What Is Web Application Development and How Do I Get Started?

What Is Web Application Development and How Do I Get Started?

Many of the most valuable websites on the internet today are actually web applications. You may wonder: What’s the difference? There are quite a few, but the major distinction is that web applications are interactive with the user. Many businesses choose web applications over websites to pick up information they can use in their marketing strategies and create products or services that generate revenue.

Here’s what a web application is and how you can get started building one.

What is a web application?

A web application is an interactive program that runs on a web server and is accessed through a web browser. A web app is built so that the user interface provides data back to the development team that designed it. This data offers insights into customer interests, usage, and preferences that can prove invaluable to product and marketing strategies. The data can also inform optimization and other client-centered aspects of the mobile app or desktop applications.

A big difference between web applications and webpages is that user experience dictates web application design. Traditional web design is based on server-side programmers making decisions about what might enhance usability. In contrast, a web application has an application program interface (API) that takes in large-scale data from the user side and then funnels that information into automation.

For example, if a company has implemented an e-commerce web application that can track and report on which products a potential customer lingered over the longest, similar items can be suggested by the web application the next time the customer logs in. If that same company only had a website, the user’s experience would be based on what was available to every customer: a static and standardized set of options.

Most mobile applications that appear on smartphones are web apps. Here’s a brief list of common web applications:

  • Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms
  • Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and any web-based email programs
  • Any self-service customer portal
  • Query sites, such as Quora and Google

It’s important to note the distinctions that exist between native web apps and mobile apps. Mobile apps live on the device and are designed to run on a specified platform (such as iOS or Android). Examples would include Facebook Messenger and Google Maps. A Google search that takes you directly to the internet browser would be an example of a web app, while Google Maps is a mobile app.

Remember that web applications are all about input, and traditional sites are all about output. If you want customers to enter their information, you’re likely looking at a web application. If you just want customers to read static information that they don’t contribute to as a user, a webpage might better suit your business needs.

What is the difference between web applications and websites?

A website is built on a platform that only the creator or developer can change. On the other hand, a web application is interactive and built on a platform that allows user data to inform iterations of the application. As they are a collection of HTML documents, web applications might be part of an established website or built as freestanding applications.

The application must be delivered over a network and connected to a database. Where traditional websites serve the major purpose of delivering information (such as text or video) to the user, a web application allows its interactions with the user’s request to produce a variety of possible outcomes.

What is web application development?

Developing a web app is all about setting goals for the app’s purpose. What need does the app fulfill? The user interface should be designed with that answer in mind. Information about the consumer will come from the user interface, so developers should design the app to receive and respond to that information. Web development entails tasks like:

  • Making sure the web app offers compatibility with both Android and iOS
  • Identifying life cycle and optimization metrics
  • Building an intelligent, iterative user interface

To ensure these web development tasks are effectively handled, it might be beneficial to leverage reliable independent talent—such as front-end and back-end developers available on Upwork. This gives you the peace of mind that comes from knowing your web application is being built by knowledgeable professionals. Upwork’s Project Catalog™ also provides the option to buy a specific project rather than having to find an independent professional on your own.


Browse Project Catalog for more app development services.

Skills needed for web app development

While a background in coding is not necessary for the creation of a web app, knowledge of programming language is extremely helpful. This allows you to design the web app yourself or express your requirements to any development team that you may hire.

Strong web app development relies on the deployment of both front-end and back-end skills. Examples of front-end skills include knowledge of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Back-end languages include Python and PHP. Having a grasp of DevOps programs, such as Jenkins and GitHub, is also useful when building your web application.

One final web development skill helpful in building a web app is knowledge of Ajax. Short for “asynchronous JavaScript and XML,” Ajax is not a program language but rather a collection of techniques that can be employed to develop a web application. Ajax enjoys popularity in client-side programming for its ability to exchange server-side data without interfering with user experience.

