A web application is a server-based software application that is accessed by clients via a browser session over the Internet in a web browser.
Web applications have many benefits over traditional desktop applications such as ease of deployment and compatibility with multiple browsers. As with many other technologies, rapid early adoption occurs then more deliberate use in step with requirements understanding and development familiarity. Web applications are also more accessible to users with disabilities as they have web interfaces.
Risks associated with the rapid early adoption of web application development include tool incompatibility and lack of familiarity.
To express the complexity and evolution of web applications, there are different types of web applications:
Application Software as a Service (ASA) is a business model that involves selling access to software instead of selling the software itself. For example, if you buy a server from Amazon you can use their operating system (such as RHEL or Ubuntu). A common strategy for enterprise developers is to allow them to run their own version of Linux or other operating systems using AWS’ Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).
Software is made available over the Internet by a vendor or by end-users. Users can access, modify, and extend it.
This access is usually sold as a subscription instead of a one-time sale. A common example of this is the software as a service (SaaS) offerings offered by commercial entities such as Salesforce—you pay for monthly use.
For example, Salesforce currently charges users $50 per user per month to pay for their product. Formerly, users could only pay for their invoices, but the sales force has been using Salesforce’s analytics features and now offers 1-to-1 marketing.
The key difference between SaaS and ASP is that in SaaS the software is not installed on the user’s machines. But rather it is installed on the vendor’s servers and accessed by users through its web-based interface. A traditional ASP application does not require a separate application server to run since it runs on a client machine. In addition to this, there may be no guarantee of uptime of the application providing service since this depends on how stable the vendor’s servers are. In SaaS, users can pay per use or they may get it for free with the help of advertisements.
The client portion of a web application is usually a browser running HTML that displays the output from a back-end server application which is responsible for managing data input, manipulating data, and responding to user requests.
Web applications are distributed over a network in several formats. Some web applications directly released to users over the Internet are packaged in single files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader and Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Silverlight.
Other web applications, such as the one for the web search engine Google, are distributed over a network by way of a program called an intermediary site, which generates responses that are then delivered to users over the Internet. An example of an intermediary site is Yahoo! Search Engine. Yahoo! Search Engine retrieves information from itself and other search engines and delivers it to users over the Internet in HTML pages.
Computing pioneer Sir James Gosling was quoted as describing “Websites” as “a form of software” in 1999. He commented that “software has moved into a different class”.
The application development life cycle is one of the most important concepts in software engineering. It defines the stages and activities that need to be completed from the beginning to the end of a software project.
The following methodology can help manage web applications projects:
Application design patterns, when used correctly, can help organize large applications into manageable chunks using common (and reusable) components at different levels of abstraction.
The following are some general patterns that can be considered:
Web applications may be developed using the following tools:
The web application development cycle is a continuous and iterative process, with design and implementation typically going hand-in-hand. This section will examine the critical stages of the web application development process. The process varies according to different industry standards and project requirements. The stages are as follows:
- Requirements gathering
This short period determines what is required of the application. This stage should be short and focused. It includes the specification of the use cases, requirements and assumptions for the application.
After the requirements have been specified, a design model is developed for both the visual and behavioral aspects of a web application. These models help to ensure that the interface that will be used by users will be intuitive, easy to use, efficient and cost-effective.
During this stage, different approaches are followed to design web applications. The three most common approaches are:
The aim of this stage is to reduce the risks involved in implementation and testing methods by developing automated tests suited for each phase of the development cycle. Its design addresses the characteristics of the system that the application will provide as well as its performance.
Ideally, this stage should be performed in parallel with the implementation, testing and deployment stages. The objective is to form a testable architecture by identifying what components and applications are implemented and how they interact. This will help identify performance bottlenecks before coding starts. Testing software that has already been implemented can be difficult because verification of existing code may not be possible. Testing in this stage involves ensuring that all functionality of a web application is correctly implemented, tested, documented and understood by users in order to ensure consistency throughout the system.
This stage involves deploying web applications on servers or workstations for testing purposes or full production use. The first step is software packaging where all files needed by the web server are stored. This includes static files that are referenced by the application, such as images, HTML pages and script files. Web servers require dynamic content to be processed and served by a suitable engine. Currently, in most cases, these types of engines are written in Java or Python.
For web applications that require an additional level of security, a secure socket layer can be used to control communication between a web browser and a server. This helps prevent individuals from using manual methods to gain direct access to confidential areas of the application or the physical computer on which it is hosted.
The next step is to deploy applications on the target environment. This usually involves the configuration of a device such as a desktop computer, laptop, or server. Once this has been done, the system can be used for testing. There are various types of test users can use to check how web applications are functioning and how well they perform in various conditions and against various levels of load.
Once all tests have been completed, final testing begins by deploying the application on the appropriate environment and ensuring that it is working properly within its constraints. This stage forms just one part of a cycle that also covers design and implementation testing stages while final testing ensures that everything is functional within the constraints imposed on it by design.
Interested in reading more about web applications? WAF: Why New Age Web Application Firewall? discusses the new age of web applications and why the previous iteration is dying out.
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