With the continued rise of the online space, organisations are exploiting the medium to extend their customer reach.

Increasingly, organisations are offering additional products and services to their current customer base as well as to new customers who would have been geographically difficult to reach prior to going online.

Many organisations provide what would have previously been desktop applications via the web. These applications are known as web applications.

However, what many haven’t realised is that a web application is completely different to a website. As such, the approach to developing each is different.

What is a web application?

A web application is a piece of software that is hosted over a network through either the Internet or Intranet. It requires the use of a web browser to access the application.

Web applications display dynamic and interactive content. There are usually three components of a web application, known as “tiers”. The most common structure is the three-tiered approach comprising of:

  1. Presentation: the user interface used to access the application
  2. Application: technology or technologies used to code the application to give it functionality
  3. Database: the server used to store the information

Web applications can be as simple as a word processor or online spread sheet, or as complex as a project management system or video editing software.

What is a website?

A website is a group of web pages that generally displays information such as documents, images, videos and other digital content. There are two main types of websites:

  1. Static websites
  2. Dynamic websites

Although some information found on a website may require a subscription or a user login, a static website will largely display identical information to all visitors. Content of a dynamic website changes constantly and automatically based on certain criteria, either by pre-defined rules or user input; for example, a retail website that allows its users to sort products by price.

Like web applications, it is also hosted over a network and requires the use of a web browser to access. Websites can be accessed on a variety of devices including laptops, tablets and mobile phones – essentially any device with internet connectivity.

Why are they different?

A website is a promotional tool used by organisations to capture the attention of an audience, much like an online brochure or flyer. This is usually used by businesses to persuade buyers to purchase from the site or to increase awareness of a certain cause.

A web application, on the other hand, requires backend coding in order for the actions taken by the user to be completed. This is more complex and involves software development.

It is important to understand the difference between a website and a web application as both perform different functions.

Development approach

The mechanics that go into building a website or a web application are different. Websites are built by web developers whereas web applications are built by software developers. As such, there are different considerations in terms of cost and deliverability.

Some web design companies can provide both website development and web application development – but before you decide on the supplier, be aware of whether you want a web application, website or a combination of both.

Organisations need to understand that when building a web application, they will also need to build a website to promote the web application.


It is important for an organisation to have a clear understanding of what they require – whether it is a web application or website they are looking to develop.

Web applications are more complex to build than a general website and thus require more development work and higher-skilled software developers to build them. Beware of engaging poorly skilled developers to develop web applications as the risks may be high and the consequences may outweigh the cost savings; for example, security breaches of online

It is also essential to remember that when building a web application, a supporting website also needs to be developed to promote the web application.

Web Application or Website

  • You want to showcase your products and services
  • You want to attain sales leads
  • You want to communicate with your target audience
  • You want to provide your customers with online access to a software product
  • Your visitors need to perform actions that require backend processing
  • You want to automatically deploy new features to users without requiring installation on their end