First order of business: this is for the FAQ.

How would you define the difference between a "website" and a "web application?" What makes a site a "web app?" We're going to need a clear, concise definition to add to the Frequently Ask Questions (FAQ) page. Brevity is preferred but make it as long as necessary so it is clear for people who many not be familiar with the site.

Please post one definition per answer (so they can be voted on and discussed individually).

  • 1
    I spend too much time trying to write my own post, that I didn't see this one pop up, but it's exactly what I want defined
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jun 30, 2010 at 19:55
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    @Ivo Flipse: That's okay. I'm watching these areas closely to see if/how a community will create a FAQ without explicit procedures to do so. People have a tendency to self organize and that's what I am looking for: the "how." Commented Jun 30, 2010 at 22:17

6 Answers 6


Initially I wanted my proposal simply to be for websites, but I thought Web Apps sounded 'better'.

  • The definition isn't the same for everyone and most users (probably) won't understand it.

    What you're calling this [not-a-real-web-app]?!?

  • The most popular websites on the planet are web apps, so the vast majority of question would be on-topic anyway

  • I know Jeff mentioned that he thinks we should limit the scope

    well, I think it'd be a bad idea to have the community be so fragmented. "Web Apps" is ridiculously planet- Earth broad, whereas "Facebook" is broad enough to work

    however I agree more with ChrisF: we shouldn't fragment the community either and there's more overlap than there will are differences.

    @Jeff I'd agree for an all encompassing "Web applications" site. A significant number of the problems (cookies, doesn't work with IE etc.) are going to be common across a lot of site. There's no need to have separate "Facebook", "LinkedIn", "Google" etc sites. That will fragment the community

Instead of making a difference between Web Apps and websites I would much rather see a clear distinction between [Web Applications] and [Stack Overflow], [Doc Type] or [Super User]. Hence for me it should be:

This site is for every url you type in your browser's address bar

  • Does that mean that meta-questions about using SO sites is on-topic? ;)
    – bdonlan
    Commented Jun 30, 2010 at 20:32
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    @bdonlan: Questions about how to use SO sites are best asked on meta.stackoverflow.com. Commented Jun 30, 2010 at 22:45
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    @Robert - does that mean that questions about how to use Facebook are best asked at facebook.com/help ? Unless we say that SE sites aren't web apps, I don't think it makes any sense to rule them out of questions on this site.
    – x3ja
    Commented Jul 7, 2010 at 0:57
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    I do not agree with the last line here. When looking at the definitions as well as the title of the proposal , they pointed to web applications (those with a certain degree of complexity and black boxing from the end user) and not just static websites. Users committed to a proposal that applied to web applications not all websites. Also the terms web apps is relatively new and wrongly used, a shortened version of web application and not web apps (which are web applications) linked to mobile devices
    – phwd
    Commented Jul 12, 2010 at 0:28
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    This site should be to handle the fact that the end user cannot see inside the black box.
    – phwd
    Commented Jul 12, 2010 at 0:30
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    @Ivo: I strongly disagree with your premise. This site should not cover merely informational websites. Additionally, we need to better define what type of help one can get here. Lately I'm seeing a lot of questions from people of the "Help me find..." variety because apparently they're not very good at using web search.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 13:36
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    @Al Everett Those informational sites often have no UI or dynamic structures that require questions compared to Web Apps. However, it's confusing to draw an arbitrary line through this gray area. Judge a question on it's quality. Bad questions like "Help me find..." should be closed as not a real question. That problem doesn't lie in the scope of the site, but in the ability of users to ask real questions.
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 13:58
  • Are there many valid (not 'Help me find ...') questions on non-webapps at all on webapps.se.com? I'm tempted to turn the definition around: "If you can ask a valid webapps.se.com question about a web site, then it is a webapp". Commented Feb 25, 2013 at 14:56

A web-app is something that you are interacting with, whether it be socially or individually. A website is something that you are simply browsing.


CrossBrowser's Answer from Define "web application"

Here's the definition for Application software from Wikipedia

Application software, also known as an application, is computer software designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks. Examples include enterprise software, accounting software, office suites, graphics software and media players.

Application software is contrasted with system software and middleware, which manage and integrate a computer's capabilities, but typically do not directly apply them in the performance of tasks that benefit the user. A simple, if imperfect analogy in the world of hardware would be the relationship of an electric light bulb (an application) to an electric power generation plant (a system). The power plant merely generates electricity, not itself of any real use until harnessed to an application like the electric light that performs a service that benefits the user.

So I'd say a Web application is any website that allows a user to accomplish specific tasks. A website that is not a Web application is a website meant to give the user information (blogs, news, tutorials, etc.).


I think web applications provide server-side application processing whereas in websites all application processing occurs on the client side.

  • I don't think that works as a rule-of-thumb: On the Photoshop Express Wikipedia article, the sidebar unequivocally calls it a web app, yet I'm fairly confident that, being Flash-based, the processing is done client-side. Commented Dec 9, 2010 at 17:50

A website is the front door and what everyone sees and take pictures from the outside, some go inside and look. So the breakdown

  • Can be accessed by anyone without login (http://google.com,http://ma.tt)
  • Mainly for advertisement and branding
  • Needs to go home to process pictures (photoshop) - local application
  • Leave the building - nothing happens except an empty seat (remove an html page)

A web application is the building, the bricks, the foundation, all the HVAC, and the electicity lines and cables. The kitchen where few get to see what is made.Everything working together. And the breakdown

  • Needs special access by login ( invitation/reservation, job offer, janitor ..etc)
  • For services
  • Can process pictures at the building public computers - provides access outside of local (photoshop.com online editor)
  • Remove a building block, building breaks down (its a bundle of various items (servlets tomcat etc) that work together to give the service)
  • To add to that, I would say that webapps shouldn't always require logins. Commented Jul 19, 2010 at 9:29

As it is right now, the FAQ's definition "behaves like an application" might not be helpful at all.

I instantly know the difference between an application (like Microsoft Word) and a document (such as a .docx file created in Word) that's running on my OS, but that becomes very difficult on the web. I know that Remember the Milk is a webapp and that a 1990s "John Doe's Home Page" is not. But it's not always that easy to distinguish. Is a weather site a webapp? (You can interact with the weather maps, and I have apps on my computer that do the exact same thing.) How about a search engine? What about a choose-your-own-adventure story that uses HTML links?

Until there's a separate site that covers non-webapp sites, we're unlikely to have a clear line between the two. It's easier to define something by what it is than what it isn't. Without a separate site, it's a lot harder to stay on top of this definition because the choice is between leaving a question open and closing as off-topic. With a separate site, we can migrate it to another site; a user can follow the link to that stack exchange site and get plenty of examples that help them learn our definition of the difference between a web app and a website.

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