How to Build Web Apps in 2024? A Step-by-Step Guide

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Kacper Rafalski

Updated May 28, 2024 • 18 min read
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Looking to build a web app but not sure where to start? This no-nonsense guide offers a structured approach to how to build web apps, from idea validation to the intricacies of backend development.

Find tailored advice and actionable steps to plan, design, and launch your web app with clarity and precision. Start your journey to becoming a web app developer here.

Key Takeaways

  • Web applications (web apps) are interactive programs accessible via a web browser and provide numerous benefits, including multi-user access, no installation needed, and cross-platform compatibility. Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a hybrid offering offline use and enhanced user engagement.
  • The web app development process involves critical planning stages such as idea generation and validation, defining core functionality, and setting realistic timelines and budgets. Design stages include wireframing, UI/UX principles, and responsive design.
  • Building a web app requires frontend and backend development using various languages and frameworks; successful deployment involves implementing strategies like CI/CD pipelines and blue-green deployment, followed by post-launch maintenance and adjustments due to updates in external components.

Understanding Web Apps

In the world of digital technology, web applications have etched a distinct mark, emerging as an imperative tool for businesses to reach, engage, and serve their customers. But what exactly are these web applications? Essentially, a web application - often shortened to ‘web app’ - is software that operates over the internet, allowing interaction on numerous devices without necessitating a download.

They serve various purposes, from e-commerce shops to online calculators, and even in enterprise environments to streamline business processes and engage more customers. As such, they provide a competitive advantage by promoting constant innovation and improving business performance and user engagement. What makes them stand out is their flexibility, scalability, and easy access from any web browser across different devices. Thus, you can access a web app like Google Docs or Google Sheets from your browser without downloading it, enhancing accessibility and reach.

What is a Web App?

A web app, created using web technologies, is an interactive computer program tailored to execute specific functions for the user. It stores and manipulates data, and is accessed over the internet via a web browser. The interaction is often facilitated by a login or signup mechanism, which allows web apps to provide personalized experiences and are designed to be dynamic and intuitive to enable user interaction.

Web apps come with a plethora of benefits, including:

  • Supporting multi-user access to a single version,
  • Negating the need for installation,
  • Offering compatibility across various platforms,
  • Cutting down development cycles with leaner development teams.

This accessibility and ease of use have catapulted both web and mobile apps to the forefront of the digital revolution.

Web Apps vs. Websites

Many often struggle to differentiate between a web app and a website. While they might seem similar, there are significant differences. Websites typically serve as an information source, primarily catering to content delivery rather than user interactions. Their purpose is read-only, and they are designed to provide information to the users.

On the contrary, web applications offer interactive features that allow user input and data manipulation, setting them apart from websites. They are dynamic and allow users to perform interactive tasks such as making purchases, managing accounts, or playing games, which are not features of a standard website.

While website development focuses on creating a user-friendly and accessible read-only interface, web application development gears towards creating a platform that facilitates user interaction.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a hybrid breed that behaves like native apps and can be downloaded to a device, stored on the home screen, and accessed offline. They combine the features of web and native apps and allow installation on a device with access to internal APIs for device-specific resources. Service workers enable PWAs to control caching, resulting in faster load times and better performance than traditional web apps.

PWAs increase user engagement by offering:

  • Offline usage,
  • Improved accessibility,
  • Always having the latest version without the need for installation or manual updates,
  • Reduced customer support requests,
  • Platform-specific features such as home screen presence, web push notifications, full-screen mode, changed display orientation, and location data access.

This can lead to higher revenue for businesses.

Yet, despite their benefits, PWAs are limited in their access to certain device features and may be less battery-efficient than native apps.

Planning Your Web App Project

Building a web app begins with planning. Similar to how a blueprint is vital before constructing a building, planning holds equal importance in developing a web application.

It helps in understanding the workflow and problem-solving aspects of the web app. This stage is crucial as it ensures the project progresses smoothly, with tasks completed on time and the final product aligning with business objectives.

