What is web application development?.

A jargon-free guide to the web application development process in 2024, and how to get started building your own web application.

What is a web application?

Understanding web applications.

Before we talk about web application development, we first need to understand what a web application is.

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What is a web application?

A web application, or “web app” is software accessed via a web browser over the Internet. This is different to traditional desktop or mobile applications, which are downloaded and run on your operating system directly.

Web applications are commonly developed for specific tasks or functions. For example, Gmail (email), Google Docs (document editing) and Jira (project management). Any time you need to do something online that isn’t just browsing information, you’re probably using a web application to do it.

Web applications can be small and simple, or large and complex, and so web application development may need just an individual or a much larger team depending on the situation.

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Web application development vs. website development

Websites traditionally just present information, whereas web applications enable users to create, update, and manage data.

The lines between web applications and websites are often blurred, as many informational sites incorporate web application features. For example, a restaurant website (informational) may incorporate a contact form and booking widget.

Some web applications function like websites for some of their visitors. YouTube, for example, functions as a website for most visitors who just watch videos, but as a web application for creators who upload and manage content.

For more on the differences between web applications and websites, see our blog post Web application vs. website: What’s the difference?.

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What is a Progressive Web Application (PWA)?

Progressive web application development blends the best features of web and mobile applications.

PWAs are built using web technologies, but have the advantage of offering a user experience comparable to native apps on mobile devices, including features like offline access, push notifications, automatic updates, and installation on a user’s home screen.

Progressive web application adoption has historically been slow, as Apple have been reluctant to support them properly on iPhones. This situation is rapidly improving though, and in 2024 they offer a fantastic “build once, run anywhere” option for organisations looking to build experiences that can be accessed by their customers in a single tap or click.

Advantages of web application development

  • Tick characterCost: Web application development costs are generally lower than traditional software development. Pre-built code and cheap services provide a lot of “off the shelf” functionality, and since they run in the browser, only one version of the application needs to be built.

  • Tick characterAccessibility: Web application development lets us build apps that can be accessed through any web browser. The web has many accessibility features for the differently abled, and so good web application development can result in highly accessible software.

  • Tick characterDiscoverability: Web application development results in software that doesn’t need to be downloaded and installed, and so visitors to your company website can become web application users in a single tap or click. This makes it much easier to convert prospects into paying customers.

  • Tick characterInteroperability: Web applications are fundamentally easy to connect to one another. This makes it relatively simple to develop web applications that integrate with other services like payment providers, social media widgets, maps, audio, vide, and more, enhancing their functionality.

  • Tick characterPortability: Web applications development also allows us to build software that’s installable on desktop or mobile operating systems. Tools like Electron and Flutter allow you to create iOS, Android, Windows and MacOS versions of your web apps. Conversely, traditional software cannot be run on the web.

Disadvantages of web application development

  • Cross characterOffline functionality: Web application development produces software that relies heavily on an Internet connection to function, which can be a disadvantage in situations where the user will have a slow or unreliable connection.

  • Cross characterPerformance variability: Web app performance can be sensitive to network speed and device hardware changes, meaning a potentially poor user experience without good development practices. Traditional software performance is more predictable.

  • Cross characterSecurity concerns: As they operate over the Internet, web applications can be vulnerable to security threats like cross-site scripting (XSS) and data breaches. Good web application development practices are required to ensure software security.

  • Cross characterHardware access: Web application developers have limited access to a device’s hardware capabilities, which restricts their ability to do perform build certain functionality into their web apps. Traditional software, on the other hand, can (usually) leverage the full hardware capabilities of a device.

  • Cross characterExternal dependencies: Web application development often involves connecting lots of services and servers together, which can lead to downtime or functionality issues if those services experience problems. Traditional software applications typically rely on fewer external services, reducing this risk.

Understanding web application development

Should you develop a web application?.

Now you understand what a web applciation is, let’s see if web application development makes sense for you.

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What is web application development?

Web application development is the process of designing, building, releasing and maintaining a web application.

It can be a complex process, and it’s important to understand that web application development is not just about writing code. It involves a variety of skills, including design, programming, project management, and business problem solving.

When people talk about web application development, they may be referring to building a web application from scratch, ongoing maintenance and feature development, or a mixture of both. It’s typical for a new build to transition into seamlessly into ongoing web application development after an initial release, as a popular web application will almost always require updates as business requirements and the technologies powering them change over time.

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Do I need web application development?

If you just need to present information online, then you just need a website, not a web application.

