Web application shown on a laptop screen

What is a web application?

Tim Collingwood
July 18, 2019

A question that we are often asked is ‘What is a web application?’.

In simple terms, a web application is software that is provided via web technologies which enables users to manage and interact with their data.

You are probably more likely to find or use a web application in a business context, as they are often created to provide organisations with efficiencies and workflows when managing their data.

Some people use different names for Web Applications such as online database, or online system, and the name ‘web application’ can also be used as an umbrella term for types of applications such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, or GMS (Grant Management Software).


How is a web application different to a website?

Both websites and web applications are built using web technologies, but the key difference between the two is that whilst a web application provides the ability to manage data, a website provides information (content) through a number of pages.

Over time, the differences between web applications and websites have become much less obvious as many websites also include functionality that enables the management of data in some way.


How is a web application different to an app?

The word ‘App’ is just a shortened version of ‘application’ but we tend to think of Apps differently. Usage of the term ‘App’ became much more mainstream with the launch of the iPhone and now when people use the term ‘App’ it’s generally considered to be something that you download onto your smartphone or tablet rather than something you would access via a browser, as you would do a web application.

However, just to make things confusing, a web app is also often considered to be a mobile app built using web technologies. Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are an example of this.


A brief history of web applications

In the early days of the World Wide Web, content was very static as it was hard-coded and written using the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML). As technologies evolved, the ability to dynamically display content to users from a database became available. This opened the door to allowing management of data online which could be viewed, added, edited, and deleted by multiple users.

People could see the advantages of moving from a one-to-one relationship, between their machine and a locally stored database such as Microsoft Access, to a one-to-many relationship of a single online application enabling multiple users. This is often why some people refer to web applications as online databases, as early web applications were very much the idea of taking an existing offline database and bringing it online.

The future of web applications is also looking bright. As web technologies evolve, the more web applications can potentially do. The introduction of Blockchain technologies allows web applications to evolve further, moving from data being stored centrally in a database, to data being stored in a distributed ledger, therefore  providing better data integrity and auditing.


A web application designed and built for you

Web applications are often designed and developed to provide specific functionality to help solve a business problem or help a business with the management of data. Therefore, a web application can be designed and developed to fit in with your business needs rather than your business having to fit around off-the-shelf software.

We have been working with clients to architect and develop web applications for over 20 years, enabling them to gain efficiencies and grow their organisations through digital transformation.

If you have offline processes that you would like to bring online, we’d love to talk to you about how we can help create your next web application