Even with the adoption of low-code/no-code tools, leveraging the entire new product development process remains critical. It ensures that the right product is developed correctly, taking into account various aspects such as:

  • Ideation,
  • Validation,
  • Defining core functionality,
  • Setting timelines and budgets.

Ideation and Validation

The birth of a web app begins with an idea, and the ideation stage is crucial for establishing a clear vision and setting the foundation to build the right product. You can draw inspiration from monitoring app stores, attending tech and startup meetups, and observing which companies receive investments.

However, having an idea is not enough. Conducting user research to understand the user, the user problem, the scope of the problem, and the competition is essential for validating a web app idea. Engaging with target users on social media and community platforms to conduct surveys and gather feedback helps confirm the demand for the web app idea.

Defining Core Functionality

Once the idea is validated, the next step is to define the core functionality of the web app, which can be done by analyzing features of competitors’ products and creating user personas to ascertain how users will use an app and which features they prefer.

The core features should be categorized into ‘essential’, necessary for basic app functionality and problem-solving, and ‘optional’, which enhance value and competitive advantage. Prioritizing key features ensures focus on the most critical aspects for initial success and allows for strategic addition of other features in future app updates.

Setting Realistic Timelines and Budgets

Setting realistic timelines and budgets is a crucial part of planning your web app project. Web app development budgets can vary based on the complexity, features, and functionality of the app, as well as the design and user experience desired.

Budget overruns can be mitigated by:

  • Managing changes through a product backlog,
  • Staying aware of potential underestimations by development companies or scope increases during development,
  • Conducting competitor analysis,
  • Using validation approaches like Proof of Concept (POC) or Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

These factors can help to control and manage development costs.

Designing the Perfect Web App

After the planning phase, the development stage follows, which includes the design stage. This step involves the creation of wireframes, prototypes, and the infusion of UI/UX design principles to yield an aesthetically pleasing and functional interface.

The visual design of a web application includes elements like:

  • Fonts,
  • Color schemes,
  • Icons,
  • Shapes,
  • Buttons,
  • Screen element sizes.

These elements work together to create an engaging user interface, driven primarily by usability and functionality factors providing a delightful and valuable user experience.

Wireframing and Prototyping

Wireframes are digital, simplified visual concepts that lay out the structure, hierarchy, and relationship between the elements of the future web app. They provide a clear guideline of the app’s framework, allowing for an understanding of functionality, behavior, and content hierarchy. Wireframes are simple visual representations that outline elements such as buttons, text fields, and menus, crucial for usability testing and interface refining.

Digital prototypes let designers test and refine the design and function flow before full application development, using feedback to enhance the user interface. Some tools that offer various features for collaboration, design refinement, and high-fidelity wireframing include:

  • Visily,
  • Figma,
  • Sketch,
  • Adobe XD,
  • UXPin,
  • MockFlow,
  • Justinmind,
  • Uizard.

Collaborating on wireframing with stakeholders provides valuable insights, leading to a wireframe that meets user expectations and enhances the design process.

UI/UX Design Principles

An intuitive, consistent interface that meets user expectations is the cornerstone of good UI/UX design. You can achieve this by focusing on clarity, simplicity, and the user’s journey. By addressing user problems during design, you can put user needs at the forefront, which you can further enhance by incorporating familiar design patterns and unique elements catering to specific needs.

Effective interface design, inclusive of responsive feedback cues and streamlined features, supports increased app usability, engagement, and retention. Some key elements of effective interface design include:

  • Clear menus and breadcrumb trails to improve navigation and findability
  • Responsive design to ensure optimal experiences across all devices
  • Consistent look and feel to maintain a cohesive user experience
  • Consideration of touch interaction guidelines

By implementing these design principles, web apps can provide a user-friendly and engaging experience for their users.

Developing user scenarios is crucial for understanding app interaction patterns, informing necessary feature supports, and ensuring app consistency across platforms.

Responsive Design

In an era where users access web applications from a myriad of devices, responsive design is not a luxury but a necessity. Responsive Web Design (RWD) is a web development approach where design and development respond to the user’s behavior and environment, including screen size, platform, and orientation.

