Website vs. Web Application: What’s the Difference?


What is the difference between a website and a web application?

Content defines a website, while user interactions and input define a web application. A website serves static content to all its visitors, while a web application serves dynamic content based on the interaction and requires programmatic user input and data processing.

Website vs. Web App

Most people will use the term website for just about everything, which is not wrong because it exists on the internet, and you can get there with your web browser.

In short, a website is informational while a web application is interactive.

To illustrate the difference, let’s take two of our client’s website as an example. They both sell products to customers. One of them is 1996 Cabinets, and another one is Image Optometry Online Store.

If you visit the 1996 Cabinets site, you find nothing more than the company history, the product collection, the ordering process and the directions and contact information. No matter who you are, the website serves the same content to you.

On the other hand, if you visit the Image Optometry Online Store, you would find some “static” information, like ongoing promotions, etc. and then some additional functionalities.

You can use the filter function to look for eyewear that fits your style or budget. You can enter a coupon code to get a discount on the glasses that you desire. You can look for your transaction history on this online store. None of the interactions on the website will serve you the same content as another visitor. Hence, this makes Image Optometry online store a web app.

To summarize, a web application is a website that the user can control. The definition is pretty clean cut.

Let’s take a look at the questions and answers below, so you can see if you grasp the concept of a website and a web application.

We got these questions from other articles that have similar discussions.

Q: A static restaurant site that has a Google Maps widget on it, allowing users to input their address to get directions to the store.

A: It’s a tiny web application. Depending on whether the widget is embedded to the website, if yes, the site itself is a website. The embedded tool is a web application.

Q: A self-made WordPress website, developed without any programming knowledge on the part of the creator, but that uses third-party widgets to interact with users.

A: The third party widgets are web applications. WordPress is a web application. However, if the self-made site itself doesn’t change content based on user input, it’s a website.

Q: A complete static web page with zero user interaction. Is it a website or a web app?

A: Static content for all users to that webpage. It’s a website.

Q. Is a website or a web app?

A: It’s a web application. Different people input different search queries, and Google shows you different results. Interaction changed the content on the web page, so it’s a web application.

Q: An online magazine web page with no user interactivity except showing certain content to users who logged in and paid for it.

A: If you pay, you can see the content. The interaction drives different content on the page, so it’s a web app.

The take away here is not anything cool. We merely want to get this out to our clients, so that when we communicate, we can clear up the terms and set better expectations on project requirements for different web projects.