Website vs. Application vs. Web App

Jen Simmons recently posted an interesting question about website thinking for 2023, and I waded into the conversation and realized I have strong opinions as a mediocre white guy in tech. So I’m gonna go into my headspace about these topics.

Websites, Applications, and Web Apps Are Both All the Same and Separate

When we talk about these 3 concepts, you can have a multitude of combinations of how they work together. There is no clear cut separation of these, only many shades or flavor combinations that come out of it. In general you cannot have one without the other in some way shape or form but many times, It’s based on WHO is interacting at any given time that informs the definition.

That was wordy. Let me explain.

What is a “Website”?

A website is just html, js, and css. That’s it. From my distinct perspective specifically, a website is used to present information, and you will generally care about speed, SEO, and proper social meta data for sharing and what not. Many times, this is a landing page, Maybe a blog, product listings… etc. That is a website.

What is an “Application”?

An application is anytime you want to track state across page loads. or maybe even computer systems. A website can be the “face” of an application. An online store can be an application. Generally speaking, if you can update data in some meaningful way, it’s an application. Applications may or may not care about social sharing. Applications may or maynot need you logged in. Heck, a WordPress site is both a “Website” and an “Application” depending on if you are logged in or not. Or what you are trying to do.

What is a “Web App”?

This is where things get…. real weird. Generally speaking I would say if I open a website and expect the information to stay updated without me refreshing the page, it’s a web app. If you need to figure out how to manage state in the browser without doing a full page reload…. it’s probably a web app.

So How is This Weird?

Well, You can have all 3 things be true about any given site. A static website marketing page has a little chat bubble that pops-up that allows you to ask questions.

The marketing site is 100% a website.

The chat bubble? A web app.

All of this stuff is sent from an application.


My general rule of thumb is: Everything is a website. Treat it like a website, until you know it NEEDS to be a web app.

*Written from a web app