In the tech scene, you hear terms like “website”, “web app”
thrown around all the time and it appears that a lot of
people (especially developers) use these words
interchangeably. But what is the main difference between a
web app and a website, and why is it important (or is it?).
Let’s find out!
Website vs. Web App — the main difference
Websites and web apps are both technically web applications
— but the terms website and web app are used among techies
to draw a distinction between:
a product which is mainly built for displaying
a product which is mainly built for interaction (web
Note: when I say techies, I don’t necessarily mean
developers. I mean people who are experienced in working
with modern technologies, like developers, designers or
marketers — but not the average person who uses the web.
Website/Web App — technical similarities
As stated in the previous section, websites and web apps
have a lot more commonalities than differences from a
technical point of view.
Both web apps and websites follow the so-called
Client-Server Model and follow the same
basic structure and have essentially the same requirements:
- a client (your web browser)
- a server (for handling requests/permissions)
- a database (for storing and managing data)
- They both require access to the Internet.
- They both require a domain name.
They both require at the very least HTML (to describe
and structure content), and typically use both CSS (for
interaction, such as clicking or scrolling).
It sounds like web apps and websites are pretty much
identical, huh? Yes and no. The line between web app and
website is pretty grey. It’s highly subjective, and in
my opinion, it’s more about marketing than anything
The term you should use should depend on the context, as
I’ll discuss next.
Tech speak vs. Normal Speak
Since to 99% of people don’t “speak tech” and those people
will usually be your customers, it’s important to understand
their perspective first and foremost.
The way tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy people communicate is
Normal people don’t call things that exist on a
domain/URL a “web app”. They call it a website, webpage,
Normal people will often use the term “app” to describe
a product installed on their smartphone. Tech people
will often use the term “native app”.
The term “web app” might sound fancier and more important,
but if you talk to regular people, you’ll confuse them more
than you’ll enlighten them.
When it comes to communication, the most important thing is
that you recognize who you are talking to. Normal
(non-techies) people don’t know terms like “web app” or
“native app” nor do they care.
Websites and Web Apps are technically both applications —
what separates them conceptually is how they’re used. A
website’s main purpose is to display information. A web
app’s main purpose is providing interactivity and largely
depend on user input, like as a social platform (Twitter,
This website is a platform for consuming information, but it
also has interactive features like a web app. You can sign
up, you can write comments. So is it a website or a web app?
I guess you can call it both.
Does it really matter?
Not really — but remember who you are talking to, never make
assumptions about other people’s existing knowledge when it
comes to technology. If you want to avoid juggling with
terminology, just call it a platform. It
sounds kind of cool, you’ll cover all bases and people won’t
look at you weirdly.