Progressive Web App (PWA) vs Single-Page Application (SPA)

Progressive Web App (PWA) vs Single-Page Application (SPA)
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Written by Shuvhojit DebNovember 25, 2021
8 min read
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Shuvhojit Deb

Full Stack Developer

Let's find out the differences between PWA and SPA.

What is Progressive Web App (PWA)?

Progressive web applications, or PWAs, are apps built with web technologies that we probably all know and love, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But they have the feel and functionality of an actual native app. PWAs are also built on and enhanced with modern APIs to deliver improved capabilities along with reliability and installability on any device.

Thanks to the technology we have today, almost any site can be turned into a PWA. This means you can build a PWA quickly compared to a native app which is pretty difficult to develop.

PWAs have gained in popularity lately. Much big company's sites are PWAs – for example, look at twitter.com, one of the widely used social media platforms.

If you visit the site on your smartphone, it can be installed on your home screen. When you open the saved site, it looks and performs just like a native app – no browser, just the installation you did on your home screen.

There's no difference running it from an IOS or Android phone – all you need to do is log in and you're ready to use it.

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What is a Single-Page Application (SPA)?

A single-page application (SPA) is a website design approach where each new page's content is served not from loading new HTML pages but generated dynamically through JavaScript's ability to manipulate the DOM elements on the existing page itself.

In a more traditional web page architecture, an index.html page might link to other HTML pages on the server that the browser will download and display from scratch.

A SPA approach allows the user to continue consuming and interacting with the page while new elements are being updated or fetched, and can result in much faster interactions and content reloading.

In addition, the HTML5 History API allows us to alter the page's URL without reloading the page, allowing us to create separate URLs for different views.

Once inside of the SPA, the application can dynamically fetch content from the server through AJAX requests or WebSockets.

This allows the browser to keep the current page open while making requests to the server in the background to fetch additional content or new "pages" altogether.

If you've ever begun a search query and had intermediate results appear below the input form as you were typing, then you've witnessed dynamic queries taking place in the background that updated those DOM elements.

The server queries can fetch any kind of data, often taking the form of JSON payloads, strings, or even HTML elements that are already prepared for rendering.

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Differences

And now, to add a good share of objectivity in our brief overview, let’s consider the main, principal differences between SPA and PWA solutions.

Speed

Both SPA- and PWA-solutions are much faster in performance than solutions based on standard architectures. PWAs have an additional advantage here, however – they can perform in an autonomous, offline mode.

Security

Single-page applications are noted for their vulnerability to different types of hacker attacks. They include cross-site scripting and man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. As a result, users have to use specific tools for additional protection. In their turn, PWAs use HTTPS protocol that ensures secure content delivery. Besides, it prevents MITM attacks and protects the data transmitted by default.

Accessibility

The ability to work in offline mode gives progressive web applications an upper hand compared to other solutions. Besides, the “Add to the home screen” feature makes PWAs more accessible than ever.

SEO

It is commonly considered that SPAs are utterly susceptible to search engine promotion. Nonetheless, there may appear certain indexation troubles. To avoid them, we’d recommend using polyfill.js – JS libraries that are compatible with all the existing browsers.

As for PWAs, there is a misconception that they are better indexed by Google search than other alternatives. This isn’t true and there are no significant advantages PWAs might have over SPAs.

Cost of development

Last but not least, what is more, affordable to implement – PWA or SPA? There aren’t many differences in terms of time expenses. Users find PWAs less cost-efficient, however, due to the scarcity of available profiled developers.

Conclusion

Single-page applications and progressive web apps are very close terms that have both similarities and differences. For example, single-page applications can be PWAs, but progressive web apps are not necessarily SPAs. As revolutionary as SPAs might have been, time seems to have slowly caught up with it. While SPAs and PWAs are kinds of the same, more and more people are choosing PWAs over SPAs and that’s understandable, given the benefits that PWAs bring.

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Shuvhojit Deb
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