Building a modern and, at the same time, an easy-to-maintain web application is not an easy task. In order to minimize the risk of failure, planning the process well is essential – from specifying the business requirements, defining the functionality of the application, preparing its designs and finally to taking care of the resources required for its development. Wondering what type of web application will be best for your business? We’re here to help! In this article, we’ll explain what PWA, SPA and MPA are and advise what to choose and when.

How should you structure your app? 

The planning stage is always crucial when deciding how an application should be built. Before you make your final choice, you need to know what you can really choose from and what options and limitations your decision brings. 

Let’s start from the beginning – there are three basic types of web applications you may consider:

  • SPA – Single-Page Application,
  • PWA – Progressive Web Application,
  • MPA – Multi-Page Application.

Not familiar with these terms or what they mean? No need to worry! To begin with, remember that each of the web app types mentioned above has its advantages and disadvantages that you need to be aware of. What really matters at this stage is what you really want to create, what value your product is supposed to offer, what the business purpose behind it is and who you will be targeting. Remember, your final choice should be based on both business and technical requirements.

PWA vs MPA vs PWA?

Progressive Web Application 

This is a web application that resembles a native application in the way it works. It guarantees a high-level user experience, which is important for most users today, and at the same time, it does not require installation – it works from the web browser, although it is possible to download it from app stores. If you’ve ever used a web application like Uber, Pinterest or Spotify, you surely know what we’re talking about.

Single-Page Application

This is a web application that has only one HTML file that dynamically changes its view as a result of user interaction (without reloading the entire page). Therefore, it is fast, light and user-friendly. Want to know some good single-page application examples? The list is long and includes: Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Airbnb, Netflix, PayPal and LinkedIn. Now you know why they are so responsive and work so smoothly.

Multi-Page Application 

MPA is the opposite of SPA – a web application that runs on multiple pages and thus multiple HTML files. This is how Amazon or eBay function. Is this a good solution for today’s times? Not necessarily – however, much depends on the purpose of your application. 

In the duel between single-page applications vs multi-page applications, the winner (in most cases) are SPAs. Why? Navigating between pages in MPAs causes sending a new page request, downloading the appropriate HTML file from the server and loading it. This adversely affects loading time and thus negatively impacts user experience. Long response times are one of the key reasons why this approach is not very popular today. Of course, this doesn’t mean that MPAs are completely going away. This model still works perfectly well for information services or e-commerce. 

How does Single-Page Application Work? 

You already know that SPA is an application which bases its operation on one HTML file and which changes its view depending on what actions are taken by the user. Not having to reload the whole page, but only a part of it, allows it to refresh very quickly and offers a better user experience.

Is this always the case? A lot depends on the level of complexity of the application itself. If the logic behind a particular task is too complex, the waiting time may increase, so much so that a more reasonable option in such a situation may be to pass the task to the server and reload the entire page – in such situations, it is worth considering choosing MPA or combination of MPA and SPA. This is an important point that you need to consider when designing your application. Choosing SPA with complex task logic may not make much sense.

Benefits of a Single-Page Application 

Apart from speed and better user experience, what are the pros of SPA?

  • Relatively simple development – it’s not complicated to develop and deploy SPA as the logic is being executed in a web browser – you can kick off development without using any server at all.
  • Easier debugging process – SPAs are usually developed with popular JavaScript frameworks like Vue, React or Angular, which provide built-in debugging tools.
  • The possibility of converting SPA into another application, such as a PWA –  since PWA offers a better User Experience (UX) at some point in time, you may start thinking about converting your app – in such case, you don’t need to start from scratch.

What about the disadvantages of SPAs?

When writing about the disadvantages, it is worth mentioning the bigger challenges in the context of analytics and SEO optimization. By default, analytics tools track page views, but SPA pages are not real pages – instead of page views, you have to track page rendering, which requires extra customization to do it. If SEO is important for your business, think at least about combining MPA and SPA. Thanks to this, you will be able to add individual pages to the structure of your app (e.g. separate ones for each product or service from your offer) that will be then indexed in search results and drive more organic traffic to your website. 

How does Single-Page Application Work? 

How does a Progressive Web Application Work? 

PWA is a web application that looks and behaves like a mobile app but does not require the user to visit an app store, download and install it. However, nothing prevents you from adding it to app stores, which can be a big advantage for some users. A PWA runs from a web browser and works offline, hence is available whenever the user needs it.

