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Creating a simple web app: your complete guide for 2023

July 21, 2023

Unleash your inner developer with our step-by-step guide on creating a simple web application. No prior experience needed - learn about the process, best practices, and helpful tips.

Web app development simply makes your web stuff act like it would on a mobile app. It's all about keeping users hooked with snappy interactions, even though it's all still coming at them via the internet, through a network.

Think of web app development as the spawn of web development. They might seem pretty much the same, but web app development packs more punch, it's more alive, more kicking than your usual, run-of-the-mill web development.

Sure, both matter, but getting the distinction between the two can clue you in on what this whole web app development gig is about and if it seems like something your business could use.

In this article, you’ll learn how web app development is done, and how you can speed things up with no-code.

What is a web app?

A web application is a fancy interactive thing made from web tech stuff that people use via their browsers. 

Web apps work with the standard front-end and backend stuff that you find in web development. They're pretty much like websites, so there's a lot in common between web app development and plain old web development. Yes, it may sound a bit confusing at first.

Take the frontend. Web app creators use JavaScript, CSS, and HTML. Same deal with the backend. They use server-side languages like Ruby or Python, just like you would to create a website. Here's the kicker: web apps work on any device, but they do so in a way that's totally different from a traditional website.

Websites? Their main job is to throw information at you. On a regular website, people scroll, click, maybe enter an email or some personal info to buy something online. It might seem like we're splitting hairs differentiating between the two, but once you get it, you'll see why it matters.

For instance, it's way more engaging to use Twitter or Facebook from a web browser than to click around on your local pizzeria's website. Why? Because the former are web apps, the latter are just a website.

Despite all using web technologies, web apps usually lumped into client-side, server-side, or single-page application categories.

Client-side web apps

  • These web apps are all about the front-end, which means the user interface (UI) is king. They go all-in on user experience (UX) and shoot for high performance.
  • Any data or business logic the app needs gets loaded when the app starts up.
  • Thanks to client-side rendering, there's barely any wait time to load a page. That makes interactions with content faster and the page feels super responsive.

Server-side web apps

  • Server-side software is basically backend development in another name. This involves building databases, servers, application programming interfaces (APIs), and other behind-the-scenes stuff.
  • While server-side apps often display content and/or UIs, the most dynamic code lives in the web server.
  • Server-side rendering (SSR) works best with static content, as it can take a while for the web browser to send a request to the server and get a response.
  • On the upside, server-side web apps are usually more secure and play nicer with more browsers than client-side web apps.

Single-page apps

  • A single-page application (SPA) is different from a traditional multi-page app where you only get a new page when you click a link. SPAs borrow some good stuff from both client-side and server-side apps.
  • SPAs rule from a single page, often using infinite scroll to display all their content.
  • Even though server-side rendering is known for making you wait, JavaScript frameworks like React, Vue.js, and Angular use dynamic routing to only grab the necessary data at any given moment.
  • Plenty of web developers or web app developers use this server-side rendering trick to build SPAs that don't need to reload the entire page to do something or get new data.

Understanding the basics

If you're planning to dive into full-stack web app development, your business better have the right tools in the frontend and backend toolbox. To pull this off, you'll need to get friendly with the frameworks and technologies I'm about to drop. They'll be a godsend for building your web app.

Frontend vs. backend development

Let’s start with…


When it comes to the front-end, the toolkit for web app development and web development has been pretty much the same for the last twenty-five years or so. But hey, at least they're proven!

JavaScript is your go-to client-side programming language for any type of web development. Practically every web developer out there uses JavaScript to code client-side behavior into their website or web application.

Why? Because JavaScript lets developers build dynamic websites. Basic stuff like scroll bars and clickable buttons? All the offspring of JavaScript programming.

Since its birth in the 20th century, JavaScript has grown massively, showing off its versatility through its many use cases and frameworks.

HTML is another cornerstone of web development. HyperText Markup Language (HTML) takes care of structuring the content on a web page.

A bunch of HTML elements tell a web page how to display text, images, and in the latest version of HTML — HTML 5 — audio and video too. You'll recognize HTML elements by the “<” and “>” characters.

Little secret for you: if you're on a desktop or laptop, right-click on any web page, hit "View page source", and you'll see a load of HTML right there in your browser.

CSS is a language that defines how a web page looks. Just like JavaScript and HTML, it's one of the fundamental techs that make the World Wide Web what it is today.

Colors, layouts, fonts — they're all vital parts of a web page or web app, and CSS calls the shots on these. And now, onto…


Backend development got a whole bunch of tech parts to keep track of - server-side coding, databases, web servers, APIs, you name it.

Backend developers have to juggle databases, make sure data flows smoothly from A to B, keep user connections secure, and maintain authentication. All this, just to keep the web app running as it's supposed to.

Java, Python, Ruby, and PHP lead the pack. Tech companies often don't stick to one language, and of course, there's a bunch of comparisons to judge which is best.

Backend frameworks like Django and Ruby on Rails exist to cut developers some slack and make their jobs less of a hassle. They've made a name for themselves in the web dev community.