Web application development frameworks

Most web applications are built using a web application framework that simplifies code and helps reduce errors. Popular web application frameworks include:


  • Svelte
  • Vue.js
  • React


  • Laravel
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Django

Some web application frameworks, such as ASP.net, handle both front- and back-end duties. Model-view-controller (MVC) is one such design model that breaks the data within the app into three connected sections: the model, the view, and the controller.

6 steps for getting started with web application development

Web application development is in high demand. Companies and individuals looking to build out web apps have more project options than ever before and access to experienced talent, like the independent professionals found on Upwork, to get the job done. The next segments will offer a step-by-step guide to the web application development process.

1. Isolate a strong app idea

Good apps are born out of need and innovation. Think of your app as a solution to a problem almost everyone has. Don’t think of your web app development as having to rely on an idea so new and brilliant it has never been heard of before. Rather, approach the design of your app with a solutions-based attitude and think about how the app can improve on the user’s day-to-day life.

2. Complete focused market research

Who will be served by your new web application? Does this app have a highly specified target market (e.g., working parents), or is it something that you believe has a more generalized appeal (e.g., any person aged 15 to 55)?

Finding out whether and where there is a demand for your web app comes down to conducting intense market research. Hiring market researchers to assist you with this component of web application development is a smart step that can save you a great deal of time.

3. Define your app’s functionality

Reining in the expectations for your app’s functionality allows you to focus on key elements that will make users prefer it.

Having a clear idea of what constitutes successful functionality is crucial to how you will carry out your web app development. If your app will manage items like payments, passwords, or contact lists, pay special attention to creating a unique user experience with regard to those items.

For example, if you’re designing a web app that will primarily streamline the buying experience for a retail home decor company and house past customer purchase data, it could be helpful to dedicate time to making sure the checkout experience is positive. Whether this means the shopping cart offers suggestions that may match carted items or allows for one-click buying, designing your app to leave a positive impression in customers’ minds is the key to success.

4. Sketch out your app design

Mapping out the actual layout of your app comes next. Using a pencil and paper or another web application like Google Docs, write out the general outline for your app. Include the placement of text, images, buttons, and other interactive or animated components.

Create a workflow that mimics how you imagine the app will flow. For example, from the login screen, what happens next? And after that? Keep designs orderly but detailed so that the prototyping phase can run as smoothly as possible.

5. Work on prototypes

Creating wireframes and prototypes for your web application represents the next step in development. Wireframes are structured, computer-generated sketches of your app. Prototypes are wireframes that have functionality and at least some small measure of interactivity.

The wireframe and prototype steps are where you will troubleshoot for your web app and come up with ways to present options for the user interface. Let’s say you run a small flower shop. An example of a dynamic user interface might include having a little flower bud appear as the cursor or navigational tool within the app and then programming it to bloom when items are selected or placed in the cart by the customer.

6. Web app validation

Now for the fun step of having people try out your potential app. Alpha testing is done by designers, while beta testing is completed by users of the web app. Alpha testing entails addressing major problems or issues within the app by experts. Beta testing is more like having the app polished by public users. In alpha testing, software professionals do everything within their power to trick the app into an error. In beta testing, you want the largest possible number of public users to utilize the app, tell you what they’re doing or attempting to do, and report any malfunctions encountered in the process.

Gather friends, colleagues, neighbors, and anyone willing to give you feedback. Let them play around with the app and see where strengths and weaknesses lie. This is where you get to learn information about user experience firsthand. Taking the time to validate your web app saves you immeasurable time and money by locating problems or areas of improvement before the app’s formal launch.

Gain customer insights by developing a web app

Deciding on a web application for your business gives you options that you just won’t get with a basic website. If you’re looking for an interactive way to engage your customers, web applications are definitely the way to go. For help from experienced web app developers, check out Upwork for the largest pool of proven independent professionals.

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What Is Web Application Development and How Do I Get Started?
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace connecting millions of businesses with independent talent around the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to 30% of the Fortune 100 with a powerful trust-driven platform that enables companies and freelancers to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

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