What Is a Web Application? (With Benefits and Jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 29, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A group of three smiling people sit and stand around a table with a laptop, cell phones and tablets on it.

Web applications, also called web apps, are programs that allow users to perform actions online. Many businesses use these programs to communicate with customers, sell products and improve work processes. Understanding what a web application is can help you deepen your understanding of the role technology plays in the workplace.

In this article, we define web applications, list some common functions for these programs, explain how they work, list some key benefits of using them and share some examples of jobs that require them.

What is a web application?

A web application is a computer program that uses a web browser to perform a particular function. They are client-server programs, so each program has a client side and a server side. In the client-server environment, a client is a program an individual uses to run the application, while a server processes the data needed to run the application for the user. For example, with a database, the client is the program through which the user enters data and the server is the application that stores the information.

Websites often host web applications, which allow visitors to perform certain actions when they visit the site. For example, the website for a shoe company might host an online store application, which allows shoppers to add products to their carts and submit payments. The company's web administrator might choose which web applications to add to the site and customize the apps to meet their customers' needs. A website might host multiple applications, like chat modules, payment pages and interactive product customization tools.

Related: Website vs. Web Application (App): What's the Difference?

What do web applications do?

Since they're highly customizable, web applications can help users accomplish a wide variety of tasks, including:

  • Editing images

  • Creating documents

  • Shopping for products and services

  • Submitting help tickets

  • Sending emails

  • Chatting with friends and colleagues

  • Collaborating with remote colleagues

  • Managing projects

  • Playing games

Related: What Are Applications?

How does a web application work?

There are three elements in each web application: a web server to handle requests from the client, an application server to execute the tasks requested and a database to store the information. A web application uses a combination of server-side script and client-side script to function. The server-side script deals with storing and retrieving information and requires specialized coding languages. Developers program server-side to create scripts the web app can use to respond to requests. The client-side script deals with the presentation of the information to the user and uses its own coding languages.

Here is how a web application works:

  1. The user creates a request to the web server over the internet through the application's user interface.

  2. The web server sends this request to the web application server.

  3. The web application server executes the requested task, then generates the results of the required data.

  4. The web application server sends those results back to the web server.

  5. The web server carries the requested information to the client's tablet, mobile device or desktop.

  6. The requested information appears on the user's display.

Related: Web Server vs. Application Server: Key Differences

Web applications vs. native applications

Native applications are applications developed for a particular platform or device. To install them, they require specific software and other tools. For example, the company that developed a touchscreen tablet might create a photo-editing application that's only compatible with their tablet. Some applications, called hybrid applications, combine the features of native and web applications. Users install a hybrid application on their devices, but the application also uses an internet connection to access features and information. Hybrid apps can also use device-specific resources to their advantage. Both web and hybrid apps require a broadband or wireless connection.

Related: Web Apps vs. Mobile Apps: A Definitive Guide

Benefits of using web applications

Here are some benefits of using web applications in the workplace:

Efficient storage

Web applications store data on a server, so you don't have to install them on a hard drive. The ability to store data online allows companies to function without storage limitations, which can be particularly useful in remote or hybrid companies. Employees who work from home often use their home computers or laptops to complete their work, so they may not have robust enough hard drives to store native applications. If they have a steady internet connection, they can access all the information they need for their work.

Related: 11 Benefits of Cloud Computing (With Main Purposes)

Few compatibility issues

Since web applications function using web browsers, they're usually accessible from a variety of devices. While native applications require certain operating systems and software, web applications work for anyone who can access the browsers that support them. Often, companies ask their employees to use the same browser when accessing certain applications so the information looks the same to everyone using the app, but most web browsers are free and adaptable to a wide range of computer and mobile devices. If an employee can't access their regular computer, they can still complete their work by using an alternate device.

Related: How To Switch to a Career in Web Development in 4 Steps

Lower cost

Using a web application can decrease IT costs for companies because these programs don't require hard drives or specific programs to run. Many of these programs operate on a subscription basis, which allows customers to choose how many users they want to support each month or year with the product. For example, a company with remote employees might use a web application for project management. As the company grows and adds more project managers to the staff, the IT director might increase the number of licenses for the web application. Since they're highly adaptable, clients only pay for the products they plan to use.

Related: Information Technology (IT): What Does an IT Department Do?

Automatic updates

A web application's connection to the internet allows the app developers to launch updates frequently, often without asking the users to do anything. These updates can ensure that users have the most current information, fix glitches and improve the user experience. While native applications often have a lengthy update process, web applications typically update fairly quickly if the user has a fast internet connection. This means that users can update their programs often without missing out on work time.

Related: Types Of Web Developers (With Skills and Tips)

4 jobs that use web applications

Here are some careers that involve creating and using web applications. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

1. Web developer

National average salary: $67,897 per year

Primary duties: Web developers create websites for individuals and organizations. They might work for a single company, building and maintaining a web presence for the company, or for web consulting firms. Some web developers also work as freelance contractors. These employees code the front and back end of websites, integrate web applications and test functionality. They may also fix glitches in existing websites and respond to security breaches.

Read more: Learn About Being a Web Developer

2. Application developer

National average salary: $87,331 per year

Primary duties: Application designers create native, web and hybrid applications for companies in a variety of industries. While some work in internal application development teams at large companies, others work for web consulting and engineering firms that serve multiple client companies. They might meet with clients, establish guidelines, code applications, perform quality tests and update existing applications.

3. User experience designer

National average salary: $96,922 per year

Primary duties: User experience, or UX, designers create the interfaces that web browsers interact with when they use a web application. They often work closely with web developers and other members of the programming team to ensure that the options the user sees match the application's key functions. Typically, they know several coding languages and understand the user experience process.

Read more: Learn About Being a UX Designer

4. IT director

National average salary: $112,849 per year

Primary duties: IT directors lead and monitor the integration of technological tools into a company's processes. They might choose which web applications to use and decide how to customize them for the company's needs. These senior employees might also direct a team of IT specialists, who respond to help tickets, install software and teach employees to use new web applications. Depending on the company's structure, an IT director might serve on the board of directors or another leadership team.

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