Databases are the keepers of an app's data. backend developers better get cozy with query languages that can ask for and fetch data on demand. The common web developer swears by SQL, the go-to query language. It's got a lot of relatives like MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle that offer more bells and whistles.

Servers are like waiters, responding to client requests over the internet connection of a web app, fetching information, and serving you whatever you asked for—on your computer or mobile, doesn't matter.

Servers don't speak a particular language, but all backend tech better play nice with them—like  Apache, Nginx, and IIS.

APIs make the magic happen between multiple software systems. You can thank API integration when your Google Home chats with your Spotify or when eBay and PayPal play well together.

APIs don't have their own secret language. Developers whip them up using other backend tech, either sharing them with other developers or keeping them under lock and key within their own company.

Programming languages for web development

Web app development isn't a one-and-done deal. It's split into three distinct stages. Not just the tech, mind you, there's a truckload of web development software out there to help you hustle smart, not hard, in your web development.

Type Description Languages
Frontend To help you make eye-candy interfaces
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • ReactJS
  • Angular
  • Vue js
Backend To make sure the buttons actually do something
  • PHP
  • Ruby-on-Rails
  • Node.js
  • Python
  • C#
  • GoLang
Databases To juggle information back and forth
  • MySQL
  • NoSQL
  • MongoDB
  • PostgreSQL
  • Redis

Naturally, there are more, but these are the editor’s choice.

A meme in case you start to feel tired reading through all of this. Keep it up!

No-code web app builders

No-code platforms like Directual are an excellent entry point for building web applications. They streamline the design, development, and deployment of a web app, making it a cakewalk to get your concept rolling. With Directual, you can get your hands dirty creating an app without shelling out a dime. Too salesy? Oh well.

Here are some benefits of using no-code:

  • No-code platforms accelerate app building by 2.5x.
  • No need to learn code at all. Or maybe just a little bit, depending on the platform
  • Hosting and infrastructure come with the package on no-code platforms saving you from spending extra bucks on AWS or similar services.
  • Customizing your web app is a breeze and tweaking post-launch doesn't demand a team of techies.

Old-schooling web app development is much more tricky. Learning to code isn't a walk in the park, and selecting the right language for your product can be a head-scratcher for beginners. Choosing the wrong programming language could backfire later too. 

If you're clueless about code or you want to learn while saving time, consider giving a no-code platform like Directual a shot instead. Pitch over.

Designing your web application

Alright, let's cut to the chase. The first step in creating any web application is design. By design, we don't just mean colors and fonts, we're talking about the entire user experience, the flow, and the functionality. 

Draw out what your screens will look like, and plan how users will navigate from one to the other. It's like making a map for your app. But here's the kicker, with Directual no-code platform, you can literally drag and drop your design elements, saving you the headache of extensive coding that traditional development methods demand.

Step-by-step guide to creating a simple web application

You're not just building a sandcastle here, you're crafting a masterpiece. To make things less convoluted, let's break it down:

Setting up your development environment

Imagine you're setting up a workshop. You'll need tools, right? Hammers, saws, screws, a workbench, maybe some safety goggles. Now, what if you had to craft each tool by hand before you could even start building? That's exactly what setting up a traditional development environment feels like.

In the traditional approach, you'd need to install and configure a host of software before you could even write a single line of code.

You'd need a text editor, which could be anything from Notepad++ to Atom, or Sublime Text. Then, you'd have to set up a web server like Apache or Nginx. Don't forget the database system; that's another beast you'd have to tame, perhaps MySQL or PostgreSQL. And what about a version control system, like Git? Then there's the challenge of making sure everything is compatible and properly updated. 

Now, let's compare that to Directual. 

It's like stepping into a fully equipped workshop where everything you need is already laid out and ready to go. With Directual, setting up your development environment is as simple as opening up your web browser. Everything you need is already there, hosted on the cloud. Your visual builder, your server, your database – all packaged into one platform.

The biggest bonus of no-code platforms is that they come with templates you can use to get started. Maybe the bare-bones project you wanted to build isn’t meant to take weeks to produce, but just a few button clicks instead?

Creating the basic structure

The structure in the world of web applications comprises of various elements such as server architecture, data flows, user interface, and API design.

  • Server architecture. Whether you're going for a monolithic architecture, where all the processes are tightly coupled together, or a microservices architecture, where each process is a separate module, is an important decision. Basically you’d have to decide if you want more powerful hardware or more machines doing the processing.
  • Data flows. Your data flow diagram is your app's circulatory system. It shows where your data comes from, where it goes, and how it's processed along the way. Your goal here is to make this flow as efficient as possible, killing any unnecessary data processing steps.
  • User interface. This is where your users interact with your app. An effective UI is intuitive, easy-to-use, and engaging. It follows the principles of human-computer interaction and considers the needs of its target audience. Don’t make a Maps app take 5 clicks to reach the actual map after app launch. 
  • API design. A well-designed API is easy to work with and allows your application to be integrated with other applications in a seamless manner. You need to know in advance what other services or data exchange points will come in play, and how. Good news—you can build your APIs with Directual, and it’s a piece of cake. No, really!

