Is it a web site? A web app? Or a native app?

Many people are still confused about the difference between common types of applications(apps). Everyone seems to understand what a web site is, but when you say things like not all web sites are web apps or most web apps are also web sites, eye’s tend to glaze over. Let’s break things down.

What’s A Web Site?


A web site is a location connected to the Internet that maintains one or more pages on the World Wide Web. These web pages are just documents, typically composed in plain text interspersed with formatting instructions of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

Typically a web site is just a bunch of static pages that display the same information for any and all visiting users. Web sites are primarily informational. Take a basic portfolio page for example, it just displays a user’s/company’s work, an About section, and other pertinent information that may help visitors understand more about the user/company. To view someone’s portfolio page doesn’t require you to login, there’s no input fields for you to submit personal information, and the content you view on the page is the same content your friend would see if she was to visit the site from her computer.

A basic static web site, like a portfolio page or a coming soon page, should not be called a web application because it’s not doing any heavy lifting; by that I mean processing and saving data. It’s just a bunch of static content that’s displayed to users.

What’s A Web App?


A web application will have things like user authentication(login), allowing users to log themselves in and view information they might have submitted or saved from their previous session. Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are great examples of web applications. These are essentially programs that runs remotely, and depend fundamentally on a processing and a data storage backend. Web applications have databases that save your information and display it back to you every time you check back in. Web applications are very powerful and are able to reach anyone that is using a web browser connected to the internet.

The reason people understand the term web site better than the term web app is because back in the olden days, early 90’s to be precise, there weren’t any web apps. Back then everything was a static web site. We didn’t have big user centric apps with all these nifty features; we had basic informational pages that lived on the web. Once we started hooking up databases to web sites and adding all of these user centric features web sites gradually became robust web applications. The problem these days is whenever people here the term app they immediately think about those icons in their smart phone, which are actually Native apps and that’s what we’re going to discuss next.

What’s A Native App?


As you may have extrapolated, both Web sites and Web apps live on the World Wide Web! We typically access the world wide web through a Web browser. A Web browser is a software application used to locate, retrieve and display content on the world wide web, including web pages, images, video and other files. You’re using a Web browser right now to view this blog post. You might be using Google Chrome or Safari or Mozilla Firefox but hopefully not the dying Internet Explorer!

A native application (native app) on the other hand is an application program that has been developed for use on a particular platform or device, like a smart phone operating on iOS. Because native apps are written for a specific platform, they can interact with and take advantage of operating system features and other software that is typically installed on that platform.

Native apps are Not accessed through a browser. If you have a smartphone you already have a bunch of native apps installed. Just look at all those icons on your home screen, those are all native apps you’ve either purchased through an app store or apps that came pre-installed. These apps are written for specific operating systems. If you have an iPhone you’re running iOS, Apple’s operating system. If you have some other type of smartphone you’re most likely running Android, which is an operating system that is developed by Google.

Because a native app is built for a particular device and its operating system, it has the ability to use device-specific hardware and software, meaning that native apps can take advantage of the latest technology available on mobile devices such as a global positioning system (GPS) and camera. But web browsers are becoming far more powerful and gaining access to smartphone cameras and GPS, you ever receive a pop-up in your browser asking for permission to access your camera or location?

Wrap It Up! No You Wrap It Up!

Web sites are just static pages on the internet, check out this classic. Web apps are dynamic pages that interact with a database. Native apps are stand alone apps that are native to your operating system and do not run in a browser. At Alkami we build web sites and web apps because we rarely encounter someone that absolutely needs a native app. 9.9 out of 10 times our responsive web apps meet the demands of the architect/entrepreneur.

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