The Ultimate Guide to Web Application Architecture (Updated)

By Joshua Gross, 04 November, 2022

Web applications allow businesses to create web-based development projects that are delivered through the internet over a network but perform in many ways like a mobile app.

More dynamic than traditional websites while offering a number of benefits compared to mobile apps, there are many reasons why you might want to build a web app for your next digital product.

One question that might be on your mind when it comes to creating a web app, though, is scalability. To create an app that maintains responsiveness, robustness, and security, you'll want to build a solid foundation in web app architecture.

When thinking about web app architecture, it can be useful to think of it as the skeleton of your web app. This is where all of the necessary components and the interactions between them are laid out in a blueprint.

What is Web Application Architecture?

Web app architecture is just what it sounds like– it is a blueprint of the ways that various aspects of an application interact with one another, just like an architectural blueprint is a design plan of how the many different components of a building work together to create a structure.

In simple terms, web app architecture helps to create a better web experience by laying out the interaction between the server and the client side.

About to embark on your first web app development project? Make sure you take a look at this list of the best wireframe and prototype tools for your web app.

Why Bother With Web App Architecture?

There are a lot of good reasons why you should invest in web app architecture when you're building a web app.

For one, it can help to improve customer satisfaction among your users. When you focus on the architecture of your web app, you're ensuring that your design is both scalable and efficient.

There's a good chance that you want to reduce downtime with your app and ensure it will work under various circumstances and conditions. If your app is frequently crashing or is otherwise unreliable, you'll likely find that users get fed up with it and look elsewhere to fix the problem your web app proposes to solve.

You'll also find that this helps you achieve better business results over the long term and provide better app performance for your users. Though creating a solid web app structure is an investment, you'll find that you save time and money over the course of your web app's life when it consistently runs smoothly without any hiccups.

In terms of app performance, building a solid foundation in the form of web app architecture means that your app is more flexible and adaptive when it comes to changing customer demands and fluctuations in the market.

Web app architecture is also important because it helps enhance the security of your app. Developers and brands alike need to be increasingly concerned with malicious attacks, and creating a solid, bomb-proof structure is essential when you're launching an app.

What Are the Components of Web App Architecture?

Depending on the functionality and complexity of a web app, how many layers and components there are will vary. Some apps might be so basic and simple that all of the design architecture can be stored in the same place through a monolithic structure.

Typical web apps will have a number of different components that need to interact with one another in a reliable way in order to function properly. These components are commonly broken down into two primary groups: user interface components and structural web components.

User Interface Components

The user interface components of a web app have to do with the visual interface and don't interact with the architecture of the app.

Solely related to the display on a page, these include things that help to improve the user experience, such as notifications, widgets, dashboards, stats, and activity logs.

Structural Web Components

The client and server components are included under the category of structural web components.

The components that interact with the web app's functionality and exist in the browser of the user are the client components. The sever components deal with the database server where the data is housed as well as the business logic.

How Does Web App Architecture Work?

There are two main parts to any web app: the client side and the server side.

The client side is also known as the front end. This is where code is written in JavaScript, CSS, and HTML and where the user interacts with the app.

On the other hand, the server side is where HTTP requests are responded to, and the business logic is controlled. You've probably also heard of the server side referred to as the backend. On this side of things, code is written in languages such as Ruby, Python, Java, PHP, and more.

(Check out our recent post on whether PHP is still a relevant language for building web apps here.)

There's also the database server to know about, which is the component that sends requested data to the backend.

To help make this clearer, let's look at an example.

When you enter a URL into a browser, your browser sends a request to the DNS (Domain Name Server.) The DNS will identify the IP address and send your request to the site server.

Once the server has received the request, it will pass it along to the data storage to find the specific page and the data requests that will soon show up on your browser. Finally (and in reality, practically instantly), the page you entered into the URL shows up on your device's screen.

Understanding the Layers of Web App Architecture

There are four layers to modern web applications: presentation, business, persistence, and database layers. However, in some smaller applications, the business and persistence layers might function together in one layer to create a three-layer system. On the other hand, larger, more complicated web apps can end up having five or even six layers.

Presentation Layer

This layer helps make it possible for the interface and browser to communicate so that the user can interact with the app and is built using CSS, HTML, and JavaScript.