Traditionally, setting up these elements would involve a great deal of complex programming, design decisions, and a whole lot of coffee. From HTML and CSS for the user interface, to JavaScript for client-side interactivity, to PHP or Python or Java for the server-side processes, to SQL for the database interactions, there's a lot to juggle.

Styling the application

Your app’s styling isn’t just about aesthetics, it's a key player in the overall user experience. Think of it as the equivalent of dressing up a Hollywood star for the red carpet; it needs to be attractive, consistent and convey the intended message.

In the traditional development route, this involves grappling with a beast known as CSS, which dictates everything from layouts, colors, fonts to animations. And just like the exact science of matching a bow tie to a tux, this isn't easy. You'd have to know the specifics of classes, IDs, selectors, properties, and values. You'd be juggling properties like 'padding', 'margin', 'border-radius', 'background-color', 'font-size' and a host of others to get the look just right. And even after you've done all that, different browsers interpret CSS in different ways, so you'd have to ensure compatibility across the board. 

With no code, it’s far simpler. You can select your colors (learn how to choose best color combination for your app), fonts, and layouts from a simple interface and apply them uniformly across your application. Want to add a button here, or an image there? Just drag and drop.

Adding interactivity with JavaScript

Remember those old 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books? That's what interactivity is all about. With traditional methods, you'd be wrestling a crocodile named JavaScript. But Directual's visual scripting interface lets you add in those adventure choices without having to pen down a single line of JavaScript. 

It certainly helps to have some proficiency in it, however, just to get that extra push when you are building something really massive.

Testing and debugging

Did you know, NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter failed because of one single incorrect data entry? That's how crucial debugging is. Testing and debugging in a traditional environment feels like hunting for a needle in a haystack sometimes, especially if you’re new to it. Find one bug, try and fix it, and you get five new bugs in return.

Directual has built-in testing tools that give you a clear picture of where your app is having a hiccup.

Deploying your web application

Ready to launch? Normally, deploying your app comes with the hurdle of server configurations, hosting decisions, it's a maze. 

Directual, on the other hand, is like having Ariadne's thread. Just one click, and your application is live on the internet — cloud app hosting looks looks like magic.

Best practices for web application development

Alright, let's cut the fluff and get straight to the point with these web development best practices:

  • Plan before coding. Don't be a loose cannon; you need a plan before you start coding. Draw your ideas, know your goals, know who you're targeting, know what you want your app to do. Consider a rough prototype before you go guns blazing into development. 
  • Go modular. Keep your components separate and interchangeable. It's easier to test, debug, and understand. Plus, you get to reuse code, keeping things tidy.
  • UX is key. Don't neglect the user. A fantastic app with a lousy user interface is not going to win. Keep it simple, clear, consistent, and responsive. Get feedback, test, adjust.
  • Don't skimp on security. Cyber threats are as real as the keyboard you're typing on. Don't be lax with security. Encrypt data, validate input, use secure cookies, update, patch, and repeat. Directual handles the security heavy lifting so you can actually sleep at night.
  • Make it scalable. Your app needs to keep up with your user growth. Make sure it can handle the load. Optimize your code, choose the right database, use lazy loading if you must. Or use Directual (really going too hard on the sales, eh?), which is already built to handle extreme loads and tons of users.
  • Test, test, test. Squash those bugs. Test throughout development and after. Incorporate unit testing, integration testing, and user acceptance testing. Automate the process if you can.
  • Optimize for mobile. More people surf the web on their mobiles than desktops. Make sure your app isn't a nightmare on smaller screens.

There you go. No fancy words, just straightforward practices to make your web app development less of a headache. Stick to these and you won't go wrong.


At the end of the day, all that matters is the end result. We recommend you learn every single step of the way before committing to a large project. It’s best to start small and accumulate momentum as you go.

If you’re looking to cut some corners and still get a great web app—Directual’s your pick. Want to learn more? Head into our communities (available in the footer below) or send us a message at hello@directual.com.

Happy building!


What programming language is used for web applications?
What programming language is used for web applications?

A bunch of languages can be used for web applications, depending on what you're trying to do. For front-end development (that's the stuff users see and interact with), HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are the go-to languages. For the backend (the behind-the-scenes magic), you could use languages like Python, Ruby, PHP, or Java.

Can I create a web application without any coding experience?
Can I create a web application without any coding experience?

Absolutely. With cloud no-code platforms Directual, you don't need to know your HTML from your CSS. You just drag and drop elements, and the platform handles the rest. No coding experience needed.

What are 3 examples of a web app?
What are 3 examples of a web app?

Google Docs (word processing in your browser), Trello (project management made easy), and Facebook (social networking on steroids). These are all web apps - they run in your web browser and offer interactive functions beyond just presenting information.

What is the difference between a website and a web app?
What is the difference between a website and a web app?

A website typically provides static content that doesn't change much. Think of it like a digital billboard. A web app, on the other hand, is interactive. It lets users do stuff, like sending emails, filling out forms, or editing photos. So, in a nutshell, if you're just displaying information, it's a website. If you're interacting with users, it's a web app. Illustrative example of a web-app is an internal app for business process automation (like CRM or HR management)

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