When you open a browser on your computer and navigate to a URL address, you could be connecting to either a static website or a dynamic web application. The two types of websites will look similar to you in your browser, but there are major differences in how they operate in the background.
Before diving into the differences between static websites and web applications, you should understand the concept of HTML. HyperText Markup Language, or HTML, is the code that tells your web browser what to display on the screen. HTML can include code to generate text, images, video, and other types of content. The server that hosts the website is responsible for sending the HTML to your web browser over the internet. How that server generates HTML is where the distinction between static websites and web applications begins.
A static website is any webpage with content that does not change no matter who is viewing it. These pages are often very basic and include simple information like contact details. For example, a local business may set up a static website to display their address, phone number, and hours of operation.
With a static website, the backend server hosts HTML code that is manually created by the owner. This code can be updated at any time by the owner, but the server will not make any changes dynamically.
Static websites are one-way communication channels, meaning that the web server can send information to your browser, but you as a user cannot interact with the content and send data back.
Web applications are significantly more complicated than static websites. They are the most commonly used websites on the internet today. Example include banking websites, shopping websites, search engines, and social networks. These are all two-way communication channels, where the application server is both sending data to a user’s web browser and receiving data back from the user.
A server for a web application must transfer HTML code to a web browser just like it does for static websites, but the source of that code is dynamically created. Web application servers generate webpages on the fly based on who is accessing the website and what function they are trying to perform. A special programming language, like Java or PHP, is used to automate the HTML creation.
In addition, web applications typically have additional layers of architecture in their environment, including database servers and authentication servers. This allows web programmers to build applications where users can log in to accounts and store or share information. Without dynamic web applications, you could not order items from an online store or post a picture to a social network.