Getting a little more complex, if you need some basic functionality added to your website, there’s probably a website plugin, or even an existing web application you can use to do the job.

Plenty of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions exist for common tasks like form handling, file uploads, payments, content management and customer relationship management (CRM). These can often be integrated directly into your pages, offering a seamless experience for your customers.

However, if you need complex functionality, user accounts, or full control over your customer’s experience, or you have an idea for a new digital product, then web application development is what you need.

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How much does web application development cost?

Web application development costs can range from a few hundred dollars for something very simple, to millions of dollars for a large enterprise project.

Estimating development costs of web applications (or any software) is notoriously difficult, but it’s greatly affected by factors like web application complexity, design complexity, organisational complexity, technology choices, and the number of features.

Deciding whether or not to outsource your web application development can also affect the cost. In-house developers can be cheaper for very long term or large projects, whereas outsourcing can get you instant expertise and predictable up-front costs, but can get expensive over the long term if there’s a lot of ongoing development that needs to be done.

For more on the costs involved in web application development, see our blog post How much does a web application cost?.

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How long does web application development take?

Web application development time can range from days to months or even years depending on the complexity and requirements of the application.

While estimating timelines in software development is very hard, it’s crucial to understand that a larger team doesn’t always mean your web application development will take less time. Larger teams incur increased communication overheads, which can easily cause development to take longer.

Assuming a fixed team size, web application development timelines will also be affected by project complexity, unique features, technology choices and development methodologies. Hiring experienced developers is a great way to improve the overall speed of delivery, as they can work much more efficiently and will avoid common pitfalls that may delay your build.

Web application development steps

Developing a successful web applications requires more than simply writing code, and typically involves planning, budgeting, designing, testing, and managing stakeholders along the way.

Understand your problem or opportunity

Web application development is expensive and prone to unforeseen complications, so it’s important to get clear on the problem you’re attempting to solve, or the opportunity you’re attempting to seize.

Without clearly defined goals, it’s easy for your web application to end up bloated, with unnecessary features that don’t help you achieve your goal. You may even discover that web application development isn’t what you need after all.

Understand your business constraints

Before web application development can begin, it’s also important to understand constraints such as your available time and budget.

There’s no upper limit to how technically ambitious a web application can be, so unless you understand your constraints it’s easy to fall into the trap of overcomplicating the development process, delaying a return on investment and costing your business unnecessary money.

Plan your web application development

Once you know what problem you’re solving and what your constraints are, it’s time to get validation that developing a web application will help you achieve your goals.

Try talking through some rough wireframes with your target users. This lets you validate that they have the problem you’re trying to solve, and that your solution would solve it for them. Doing this early helps to ensure you don’t waste time and money developing the wrong web application.

Produce designs for your web application

With your solution validated, it’s important to get stakeholders aligned on how your web application will function.

Producing designs before building your web application will avoid misunderstandings by giving all stakeholders a clear shared vision of what the finished product will look like, and how it will function. It’s often sensible to get help from a digital product designer or user experience (UX) expert with this.

Build your web application

Whether you have a development team already, or you hire an external freelancer or agency, your web application development process is likely to need code to be written. The exact number of web application developers required will depend on the scope and complexity of your designs.

Good developers will combine the goals, constraints, and designs to build your web application using clean code and with pragmatic technologies. The build may take many months, and unforseen problems will arise - this is a normal part of web application development.

Test your web application

As the build step of your web application development process continues, it’s important to test your web application to ensure technical and product quality.

Technical quality can be checked by making sure that everything works as intended across a variety of different browsers and devices, as well as checking errors are handled gracefully.

Product quality can be tested by giving a limited set of real users access to a pre-release version of the web application and collecting their feedback.

Deploy your web application

Once your web application is built and tested, the next step of the web application development process is to deploy your web application and make it available online. In order to do this, you’ll need to choose an appropriate platform on which to host and run your own web application.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) are all examples of popular web application hosting platforms, but there are many available with different tradeoffs. Your developers can suggest an appropriate one for your situation.

Launch your web application

The final stage in web application development is to launch your web application to users, and collect their feedback.

Manage your expectations for your initial release. It’s common for there to be missing functionality, bugs and difficult user feedback to deal with on a newly released web application. The important thing is to priortise issues, and then develop and release improvements iteratively. Remember, web application development is an ongoing process. Patience, and a continual launch-learn-improve cycle will help you make your web application a success.

Web application development languages and frameworks

How web applications are built.

Now you know the steps involved in web application development, let’s look at what they’re made of.

