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What is the Difference Between a Website and Web Application?

     I’m often asked what is the difference between a website and web application? As users come to expect a more rich and interactive user interface when accessing a website the line becomes even more blurred. Unfortunately there is no clear cut explanation and even the most respected industry leaders have different definitions, but I would like to provide my take on the matter from a business software perspective.

A website is designed to provide a user with information and allow them to make an appropriate action based on that information. The action could be a contact form, purchase a product, communicate on a forum, download marketing information or any other standard functionality you would expect to be able to perform on a website. For most businesses a website is the main marketing tool that allows potential customers and existing customers to understand the services they offer in a public facing manner and if an e-commerce website allow the users to view their stock, purchase stock, take payments, etc.

In contrast a web application is product/service which runs within the web browser but has a clearly defined purpose. A web application would usually be highly interactive and in most instances attempt to replicate the user experience of a typical desktop application but from a web browser. A web application can be a product in its own right or it could be functionality that is provided as part of a website to increase its functionality. Web applications are not restricted to proving users with a single application purpose as you would expect from a traditional mobile app.

In the above definitions you will notice that I am discussing functionality and user experience. The distribution mechanism and technology can, and in a lot of instances will, be the same for both. A website and web application can be hosted on a dedicated web server or in the cloud. They can both be created using HTML5, CSS3, PHP, ASP.NET, JavaScript or any other web based language you can think of.

I would imagine that most users can think of a typical definition of a web site:,,, etc. so I would like to look at some web applications that are available.
Google Docs

In my opinion one of the easiest to define web applications is Google Docs. Google Docs allow you to perform word processing from a web browser. It has a similar look and feel as to you performing word processing on your desktop but it is all performed within a web browser and saved onto a cloud share. It performs a core function “word processing” which is accessible through a web browser.

This increasingly popular note taking web application has become hugely popular over the last few years. Evernote does provide multiple mediums including Mobile Apps and Desktop. However visiting their main website and logging in will take you to a web application which allows you to manage all of your notes through a web browser.

NetSuite runs on a cloud platform that is accessible from a standard web browser. NetSuite provides the user with a vast number of tasks covering all areas of ERP and CRM, but each task is performed from within a web browser covering the functionality that you would expect from a desktop ERP and CRM system. Core functions such as order processing, accounts, and reporting are all accessible in real time.
Eureka Solutions Web PO

Web PO can be hosted on the web or locally on the server however it allows the user to quickly and easily enter purchase orders into Sage with all required information accessible through a web browser. The technology is built on a standard web based platform ASP.Net, Javascript and JQuery with a Microsoft SQL server back end. However it was designed and built to allow real time user feedback of large datasets.

As I said originally there are some grey areas – take for example. Based on both of these definitions Google could be described as both a website and web application. It has a sole purpose to allow users to search for information, however it also provides them actions to purchase products, select a sponsored site and view images. I will leave that to you to make your own decision.

The introduction of HTML5, CSS3 and AJAX have paved the way for more interactive websites and as web developers make better use of this technology the blur between the two may be even greater. So the next time you are surfing the web or accessing software through your browser take a look and see if you can tell the difference.

Article Source:

David Lindores, Product Development Manager, Eureka Solutions Ltd David manages the Eureka Development team and release of Eureka Addon Products for Sage and NetSuite. As Eureka’s head techie – he’s passionate about programming and all things technical.

Posted on 2013-10-09, By: *

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Note: The content of this article solely conveys the opinion of its author.

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