Website vs Web Application. Let’s Settle It!

Website vs Web Application

Websites, mobile applications, web applications, native applications, so many different buzzwords. What do they all mean? It can all be so confusing. Do I need a website or a web application? Which leads to the question, what is a website and what is a web application? I wrote this article website vs web application to hopefully shed some light on these questions.

Website vs Web Application: The Website

Webster defines “website” as the following:

A group of World Wide Web pages usually containing hyperlinks to each other and made available online by an individual, company, educational institution, government, or organization

Okay, that is kinda bland. A website is basically any site accessible on the internet. The most common website types are brochure, e-commerce, social media, blog, etc… These are all sub-categories of a “website”. Yeah, I said it, basically all sites on the Internet are websites… start yelling. Here are the most common: brochure, e-commerce, news, and social.

A brochure website: Imagine a paper brochure in digital form. Brochure websites are often very small. They serve as marketing material for the company. A fancy digital pamphlet. Some of these sites are run off a web application called content management systems (CMS). All content management systems are web applications.

An E-commerce Website: An online shopping cart system. These sites are small to large and size. E-commerce stores are run off a CMS web application.

A News Website: These are sites where the primary function is to provide articles and recent information to the client. These sites are built on a CMS system, like a vast majority of the brochure sites.

Social Media / Social Website: Online communities and forums. These sites range in size and are run off web-based applications.

Website vs Web Application: The Applications

Today a vast majority of websites technically run on web applications. You might be interacting with a web application and not even know it. WordPress is technically a web application. Magento, Joomla, Drupal, the same. SugarCRM, webmail, those are web applications.

Web applications allow for users to interact with the content (even if it is just the admin who can edit content). These are the opposite of what we call a “static website”. A static website is not an application. A static website requires server-side access to edit the content and code, these are the old school HTML & CSS only websites where you can’t edit anything without FTP or SSH.

However, it gets a bit more complicated and people will complain that I said WordPress is a web application.

Website vs Web Application: The Complication

Developers might yell that basic sites which run on WordPress are websites. Yeah, a keyword that they forget to pay attention to is “on” which implies a platform. WordPress is built on a content management system. Systems sound more like an application to me. Despite all of this, they have a valid point: context.

When talking about websites and applications it is all about the context. In this sense, when talking to a developer, we must think about the end user’s perspective. Is the majority of users interacting with the site in a way that modifies the information? If yes, it is an application. If no, it is a website.

With context in mind, here are the definitions boiled down to user intent:

The primary function of a website is to be informational. With this definition, any news, blog, or brochure site is a “website”. However, I would rebuttal that all applications provide information, that is their primary function as well.

The primary function of a web application is for the users to perform specific, interactive action. With this definition e-commerce stores, social media sites, CRM (Customer Relationship Management).

That is best I can explain the website vs web application debate. Us developers like to make things really really complicated; job security you know?

If you disagree with me about my definitions then comment below! Let’s discuss!