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Definition: Web application

An application in which all or some parts of the software are downloaded from the Web every time it runs. Following are explanations of each type.

Browser Based
Most Web applications are browser based. The user simply goes to a website, and JavaScript and PHP instructions are contained within the Web pages that are retrieved. Combined with the HTML and CSS style sheet, which provide the visual layout, the browser executes the code and renders the page. In addition, processing at the server side is typically performed to access databases and other support functions. The data for a Web application may be stored locally or on the Web, or in both locations.

Client Based
Web applications may also run without the browser. Known as a "rich client," the program, which is either installed in the user's computer or mobile device or is downloaded each session, interacts with a server on the Web using standard Web protocols. This is similar to the "client/server" architecture that prevailed in companies before the Internet exploded, except that today the server is on the Internet rather than the local network. Just like browser-based applications, the data may be stored remotely or locally. See rich client, cloud computing, ASP and SaaS.

Native Mobile Apps
Countless native iOS and Android apps use the Web for additional information. Unless it is obvious, such as a weather app that downloads climate data or a stock app that gets the latest market quotes, myriad mobile apps may retrieve data in the background that users are not aware of. Data is retrieved using the Web's HTTP protocol. See HTTP, native mobile app and native application.

The Browser Advantage
Instead of maintaining several locally installed applications, a single Web browser application has access to millions of websites and the functionality they offer. Instead of ensuring that many local applications are up-to-date, the support staff in an organization only has to keep the browser current. See cloud computing, JavaScript and Web application.