Brian Foote and Joseph Yoder of Big Ball of Mud have famously said: ‘If you think good architecture is expensive, try bad architecture.’ Web application architecture is the basis of a successful app. In business, it helps and supports its growth by catering to its ever-growing requirements.
In our series of pieces for non-technical business founders we’ve already covered choosing the right technology stack and the basics of UI/UX design and today we would like to shed some light on web app architecture, how it works, its most common practices and the latest trends to finally understand if there’s such thing as a perfect architecture.
What is web application architecture, how it works, and why it’s important
Web application architecture establishes the relationships and interactions between the application components, which includes middleware systems, user interfaces, and databases. Its main goal is to make sure that all of the elements can operate together correctly.
The logic is the following: when a user hits a specific URL in the browser, the browser goes to a web server that is hosting a particular page. The server responds within seconds and shows a user the requested page. The timing here is vital; otherwise, a user will abandon the page.
Now on to the next question — how does web application architecture work? When we are talking about an application, it consists of the client (front-end) and server (back-end) side. The client side is everything a user sees on the screen when they interact with the page, and its code responds to user’s requests. While the server side is not visible to users, it creates the logic of the application and reacts to HTTP requests. Together, these two applications running concurrently constitute web application architecture.
And finally, the most important question before we move on to covering the main types and deciding which one suits your project more — why web application architecture is important? It’s an important component of your future business growth. With the right approach to web application architecture, you can reach a wider audience by giving them up-to-date content. Your business doesn’t have to be present everywhere or at a specific place to reach potential clients and be able to sell your products or services.
Now let’s take a closer look at three main web application architecture practices — rapid HTML web app, single-page web app, and progressive web app. And determine the better fit for your project.
Rapid HTML Web App
This type is often referred to as Web 1.0 as it was the first to appear. The oldest kind of web application also happens to be the easiest and consequently quickest to build. But there’s a catch. Since everything is developed all at once, it usually requires a full-stack developer who will write both the front-end and back-end which will speed up the development process.
With this approach, teams tend to be smaller with less communication overhead. The speed of development is also very high since the team is small, easier to manage and the project tends to be more simple.
Regarding usability, Rapid HTML web app is considered to be the least favorable option. Since large chunks of data are being transferred between the server and the client, the user is being affected by having to wait until the page reloads or when it responds to some actions. But it does have its virtues, like shareability, linkability or searchability.
All in all, if you’ve got concerned time to market, rapid application development is your way out. However, it is not considered to be the best practice in the long run. Concerning human resources, it will be problematic to find a full-stack developer. The tendency to be ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ and have a general practice knowledge is decreasing, and companies are more interested in hiring specialists in a specific narrow field.
Single-page web application
This is perhaps the most commonly used web application that we use on a daily basis (think Google Maps, Facebook, Gmail) and businesses tend to go for.
Regarding the speed of development, SPAs concede to Rapid HTML web apps since they require a team of front-end developers and a separate back-end team that will have to work side by side, communicate and integrate their work.
And in case you need to implement a bunch of new features, it is easier with an SPA approach. You simply extend your front-end team, and they can implement them simultaneously.
The single-page application is considered to be the best and the most widespread practice. And what clients generally tend to choose. It might not be as frugal time and money wise as the first approach, but it is a forward-looking approach to your business because as it will grow, you will have no other choice than switch your Rapid HTML web app to SPA.
Progressive web application
The latest trend in web application development — progressive web apps. They have the best features from two worlds. PWA looks like a web application, but it’s also got the benefits and experience of the native apps. They are even prognosed to replace native apps in the nearest future. One of the most known examples of progressive web apps are Twitter and Washington Post that has turned their website into PWA.
Another distinctive feature of progressive web apps — the ability to work offline by using the data the app has cached during its last Internet interaction. So even if there’s limited or no Internet connection, the app works just fine. This is an invaluable quality for industries such as e-commerce that have catalogs that users don’t have to reload to see the full selection. This works excellent for customer retention.
Another feature that makes PWAs stand out compared to the other two types — push notifications. These are short messages that appear on the mobile devices and give some update or a piece of information. This is a great feature to keep your customers interested and engaged and prompts users to visit the app.
For businesses, this is an excellent choice if what you need is a native app with all its functionalities only at a much friendlier price.
Above we’ve covered three most popular web application architectures. And to answer our initial question, there’s no such thing as a perfect architecture that will fit every case. The approach you choose is predetermined by the tasks you want it to complete and your priorities. The web app architecture dictates the robustness, responsiveness, user experience and speed of your app. So, before you go into the development, you need to be clear about your project requirements and weight in all the options.