RWD employs the following techniques to create responsive designs:

  • Flexible grids and layouts,
  • Intelligent CSS media queries,
  • Implementing images as flexible elements using techniques like the CSS max-width property,
  • Using media queries to enable dynamic changes to the design based on screen sizes and orientations.

These techniques ensure that the design is optimized for a diverse range of devices.

Frontend developers must craft web applications that function seamlessly across different web browsers by incorporating coding practices that address each browser’s specific rendering engine and user base.

Building Your Web App: Frontend and Backend Development

Once planning and design are sorted, it’s time for the actual creation of the web application through frontend and backend development. This phase is when choices about frameworks and tools are made during the coding process.

The development part of building a web app consists primarily of frontend and backend development.

Frontend development utilizes languages like JavaScript, CSS, and HTML5 alongside frameworks such as:

  • React,
  • Angular,
  • Vue,
  • Bootstrap.

To build a web app, start by focusing on building web applications, particularly creating the user-facing aspects of complex web applications and other web apps, all while ensuring a reliable web server.

On the other hand, backend development uses programming languages such as Ruby, Python, PHP, Java, and .NET, with popular frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, Flask, Django, and Laravel, applying an MVC architecture to create important components like databases that collect, store, process, manage data, and provide HTTP endpoints.

Frontend Development

Frontend development is all about creating the face of the web app, the part that users interact with. Frontend developers primarily use HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, supplemented by libraries and CSS extensions like AngularJS, jQuery, React, Foundation, Bootstrap, and SASS to create dynamic and visually appealing web apps.

Frameworks such as React JS and Laravel serve as the structural basis for modern web apps, offering robust tools and components for building the frontend. Frontend developers ensure that web app visitors have a seamless interaction with the site, by coding the site’s appearance and maintaining it through tasks such as optimizing user experience and managing software workflow.

Backend Development

Backend development, on the other hand, is the engine that powers the web application. It uses programming languages such as Ruby, Python, PHP, Java, and .NET, with popular frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, Flask, Django, and Laravel, applying an MVC architecture to create important components like databases that collect, store, process, manage data, and provide HTTP endpoints.

RESTful API development is crucial for web app integration, with JSON being the preferred data format due to its readability. Best practices for RESTful APIs include:

  • Correctly using HTTP methods
  • Managing errors with HTTP status codes
  • Providing clear documentation
  • Limiting resource nesting in APIs to reduce complex dependencies that can become challenging to maintain.

Integrating APIs and Third-Party Services

The use of cloud services such as AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure, alongside serverless architectures, is central to modern backend web app development, offering scalability and simplification of infrastructure management. As a cloud hosting provider, these services play a crucial role in the implementation of microservices architecture, which has become prevalent in building web apps. This allows developers to create and deploy individual pieces of functionality as independent services, enhancing scalability and enabling continuous deployment.

GraphQL is being adopted for its efficient and flexible approach to data fetching in APIs, enabling precise and optimized data retrieval to meet the exact needs of web apps. Platforms like Budibase offer extensive integration capabilities through Zapier, REST API, or WebHooks, allowing easy connection with external tools to augment the web app’s features with minimal coding.

Testing and Deployment

After the web app is assembled, it’s time to transition to the testing and deployment phase, a pivotal stage in the development process of a web application. It is crucial to conduct testing to verify that the web app functions as intended. Additionally, testing helps determine the app’s ability to handle unforeseen scenarios. Real-world scenarios and user behaviors should be simulated during testing to uncover issues that might not be apparent from developer-focused tests.

Ensuring a high-quality web app involves performing a variety of tests including:

  • Functionality testing
  • Usability testing
  • Compatibility testing
  • Security testing
  • Performance testing

Web apps must pass multiple stages of testing, such as functionality, usability, compatibility, security, variety of internet speeds, and reviews from internal and external participants.