Nowadays, PWAs can cover almost everything that native apps have to offer. In fact, many of the existing native apps can be successfully replaced by PWAs. This is an excellent solution for both end-users and businesses that expect a satisfactory result. And, what’s also important, one that allows you to achieve an effect similar to a native app but does not come with such a large investment – because it doesn’t require developing separate applications for individual operating systems. 

By the way – in case you are wondering whether PWAs work on iPhones & iPads – no worries, PWA on iOS works perfectly well!

Read also: PWA vs native app vs hybrid app

Benefits of a Progressive Web Application 

  • The aforementioned savings – creating such an application comes with lower costs and shorter development time compared to building separate native applications for various operating systems.
  • A PWA guarantees good performance, a high level of security and the ability to work online or offline (with certain adjustments during the development process), on mobile and desktop devices, so there is no need to worry about your customers having difficulty accessing it.

Possible disadvantages of PWAs

While outlining the cons, it is worth mentioning the dependence of such an application on search engines (some features may not be available in a particular search engine) and higher energy demand – a PWA drains the phone battery faster. We elaborate more on that in our article about the advantages and disadvantages of PWAs

Is SPA a PWA? 

As you can see, SPAs and PWAs have some things in common. Is it possible for a web application to fit into both definitions at the same time? Absolutely! 

SPA can be a PWA (and very often is), but PWA doesn’t need to be a SPA. Once your SPA is developed, it can be easily distributed as a PWA and provide all the same benefits. It’s as simple as that. 

What is the difference between a SPA and a PWA? 

Both approaches are relatively new and somewhat revolutionary. They both allow you to build a website which is more complex and has the look and feel of a native app. So how do they differ from each other?

  • Speed

Loading time is an extremely important parameter. Today’s users don’t want to wait any longer than necessary, so in this battle, every second counts. In terms of speed, PWA and SPA are pretty similar; however, in this duel, PWA comes out on top. It is slightly faster and, in addition, can work in an offline mode.

  • Time & Costs

The huge advantage of SPA is its streamlined process, which translates into a relatively short development time – shorter than in the case of PWA. Also, SPA comes with lower development costs.

  • User Experience

PWA provides more engagement and reliability (even offline and in the case of a bad internet connection), offers better performance and has the ability to load the content and engageable features nearly instantaneously. This translates into a better user experience, which is one of the reasons why many companies decided to transform their SPAs into PWAs.

  • Security

PWA has to be run under HTTPS, which assures a high-security standard. If you are thinking about an application that will require users to submit personal data or credit card information, go for PWA.

  • Accessibility

Again, the winner here is PWA, and this is because it can run both online and offline. PWAs also allow you to add a shortcut to the application, which will appear on the screen or desktop and make it easy for the user to use it again.  

Frequently asked questions regarding SPA vs MPA vs PWA

Frequently asked questions regarding SPA vs MPA vs PWA

At this stage, you know a great deal about SPAs, MPAs and PWAs. This is a perfect moment to summarize the article and address some of the most common questions. 

What is the difference between a Single-Page Application and a Multi-Page Application?

One HTML file and one full-page load from the server are enough for SPAs to work well. In terms of  MPAs, there are multiple HTML files. This means switching between different sub-pages requires loading the HTML file from the server each time. As you can imagine, these operations take time, which could annoy a user. 

Nevertheless, the above factors don’t mean you should avoid MPAs at all costs – sometimes, it is impossible to create a complex app with only one HTML file. 

When should you not use SPA?

As we have already mentioned, SEO is challenging in SPAs. Therefore, if web analytics or a high Google ranking is essential to your business, SPAs might not be the best choice. That’s why this kind of app probably wouldn’t work in e-commerce and information services. There is a reason for Amazon and eBay to still rely on MPAs. 

SPA vs MPA vs PWA – which solution should you choose?

The popularity of SPAs seems to be enduring, but more and more companies, including market leaders, are choosing PWAs. Why not follow them? 

Of course, following market leaders or good practices can be good, but not when done blindly. To make the choice that is indeed best for your business, you should first analyze your needs, take your business goals, target group and resources into account – then make a final decision based on those factors. Although SPA is a cheaper model and quicker to implement, PWA compensates for its shortcomings in this area with a number of other advantages.

And how about MPAs? Although they give way to SPAs and PWAs in many fields, still, in certain situations (mentioned earlier in this article), they work perfectly. Therefore you should not completely disregard them.