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What Are Single Page Applications? What Is Their Impact on Users’ Experience and Development Process?

What are the benefits of building a SPA for your company and what are its strengths for users and product owners?

We’re going to answer all the questions above, giving you a solid base to make an informed decision on whether an SPA is the right choice for you and your business. Enjoy the read!

What are Single-Page Applications?

It’s best to explain the idea of an SPA by giving an example. You’re probably familiar with Gmail, Netflix, Jira, and Facebook.

Well, every single one of these is a single-page application. If you use any of them regularly, you’ve probably noticed that most of the time, the screen doesn’t change a lot – most of the sidebars and headers stay the same.

That’s essentially the idea behind an SPA: there’s the heavy base of the application, which only needs to be downloaded once at the start, and then there are the bits that change (like your emails or the series you’re watching) which are only downloaded when necessary.

This makes the whole experience much better for you – after the initial load time, everything is fast and smooth, because very little data is transferred. That’s basically it, unless you want to get into technicalities.

What’s the classic approach to application development?

The “traditional” approach to web apps is building multi-page applications (MPAs): every change (so a new email or turning off “Breaking Bad” and tuning in to “Black Mirror”) triggers a reload of the whole interface.

These apps are also typically heavier. As a result, not only does the data need to be transferred more often, but there’s also more of it. This means that the whole thing takes longer and that development is more complex.

Multi-page Applications vs Single-Page Applications: the differences

Of course, both SPAs and MPAs have their place in the world of application development – the main thing is choosing the right one for your purpose.

In MPAs, the presentation layer (the looks) and the data layer (the brains) are kept in the same place. This means that, for example, if you add stuff to your shopping cart in an MPA and press the back button, your data may be lost – not a great outcome. 

In SPAs, both layers are kept separately, opening a lot of different possibilities for user interaction.

Consider Facebook – you don’t have to reload the page every time you add a comment or like a post. Or Slack – even when using the browser version, you can quickly jump between channels and converse with people without ever reloading the page.

Imagine having to wait for the whole interface to reload every time you write a message to #random. That doesn’t sound like fun to us!

How Single-Page Applications benefit developers

Your developers are an asset, so it makes sense to make them happy, especially if this means that they’ll get their work done faster and better. 

One thing we mentioned is the separation between the presentation and data layers (front- and back-end). This offers the added benefit of enabling the two teams responsible for making each part work in parallel, rendering the process much smoother and easier to plan. 

What is more, SPAs are easier to scale. Since the code is not convoluted by default, it can be easily adapted to serve more users or more complex functionalities.

Two more technical benefits of SPAs that carry through to the business side are the ease with which SPAs allow you to use microservices and headless CMSs.

Without getting into too much detail, they are, respectively, a great way to reduce the complexity of your app and a novel approach to managing content. Definitely worth looking into!

How Single-Page Applications benefit users and product owners

While the benefits of building an SPA for your company may be clear from the previous paragraphs, we’d like to reiterate the strengths of this approach for users and product owners.

As for the end users, they gain convenience – SPAs are quick to load and smooth to navigate, making for a positive experience. 

In addition, once the application has loaded for the first time, there should be no lag or wait time – every option will open promptly.

Product owners will enjoy the ease of planning and managing the work on SPAs thanks to the fact that the back- and front-end can be neatly separated. In addition, once the product grows, the very same characteristics make updates and changes fairly simple to introduce by your web development company. 

When are Single-Page Applications a good fit?

While there are a lot of benefits to going the SPA route, it is not a one-size-fits-all choice.

SPAs are best for apps that have a lot of forms while storing and manipulating large amounts of data, as well as sorting and searching it. In more concrete terms, an SPA will work great for social networking applications, reservation systems, banking systems, and other complex applications.

Traditional, multi-page apps are a good fit when your page is going to be mostly static content, which the user is not expected to interact with a lot – so things like news portals, blogs, and so on.

Which technologies are used to build Single-Page Applications:

We’ve already said that SPAs have two well-separated parts: the front-end (presentation layer) and back-end (data layer). When it comes to the former, developers typically use popular Javascript frameworks, such as React, Vue, and Angular.

The backend (also referred to as the API within this context) is typically built in such languages as Ruby on Rails (RoR), NodeJS, or Python. You can keep this information in mind when vetting the tech stacks for your project.

Successful Single-Page Applications

Before we wrap up, let’s take a very quick look at a list of names of companies which have built wildly successful products within the SPA paradigm. The following list is not exhaustive, but it should give you a good idea of how powerful this approach can be.

Without further ado, take a look at this list of companies and products based on single-page applications:

  • Airbnb
  • Facebook
  • Gmail
  • Jira
  • Linkedin
  • Netflix
  • Paypal
  • Pinterest
  • Slack (browser version)
  • Trello
  • Twitter
  • Youtube

Impressive, right?

Summary

Over the previous paragraphs, we did our best to show you the power of SPAs, making sure to point out their strengths and establishing when building one would be overkill.

To go over the main points once again:

  • SPAs are a type of a web app in which the meat of the application is loaded once upfront, and most of the interface stays unchanged.
  • They make for a good user experience when used for complex applications; this approach to development is also valued by product owners and developers thanks to the separation of concerns (front- and back-end) and thus simplified planning and coding.
  • A number of successful global companies use SPAs, including Google (Gmail), Facebook, Netflix, and Twitter.
  • You don’t need a SPA if you’re looking for a low-interaction static website (company homepage, blog, news site).

We hope this crash course on SPAs answered some of the questions you had when you opened this article. 

If you’re still looking for more, don’t hesitate to reach out – we’re always happy to offer help and advice on all matters related to technology and product design.

If you'd like to discuss your idea or product in detail or have any questions, contact us and Netguru's experts will lend you a hand. Get in touch with us or estimate project. 

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