web application (web app)

What is a web application?

A web application (web app) is an application program that is stored on a remote server and delivered over the internet through a browser interface. Web services are web apps by definition and many, although not all, websites contain web apps.

Developers design web applications for a wide variety of uses and users, from an organization to an individual for numerous reasons. Commonly used web applications can include webmail, online calculators or e-commerce shops. While users can only access some web apps by a specific browser, most are available no matter the browser.

How web applications work

Web applications do not need to be downloaded since they are accessed through a network. Users can access a web application through a web browser, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Safari.

For a web app to operate, it needs a web server, application server and database. Web servers manage the requests that come from a client, while the application server completes the requested task. A database stores any necessary information.

Web applications typically have short development cycles and small development teams. Developers write most web apps in JavaScript, HTML5 or CSS. Client-side programming typically utilizes these languages, which help build an application's front-end. Server-side programming creates the scripts a web app will use. Languages such as Python, Java and Ruby are commonly used in server-side programming.


Web applications have many benefits. Some common benefits include the following:

  • Multiple users can access the same version of an application.
  • Users don't need to install the app.
  • Users can access the app through various platforms such as a desktop, laptop or mobile.
  • Users can access the app through multiple browsers.

Web app vs. native app vs. hybrid app

Within the mobile computing sector, web apps are sometimes contrasted with native apps, which are applications developers build specifically for a particular platform or device and install on that device. Native apps can commonly make use of device-specific hardware, such as a GPS or camera on a mobile native app.

Programs that combine the two approaches are sometimes referred to as hybrid applications. Hybrid apps work similar to web apps but install to the device as a native app would. Hybrid apps can also take advantage of device-specific resources by using internal APIs. Downloaded native apps can sometimes operate offline; however, hybrid apps don't have this functionality. A hybrid app will typically share similar navigation elements to a web app since they are primarily based on web apps.

This was last updated in January 2023

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