Explain Like I’m 5: Web Applications

  • Drew Linn
  • September 30, 2016

For those familiar with Reddit, you may know the popular forum “Explain like I’m 5”. The idea is to take a complex and often over-complicated subject and break it down to a kindergarten level. Because I see the value in this approach (and because I love all things reddit), I’m hijacking this model to simplify a few things WDD might take for granted understanding, but others may need a little more explanation. Let’s start with web applications.

What are Web Applications?

Web applications, or web apps, are simply websites with advanced functionality. Any web site you visit that lets you do more than just read information is a web application – from submitting a form on a blog, all the way to complex online stores like Amazon. Before web apps, all programs had to be installed on each individual computer through a CD or a disk, where the computer would then host the program.

What makes web applications so great?

To start, web applications are available whenever and wherever there is internet available, all you need is a web browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.) You can use any device, such as your phone, iPad or desktop to access a web application as long as you are connected to the internet. Web applications are an awesome way to stay up to date socially, or for work while you’re on the go.

Another bonus is that web applications can be updated without users having to download new software – or really doing anything at all. To put it another way, if you are using a web application, you will always be using the most current and updated version.

A quick history of web applications:

The beginning of web applications can be traced back to 1995 when Netscape introduced JavaScript, a client-side scripting language that allowed a personal computer to run dynamic elements of a web page through their web-browser. Before this, anything dynamic (something that was animated or the user could interact with) had to be downloaded onto your computer.

How do web apps work?

Warning: This is about to get beyond kindergarten level. Still reading? We build web apps in three layers: The first layer is the user interface or presentation (what you see), the second is the application layer (what makes the rules), and the third layer is the database (where all of the information is stored).

To explain this a little deeper, let’s use Facebook as an example. Say you want to search for your friend Tom, so you type his name into the search bar. You type T-o-m into the presentation level, which in turn sends that request to the application layer. Here, the application layer knows that because someone just typed “Tom” into the search bar, it needs to search the database layer for all of the “Toms” that exist in the app. Finally, the application layer then returns the results it retrieved from the database layer to the presentation, which then turns into something pretty you see on the screen. Facebook’s application is advanced enough to give you the “Toms” that are most relevant to you by checking your geography, mutual friends, and other similarities (cool, huh?).

More questions?

If you have questions about web applications, need one developed, or simply think you can describe web apps in a better way, I’d love to hear from you! We’re a custom software consulting firm that loves to talk tech, business and anything else that makes you scratch your head. Give us a call or contact us here.


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