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In software engineering, a Web application or webapp is an application that is accessed with a Web browser over a network such as the Internet or an intranet.
Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of the browser as a client, sometimes called a thin client. The ability to update and maintain Web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity. Web applications are used to implement Webmail, online retail sales, online auctions, wikis, discussion boards, Weblogs, MMORPGs and many other functions.
In earlier types of client-server computing, each application had its own client program which served as its user interface and had to be separately installed on each user's personal computer. An upgrade to the server part of the application would typically require an upgrade to the clients installed on each user workstation, adding to the support cost and decreasing productivity.
A significant advantage of building Web applications to support standard browser features is that they should perform as specified regardless of the operating system or OS version installed on a given client. Rather than creating clients for MS Windows, Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems, the application can be written once and deployed almost anywhere. However, inconsistent implementations of the HTML, CSS, DOM and other browser specifications can cause problems in web application development and support. Additionally, the ability of users to customize many of the display settings of their browser (such as selecting different font sizes, colors, and typefaces, or disabling scripting support) can interfere with consistent implementation of a Web application.
Another (less common) approach is to use Macromedia Flash or Java applets to provide some or all of the user interface. Since most Web browsers include support for these technologies (usually through plug-ins), Flash- or Java-based applications can be implemented with much of the same ease of deployment. Because they allow the programmer greater control over the interface, they bypass many browser-configuration issues, although incompatibilities between Java or Flash implementations on the client can introduce different complications. Because of their architectural similarities to traditional client-server applications, with a somewhat "thick" client, there is some dispute over whether to call systems of this sort "Web applications"; an alternative term is "Rich Internet Application".
Though many variations are possible, a Web application is commonly structured as a three-tiered application. In its most common form, a Web browser is the first tier, an engine using some dynamic Web content technology (such as ASP or ASP.NET, CGI, JSP, or PHP) is the middle tier, and a database is the third tier. The Web browser sends requests to the middle tier, which services them by making queries and updates against the database and generating a user interface.
Web interfaces have increasingly replaced what have previously been thought of as traditional, single-user applications. For example, Microsoft HTML Help replaced Windows Help as the primary help system in Microsoft Windows. Like their networked brethren, such applications generate web documents as their user interface and send them (sometimes via an embedded HTTP server) to a local Web browser component, which then renders the pages for the user and returns user input to the application. Web applications powered by embedded Web servers have also become commonplace as the user interfaces for configuring network components such as servers, switches, routers, and gateways.
An emerging strategy for application software companies is to provide Web access to software previously distributed as local applications. Depending on the type of application, it may require the development of an entirely different browser-based interface, or merely adapting an existing application to use different presentation technology. These programs allow the user to pay a monthly or yearly fee for use of a software application without having to install it on a local hard drive. A company which follows this strategy is known as an application service provider (ASP), and ASPs are currently receiving much attention in the software industry.
Writing Web applications
There are many Web application frameworks which facilitate rapid application development by allowing the programmer to define a high-level description of the program. In addition, there is potential for the development of applications on Internet Operating Systems, although currently there are not many viable platforms that fit this model.
The use of Web application frameworks can often reduce the number of errors in a program, both by making the code more simple, and by allowing one team to concentrate just on the framework. In applications which are exposed to constant hacking attempts on the Internet, security-related problems caused by errors in the program are a big issue.
Java remains one of the most common programming languages for writing web applications; this is especially true for Web based enterprise applications (usually referred to as enterprise Web applications).
J2EE (a Java programming platform) provides several useful components (JavaServer Pages, servlets, client-side applets, Enterprise Java Beans , JDBC and several Web service technologies) for writing enterprise Web applications. Other tools, such as Visual Studio .NET and Omnis Studio, provide an integrated development environment in which to build web applications.
The Web Application Security Consortium (WASC), CGI Security, and OWASP are projects developed with the intention of documenting how to avoid security problems in Web applications.
Exposing internal web applications to the Internet
While writing a web application and deploying it to the Intranet (behind a firewall) is a well established known art, up until recently exposing the application to the Internet was difficult and expensive. A solution called SecureWithin can expose Intranet applications or web services to Internet clients without requiring any network reconfiguration, poking holes in firewalls, etc. Further no need for client-side software as is the case with VPN.
- How Microsoft lost the API war — A discussion on how web applications are replacing Windows applications
- The Other Road Ahead — An article arguing that the future lies on the server, not rich interfaces on the client
- Web Applications in the Open Directory Project
- Web Client Software Factory — A discussion on how to create composite web and page flow applications on the Microsoft platform.
- www.securewithin.com - a straight-forward way to expose internal web applications to the Internet securely and cost-effectively
Categories: Articles with unsourced statements since February 2007 | All articles with unsourced statements | World Wide Web | Software architecture | Web applications | Web development