Post by Jeff Bristol, Owner at Rocket Jones

Having been involved in web and database technology for 15+ years, I often get asked the question, “What is the difference between a website and a web application?” These days, we all use websites and web applications almost daily, but not everyone knows the difference. Let’s look at the differences and similarities of purpose, function, and technical foundation.

Technical Foundation

Websites and web applications share some of the same foundation technologies. Both are collections of programming code (software) that deliver content and functionality on the internet. Often the same coding languages and tools (HTML, PHP, CSS and others) are used to develop and maintain both types of software. Both types of software run on web servers and are accessed through web browsers on a variety of devices (mobile, laptop, desktop, etc).


One of the ways to think about the difference between websites and web applications is to think in terms of purpose. Let’s use this idea to think about the differences in purpose…


Generally speaking, websites are created for the purpose of delivering content to the user. This content varies greatly, but, in the end, a website is focused on delivering information. So, we regularly see websites that deliver text/articles, images, video, and files. Many of these sites are built to feature and promote products, services, and organizations. Websites are often marketing focused. Websites primarily tell the world who you are, what you have to offer, and why someone should engage you or your company.

Web Applications

While there is some crossover, web applications (web software) focus less on marketing and more on functionality (submitting, storing, searching, and retrieving data). While this may sound foreign at first, most people use these tools weekly or even daily.

Web applications can be thought of as web tools – software that runs on the web and provides some kind of service or efficiency.

So, we’re talking about using a web browser to log into tools like Facebook, online banking, Craigslist, tracking your ride or run, and sending out an e-invite for your child’s birthday party. And those are just examples from life outside of work. Within the business realm, web applications include accounting software, reminder systems, file distribution services, order forms, and sales tracking.

Web applications can be large packaged solutions that require subscription or are free to use. But, web applications are often custom-built solutions for businesses that provide time saving efficiencies by reducing busywork and automating processes. They can be built to strengthen communication both internally and externally and through data delivery and distribution.

Custom web applications can also improve your customer retention through excellent online portals, membership access to content, and streamlined eCommerce. For manufacturing distribution companies, a custom web application can be built to track your unique process and sales, giving you critical business data.

An Example

Screenshot 2016-10-26 10.49.15For a great example of the difference between a website and web application, think about your bank. Your bank has a front-facing marketing website. The purpose of this website is to promote the bank by providing information about their vision, services, people, and security. You don’t need an account to view the bank’s website—it is information that is available to the public. But for account holders, the bank offers web application tools for submitting an online loan application, checking the balance on accounts, and paying bills online. The focus of these tools is to provide specific functionality (rather than displaying content). So, for the bank, both the website and the web applications are important, but each serves a different purpose for the organization.

But What About…

Screenshot 2016-10-26 11.04.28As with most things, not everything fits neatly into our little categories. eCommerce is an example of a cross between a website (marketing for a product or service) and a web application (the function of searching, adding to cart, and an online financial transaction). In this example, both content and functionality are being delivered. Another example is web content management systems, web applications that manage content for marketing websites. But, even in these crossovers, you can see the differences between functionality and content delivery within the software.

What It Means for You

Most business owners and professionals understand their need for a website within their overall marketing plan. All savvy companies know how important this is. Many businesses, however, do not have as much understanding around web applications and how they can help save money, provide stronger products and services, and help grow their business. If you’re curious how a web application could be used in your organization, contact us and we’d be happy to answer your questions.