aren’t interactive while web apps are. Also, websites are primarily informational while web apps are functional and allow users to complete tasks and input data.

What are the main benefits of web app development?

The main benefits of developing a web app include cross-platform compatibility, accessibility, cost-effective development and scalability.

What types of web apps can I create?

You can create: static web apps, dynamic web apps, single-page web apps, multiple-page web apps and progressive web apps.

How long does it take to develop a web app?

Your app’s development time depends on its complexity, but it takes 4.5 months on average to fully develop a web app.

Need help developing your web app?

Developing a web app is a great way to grow your business.

But, it can be a challenging process.

And that’s where we come in.

If you need help building your web app, feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll help you turn your app idea into reality.

Written by

Tarek Saghir

JS Team Lead

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