Iris Classon
Iris Classon - In Love with Code

Stupid Question 95: what is the difference between a web app and a web site?

For me a web site is a site that has a main purpose to present information with just a shallow level of user interaction. There might be advanced animations and data retrieved from a database, but foremost purpose is presenting data. A web application is a program, something that would make sense for a user to install on a computer for usage. So the user has a deeper interaction level with the web app than the website, and the primarily purpose is user interaction. A website can contain a web app, and today I believe apps are more and more common which makes me wonder if just stand alone plain web sites will exist in a few years?


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12/3/2012 7:47:42 AM
For the most part I agree with you, but the "Blog" idea adds an extra element that I wouldn't have considered before watching this. It adds the idea of perspective. For you, the content creator, you blog is very much a Web Application, but for the consumer, it seems to fall more on the Web Site side of things. Granted, there is interactivity in comments, but for the most part the interaction isn't very deep. That's not to say that conversation in comments doesn't get "deep" ;-)

I suppose you could break it up even further. A blog has both content creation and consumption paths that, while technically contained with in one bit of software (whatever blog engine one chooses) exist in very separate spaces. So you could say that the admin/creation part is an application while the rest is a site. Of course, the more savvy user knows it's all one thing. 
Mike Reynolds
12/4/2012 9:04:11 PM
Hi Iris,

I have run into this same issue -- trying to explain the difference between a website and web application -- many times for close to ten years now.

Ten years ago, it was easier to explain this difference.  As you have pointed out, websites of yesteryear weren't very complex -- they pretty much served up simple/static content -- and usually had no server-side language or database behind them.

Web applications though were considered "real" applications despite the fact they lived on the web.  These presented more rich content and engaged users through interaction -- oftentimes one would have to log into a web application which was considered a highlighting feature of a web application.

Today, the chasm between these two concepts is beginning to close -- and closing fast I might add!

Today, I just tell people I build websites -- most laypeople outside of web application development only know the concept of website, and presenting the concept of a web application throws them off a bit -- although in reality I build web applications.

I think the concept of a website as it existed ten years ago no longer exists.

Imagine taking this topic a bit further -- although a tangential topic -- and trying to explain the difference between an ASP.NET web application versus an ASP.NET Website.  Such might be food for thought on a future stupid question blog post :)

Mike Reynolds 

Last modified on 2012-12-01