Have you ever wondered how to make a web app? Taking an idea from inception to a fully-fledged web app is an exciting and rewarding experience. While modern development frameworks have made the process much more accessible, there are still plenty of challenges to overcome.
With that in mind, we’ve put together an in-depth, step-by-step guide on building a web application, from generating ideas and creating prototypes to developing, testing, and deploying the final product.
Coding Languages and Requirements for Web Apps
Back-end development can take the form of several popular programming languages, including Java, Python, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Kotlin, and Swift. Back-end development also requires an understanding of how databases store application data and how to retrieve that data using a query language like SQL.
Finally, developers should familiarize themselves with the creation and use of application programming interfaces (APIs) to integrate other products and services into the app.
It’s also worth noting that this is a partial list. Some developers also make effective use of tools such as Angular, React, ColdFusion, and Microsoft’s .NET framework to create a web app, and many developers have a particular stack that they enjoy working with because the languages and workflows synergize incredibly well together.
Formulating an Idea
Before you write code, you must define what you plan to build and what problem you intend to solve with your app. This is often easier said than done since you’re competing with developers worldwide to either develop innovative solutions or improve upon existing ones in a way that is novel, scalable, and valuable to prospective users.
This is an excellent time for brainstorming sessions. One handy tip is that if you have a problem in need of a solution, chances are that there are plenty of other people in the same boat. If you can identify a common pain point and a way to fix it, you are well on your way to an effective end product.
Keep in mind that establishing the scope of the project and outlining its requirements before you begin the actual development process is highly recommended if you want to avoid the headache of having to make significant changes later on. Plenty of successful apps grew out of a solution to small or mundane problems, so be cautious of big ideas that you may need more resources or influence to deal with.
Mapping User Experience
Once you’ve settled on your app’s idea and basic functionality, the next step is to map out and evaluate the user experience. Building a product or service that is intuitive and enjoyable to use is just as important as its features and functions, so understanding how users will navigate and interact with your app is critical.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to visualize your app with a basic wireframe, which can be done with a sketching tool like Figma or Balsamiq (or a pencil and paper for that old-school touch).
To take it a step further, you can also build a functional prototype, often called a minimum viable product (MVP). Even an extremely bare-bones MVP can be a valuable tool during this step. It provides a proof of concept that can be used to generate interest or raise funds and gives you a fast and easy way to conduct A/B testing and gauge impressions from real people to get a more accurate picture of the user experience.
While designing a wireframe or MVP, try to get into the mindset of a first-time user — some things that may seem obvious to you might not be intuitive to someone else. Are the menus easy to navigate? How does a user sign up for your newsletter or cancel their subscription? Can you easily find the information you’re looking for?
Develop user personas based on your target audience and physically map out their hypothetical journey through your app to visualize this process better. The smoother your user experience, the higher the likelihood your app will succeed.
Web Application Development Work
The next stage of creating a web application is development, where the actual technical decisions and coding happen. This step involves the entire stack of languages and technology services — the front-end (client-side) is responsible for the elements that users will see and interact with, while the back-end (server-side) manages the data and includes frameworks, databases, and servers.
The development phase is where your idea finally comes together, and as such, it will most likely be the step that requires the most time and effort. You will first have to settle on a relational database management system like MySQL and establish the architecture for your database. At that point, it’s time to develop your app’s front-end design elements.
If you’re planning to use a single-page application (SPA) implementation, keep in mind that front-end development will be a bit trickier, as you will need a code editor, a compilation and packaging framework, and a front-end framework, as well as a way to configure the packaging tool.
Along with the database mentioned above, back-end development involves all of the code responsible for the behind-the-scenes work of your app, in addition to building and integrating any APIs and deploying a server to run it all.
As you can imagine, back-end work can be quite complex, and even with the help of modern frameworks to assist with the process, it can easily overwhelm inexperienced developers. It’s a good idea to decide early on whether you want to tackle this step on your own or hire a development partner who can handle the technical work.
You’ve come up with a great idea, designed a prototype, and developed a working app — the only thing left to do is conduct final tests, choose your hosting provider, and deploy the finished product.
While testing your app’s functionality and usability throughout the development cycle is essential, this is the time to ensure that it’s working as intended. In addition to fundamental issues like verifying database connection properties and making sure no webpage links are broken, it’s wise to test every aspect of your web app that the user will be interacting with.
Is it responsive and compatible with different web browsers and devices? Are there any security issues that could put sensitive user information at risk? This is also an excellent opportunity to do some “negative testing” to see how your app handles simulated situations like a heavy server load, slow internet speeds, or invalid data entry.
The process of hosting is relatively straightforward: you’ll need to buy a domain, set up a secure socket layer (SSL) certificate, and choose a cloud provider.
Amazon, MS Azure, and Google Cloud Platform are the most popular options. Still, several smaller competitors offer services at a lower price point, provide lightweight configuration options, or include other useful features that could be worth considering for your project.
Once you’ve decided on hosting, the last step is to launch your web app and take a moment to appreciate your hard work.
However, don’t underestimate the importance of marketing your app after it’s launched. New web apps are constantly being developed and released, and you need a solid marketing strategy prepared in advance to avoid the risk of all your hard work going unnoticed. Since there is no app store for web applications, drumming up interest and momentum for your project presents its unique challenges.
Advantages of Working with Web Application Developers
Is it hard to create a web app on your own? That depends. Advances in low-code and no-code web app development provide some undeniable benefits: They can speed up time-to-market, are relatively easy to maintain, and allow developers with minimal coding knowledge or experience to create a prototype and quickly make changes to it.
That being said, if you have an excellent idea for an app but need more time or experience to handle full-stack development, there are still plenty of good reasons to consider working with a professional web app development team instead.
Some of the benefits of professional help are performance-based — professional full-code development results in a faster product that will meet or exceed World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards. Also, dealing with the bugs, errors, and other technical issues that are an inevitable part of any development project is a much less stressful prospect when a dedicated team is ready to troubleshoot.
There is also the question of flexibility and customization. Low-code platforms are known for rapid development, but this comes at the cost of design options, while traditional product allows every detail of your app to be tailored to your specific needs.
Scalability and integration are also more limited with low-code and no-code development. Depending on your tools, you may be restricted to deploying only on specific supported platforms.
On the other hand, partnering with a professional web application developer like Data Fidelity gives you access to professionals who have a deep understanding of multiple coding languages and the experience to minimize wasted development time. You’ll also get peace of mind by knowing a support team is available to monitor and troubleshoot any issues with your app.
Even if you already have a finished product, working with a web developer is a great way to identify areas that can be improved and optimized. A perfect example of this is our work with the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund, which came to Data Fidelity for assistance in automating their bill payment.
Our team of developers transformed a paper-heavy process that relied on manual bookkeeping into a dedicated portal app for fast, easy payment processing, real-time record access, and options for collaboration between social workers and families, followed by direct integration of the portal into the Jay Fund website.
Learning How to Build a Web Application: The Path to Success
Are you interested in learning how to make an app for a website? Thanks to the steps laid out in this guide, you now have a practical, actionable roadmap for building a web app from start to finish. Hopefully, this empowers you to finally take action on your ideas, whether you decide to take the entire development process into your own hands or work with professionals who can handle the complex tasks of developing the back end, ironing out bugs, and running post-launch support.
Remember that your app’s success ultimately depends on a solid foundational idea, rigorous testing, and a full stack of dedicated development tools and languages to provide useful solutions and an intuitive user experience.