What Is a Web-Based App? A Guide for Beginners

What is the definition of a web app? Encyclopedia Britannica says, “any service offered over the Internet.” But the reality is a bit more complex and nuanced.

To truly understand what a web app is, it’s best to start with what a native mobile app is.

As Amazon Web Services notes, “Web apps are delivered over an internet browser. Users don’t need to install them on their devices. Native apps, on the other hand, are built for a specific platform or device type. The user must install the appropriate software version on their device of choice.”

Then, there are Hybrid apps, which are native applications that have an embedded web browser in them.

But why should that all matter? Simple: web apps offer a variety of advantages compared to their native counterparts.

Advantages of Web Apps vs. Native Apps & Desktop Apps

For the end user, web apps or native apps (or even desktop apps) can often be used to accomplish similar goals.

But from an app development perspective, web apps are far superior to native or desktop apps, providing:

  • Easier, cheaper, and faster development vs. Native apps
  • Shorter time to market
  • Easier to maintain because you only have to test and update a single codebase (for traditionally coded web apps)

Maintenance, in particular for no-code web apps, is even more streamlined.

What’s the Difference Between a Web App & Website?

Websites and web apps are similar in many ways but have some key differences, as shown by the table below, sourced from Matthew Martin’s informative article “Difference between Website and Web Application (Web App)” for Guru99.

Essentially, websites and web apps differ in who they’re created for, how users interact with them, how authentication is completed, what type of software is used in their creation, and how changes are deployed.

web application vs web apps

Web App Examples: Common Use Cases

Businesses use web apps every day to interface with customers, co-work remotely, and much more. Some of the most common web application use cases include:

  • Workplace collaboration
  • E-commerce (online shopping, online payment, and more)
  • Webmail
  • Online banking
  • Technical documentation and form submission

Web Apps You Know By Other Names

Though you might not know them as such, all of the following programs are actually web apps!

  • Gmail: This handy web app lets you reply to emails but also report spam, star messages, and much more, providing a ton of functionality. Of course, there’s a downloadable native app available, but the browser version of Gmail is, in fact, a web app.
  • Twitter (X): Yes, social media can be a web app! Though there’s a mobile app, Twitter Lite is a progressive mobile app.
  • Uber: Uber’s web app, m.Uber maintains the rich experience of the mobile app while letting users request rides as quickly as possible.

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