What’s the difference between a website and web app

Beyond the developer’s community, the term websites and web apps are treated indifferently. Typical users are unlikely to be able to distinguish one from the other as both run on the browser. Yet, there are significant differences if you know where to train your eyes on.

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What is Website

Wikipedia defines a website as a collection of webpages and related content published under one domain and hosted on a single server. Websites are designed to relay information to the audience. In the early days of the internet, websites are everything we’ve got through the browsers.

As you read through the article, you’re consuming content that is served through a website. A website can be described as a medium that’s used to inform users through content. It can still be functional even with little or no active interaction from the users. 

You can probably relate to domains like Wikipedia.com, CNN.com, and INC.com as they host some of the most popular websites in the respective field. Websites are built with HTML Javascript and CSS, which determine how the information is displayed and behave on the browser. 

A simple website can be built within hours and there’s no programming involved.

What is web app

A web app is designed to run on a browser but with the purpose of enabling users to accomplish a process by interacting with the content. It integrates a client interface and a central server that allows users to work on tasks like video-editing, project scheduling, online meeting, or graphic design.

Examples of popular web apps are Slack, Canva, Asana, and e-commerce platforms. These web apps behave dynamically as the user inputs will determine the content displayed on the browser. UX design becomes a core element in the development of a web application. 

It’s evident that a web app consists of more complicated processes. It is dependent on information being relayed bidirectionally between the browser and the server. Therefore, the technology stack for web applications is also different from those used for building regular websites.  

 

Getting a web app done is more technical and expensive. 

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Website vs. web app: Similarities and differences 

The boundary between websites and web apps has blurred in recent years. Yet, both are still distinguished by the following factors. 

Interactivity

Both website and web app are separated by the degree of interactivity they allowed. When you’re on a website, all you can do is scroll on the content and in some cases, filling a subscription form. Some websites may have embedded video players for the video content, but that’s the limit of their interactivity. 

Meanwhile, a web app’s existence is centered on user interaction. You’ll have larger maneuverability of how you can alter the content on the browser. For example, Canva allows users to create and customize graphics with its drag and drop interface. You get to create groups, send messages, and set up customized features in Slack, which isn’t possible on a website. 

Integration

Websites are meant to be consume-only content, which means it has very little or no integration capability to 3rd-party software. The functionality of a website is limited to what’s visible on the browser.

On the other hand, web apps are built to aid users in accomplishing their tasks, which means they are often integration-friendly. Often, a web app can be integrated into other web apps the enhances the user experience. Slack, which is great for team communication, can be integrated with Asana for project management. 

Integration allows users to enjoy a more personalized experience, as they can install components that are necessary for the job. 

Authentication

With websites being ‘view-only’, there are fewer chances of security risks of misused data or privacy breaches. Therefore, websites usually come without any authentication requirements for users.

There’s much more going on for web apps in terms of personal information, data usage, and personalization. Authentication is needed for a web application where users are required to key in their credentials before accessing the web app’s dashboard. It helps to protect users’ data and allows a more personalized experience.

Without authentication, it will be very difficult to save your works on web apps like Asana and protect them from competitors’ prying eyes. 

Summary 

As similar as they are on the surface, a website and web app are clearly different in their mechanism and purposes. One is designed to inform while the other is meant to interact. Your choice of building a website or web app depends on what you’ll want to achieve with it.

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