Business Layer

Here you'll find the business logic and rules defined. Browser requests are processed in the business layer, and the business logic is executed in line with these requests. Finally, this info is sent on to the next layer: the presentation layer.

Persistence Layer

Also known as the Data Access Layer, the persistence layer takes care of data persistence. With a database server that is able to retrieve data from the proper servers, it's intimately related to the business layer.

Database Layer

This is where all of the data is held as well as the layer that primarily deals with data security. Also known as the Data Service Layer, this is where the business logic and the client side of the app are separated.

The Different Web App Models

When building a web app, you'll want to understand the different models common in web app components. Depending on your business purpose and the type of app you're building, you might find that one of these models is better than others for achieving your desired outcome.

One Web Server, One Database

This can be a reasonable option if you have a strict budget and are just starting out, but it is generally considered an old-fashioned model at this point. After all, the reality is that your app will go down if your server goes down, as all requests must be handled through one server and database.

Multiple Web Servers, One Database

Since there is only one database in this model, you are still running the risk of your web app crashing. That being said, the fact that there is always a backup server on hand if one server is out of commission helps to decrease the risk of data failure.

Multiple Web Servers, Multiple Databases

When you have more than one option for database storage, the performance risk of your app is reduced. Some brands might choose to distribute their data among all the servers equally or store identical data on each database.

Are you wondering how long you should expect it to take to develop your web app? This post looks at the development time of web apps from start to finish.

Web Application Architecture: The Different Types

There are four primary types of web app architecture that you'll want to know about before building your web app. You'll want to consider a number of different factors when choosing which type you'd like to go with, including business requirements, app logic, functionality, features, and more.

Single Page Applications (SPA) Architecture

SPAs help overcome several limitations that previously existed when it comes to web app UI. Rather than loading a brand new page when data is requested, SPAs just load one web page and dynamically update the content within the same page. By allowing the rest of the page to be unchanged, app performance is smoother, and the user experience is more intuitive and interactive.

This type of web app structure is created using JavaScript frameworks on the client side.

Serverless Architecture

Removing the need to manually deploy code execution on a physical server, serverless architecture allows this process to take place via cloud service providers.

This method allows you to create reliable and scalable web apps without the need for manual intervention on servers.

One of the benefits of serverless architecture is that developers don't have to worry about operating and managing servers, whether they are on the premises or in the cloud. Not only does this let developers direct their energy toward the products themselves, but it also helps to reduce overhead.

There are two general categories within the umbrella of serverless architecture– Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) and Function-as-a-Service (FaaS).

When it comes to the former, developers can eliminate the backend operations and focus on front-end development tasks. FaaS lets developers divide the apps into a collection of smaller functions in order to let them turn their attention toward event triggers and code.

Microservice Architecture

Microservice architecture helps to deal with the problems associated with a monolithic architecture. Helping to simplify the relationship between the various service components and eliminate the necessity of service orchestration, deploying web apps using microservice architecture is much less cumbersome.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)

PWAs have grown in popularity since they were released in 2015. Introduced by Google to develop apps that offer native functionality with easy installation and enhanced reliability and capabilities, these apps are compatible with any browser on any type of device.

Progressive web apps can be found quickly and simply through URLs, meaning that users don't have to hunt down the app in the App Store or Google Play.

On top of that, users can add the app to the home screen of their device after a quick and effortless installation.

PWAs can even work in offline mode and when a device has a subpar connection to the internet.

Given all of this, it's no surprise that many huge corporations have transitioned to PWA digital products. Some of the most famous examples include Starbucks, Uber, Pinterest, Alibaba, and The Weather Channel.

Searching For the Right Team to Help You Develop Your Next Web App?

When you're developing a web app or any digital product, it's ideal to find a team you can partner with right from the get-go. This way, you can work with a team of experts that will help you with every aspect of your project, from its architecture to its final launch.

At Planetary, we specialize in helping brands of all sizes turn their brilliant ideas into a reality. Whether you're a Fortune 500 company or a small startup, we'd love to help you take the concept in your mind and translate it into a smooth, efficient, and attractive web app that perfectly suits your customers' needs.

Wondering if we're the right fit for your next web app project? Drop us a line and tell us a bit about your project.