Types of Testing

There are various types of testing performed during web app development. Functional Testing focuses on testing the overall functionality of the web app to ensure compatibility of features and operational behavior with the specifications. Usability Testing evaluates the user-friendliness and navigational flow of the web app, checking for elements like typos, punctuation, and overall usability.

Compatibility Testing verifies that the web app functions consistently across multiple browsers, devices, and operating systems. Security Testing involves analyzing and reporting on the security aspects of the web app, preventing unauthorized access, and ensuring data protection. Performance Testing assesses the system’s speed, stability, and scalability, while Load Testing and Stress Testing determine the application’s handling of multiple users and extreme conditions respectively.

Deployment Strategies

Deployment is a critical phase in the web application development process. Some key strategies for deployment include:

  • Continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines,
  • Blue-green deployment,
  • Canary deployment,
  • Rolling deployment.

These strategies are critical for ensuring that web apps are updated and released with minimal downtime and maximum reliability.

Key deployment strategies include:

  • Recreate Deployment,
  • Rolling Deployment,
  • Blue/Green Deployment,
  • Canary Deployment,
  • Shadow Deployment,
  • Immutable Deployment.

The choice of deployment strategy must account for the product’s needs and criticality, ranging from simpler patterns for less critical services to sophisticated, zero-downtime methods for crucial platforms.

Post-Launch Maintenance and Updates

Once the web app is deployed and live, the work doesn’t end there. Post-launch maintenance is crucial for ensuring the web app functions smoothly and efficiently as changes in one part of the software ecosystem can affect the entire system. Proactive maintenance is key to preventing defects and vulnerabilities which are critical for safeguarding the app’s reputation and security.

With a web app’s reliance on various external components like libraries and operating systems, updates to these elements require timely adjustments in the app’s code to ensure consistent performance.

Leveraging Low-Code/No-Code Platforms

Constructing web applications need not be always labor-intensive and lengthy. Low-code/no-code platforms can expedite the development process, empowering users of diverse technical proficiency to create applications swiftly with minimal coding.

These platforms offer a visual development environment that can assist businesses in automating workflows, developing complex systems, and streamlining operations. They are essential for organizations that aim to innovate at scale and create applications more efficiently with fewer developer resources.

Benefits of Low-Code/No-Code Platforms

Low-code/no-code platforms enable rapid application development with a faster time-to-market compared to traditional programming. They can help organizations rapidly modernize legacy applications and bring new product ideas to fruition with a quicker time to market.

These platforms significantly reduce the amount of manual coding required, allowing for quicker development and deployment of applications. They offer built-in components that accelerate the development process and reduce the potential for errors.

Low-code/no-code platforms have become increasingly popular for web app development, enabling users with varying levels of technical expertise to build applications quickly and with minimal coding.

Popular low-code/no-code platforms include:

  • Bubble,
  • Creatio,
  • Kintone,
  • Quickbase,
  • Webflow,
  • Unqork,
  • Mendix,
  • OutSystems,
  • Jotform,
  • Google AppSheet,
  • Budibase.

Each platform comes with its unique set of features, catering to different market needs and user skill levels.

Best Practices for Using Low-Code/No-Code Platforms

Choosing the right low-code/no-code platform is crucial and should be based on specific project needs, technical resources, and objectives. Some factors to consider when selecting a platform include:

  • Ease of use,
  • Customization options,
  • Integration capabilities,
  • Scalability,
  • Pricing.

Time can be saved and industry standards can be more readily met by utilizing pre-built templates offered by no-code platforms.

Low-code platforms provide the unique advantage of combining visual development with the capability for developers to insert custom code where necessary.

Summary

In summary, mastering web app creation requires a comprehensive understanding of various stages of the web application development process, from ideation to deployment. The role of planning, design, development, testing, and maintenance are all crucial in building a robust and efficient web app. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or a beginner just starting, this guide provides a blueprint to navigate the world of web app development. The journey might be challenging, but the results can be truly rewarding.

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Kacper Rafalski

Kacper is an experienced digital marketing manager with core expertise built around search engine...
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