What are web application “frontends” and “backends”?

There are two main sections of a web application, the “frontend”, and the “backend”. They have separate roles, and are developed using different programming languages.

Frontend development refers to everything your users see and interact with in their browser. Things like buttons, form inputs, images and text are all part of the frontend in a web application.

Backend development refers to the code running on servers elsewhere that responds to events on the frontend. When you submit a form in a web application, for example, the frontend usually sends the form data to the backend to be processed.

What is a web application development framework?

Frameworks are like code scaffolding. They take some of the complexity out web application development.

Web application development frameworks provide ready-made code to perform common tasks, as well as structure and conventions that promote development efficiency and web application scalability. In many cases, frameworks also help to abstract away the divide between the frontend and backend to enable faster web application development.

Unless your needs are very simple, or extremely complex, a framework is likely to save you a significant amount of time in the web application development process, as well as setting you up for faster iterations going forward.

Web application development frontend languages

Popular frontend languages.

Web application frontends are almost exclusively developed using the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript programming languages. Together, they allow us to experience the web as do today.


HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is used to create web pages. It defines structured content with elements such as headings, paragraphs, lists, links, and forms. HTML is composed of “tags” that wrap content to indicate its purpose (e.g., <h1> for main headings, <p> for paragraphs).


CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used to describe the look and formatting of a document written in HTML. It defines the appearance of layout, colors, fonts, spacing, and more. CSS rules are defined in stylesheets, that target HTML elements and specify how they should appear.


JavaScript: is used to make web pages interactive and dynamic. While HTML provides structure and CSS deals with presentation, JavaScript handles interactivity and dynamic content updates without needing to reload the page.

Web application development backend languages

Popular backend languages.

Any programming language can be used for backend a web application development, but some popular ones are JavaScript (Node.js), Python, Java, PHP, and Ruby.


Node.js allows JavaScript to be used outside of the browser as a language for general purpose development. It has has proven popular for web application development, as it allows developers to use JavaScript across both the frontend and backend of their web application.


Python has gained a lot of traction as a backend web application developmnent language thanks to web frameworks like Django, Flask, and FastAPI. The readability of Python code, along with its scalability and versatility, has made it a preferred choice for many startups and large companies alike.


Java remains a staple in the enterprise world and is widely used for scaleable web application development, especially with frameworks like Spring Boot. Its platform-independent nature and strong community support have kept it relevant.


Ruby (particularly with the "Ruby on Rails" framework) is in use by many companies and developers for web application development. Its convention-over-configuration philosophy and expressive syntax make it a favorite for rapid web application development, even 20 years after its initial release.


PHP is an old, but still widely used language for web application development. It powers many websites and is behind popular content management systems like WordPress. With modern frameworks like Laravel and Symfony, PHP remains a strong choice.

Web application development frameworks

Popular frameworks.

There are hundreds of web application development frameworks out there, but some popular ones include React, Next.js, Ruby on Rails, Django and Laravel.


React is a JavaScript library developed by Meta for building interactive user interfaces. It allows developers to create reusable user interface components and manage how they respond to interaction and changes in data. It is an extremely popular choice for web application development on the frontend.

  • JavaScipt


Next.js is a more full-featured React-based web application development framework developed by Vercel that makes it easy to build performant and SEO friendly web applications. It emphasises developer experience and productivity, at the cost of being difficult to run outside of Vercel’s hosting platform.

  • JavaScipt

Ruby on Rails

Ruby on Rails is a mature web application development framework written in Ruby. It champions principles that streamline the development process, providing default structures for databases, web services, and web pages. It is well known for its rapid development capabilities, extensive libraries, and strong community support.

  • Ruby


Django is a high-level web application development framework written in Python that promotes rapid development and a clean, pragmatic design that emphasises reusability of components to write less code. Django simplifies common development tasks, making it easier to build secure and scalable web applications.

  • Python


Laravel is a popular PHP framework that simplifies common web application development tasks such as database access, HTML templating, authentication, routing, and caching. It also boasts an active ecosystem of tools that enhance developer productivity and application capabilities.

  • PHP

Summarising web application development

Wrapping up.

You’ve learned what web application development is, as well as web application advantages and disadvantages, development steps, and what they’re built with.

Like many things in business, the web application development process is about choices and tradeoffs. Web applications are a fantasticly powerful in their ability to do everything from making customer’s lives a little easier, to to automating and scale a business’s operations globally. Web application development is what we do at BitBrawn, so if you’re still unsure whether web application development is right for you, or would just like to find out more, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.