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Maryna Medushevska
December 5, 2023

How to build a web application: a detailed guide

The total number of internet users worldwide exceeded 5 billion at the beginning of 2023. By developing a web application, you can satisfy their communication needs, help them make online purchases, and find the required information. Moreover, building a web application offers more opportunities to increase your customer base.

So, if you wonder how to create a web app from scratch but do not know where to start, our extensive guide on the web app development process will be a good help. Here, we discuss the following steps to take to develop a web app:

Step 1. Clarify the problem to solve

Step 2. Conduct market research

Step 3. Choose the web app type

Step 4. Define the required functionality

Step 5. Create the web app’s workflow

Step 6. Consider the UI/UX design

Step 7. Create a prototype

Step 8. Consider building an MVP first

Step 9. Decide on the development approach

Step 10. Build the web app application

What is a web app?

In simple terms, a web application is software that has its code stored on a distant server, not on your device like a regular app. You can use it by just opening a web browser. Popular examples of web applications include Gmail, Pinterest, Spotify, Basecamp, and Netflix.

You might be curious how these programs can be web apps when they have their own icons and don’t seem like regular browsers. 

Well, modern web apps are designed to look and feel like native mobile applications. But when you “install” a web app on your device, you’re essentially adding a shortcut to the app on your home screen – it’s like a direct link to the content without actually storing the app itself on your device.

Here’s a simple way to think about how a web application works:

Business benefits of web apps

  • Cross-platform compatibility

Unlike native apps designed for specific platforms, web apps work seamlessly across all operating systems. Developing a web application that is compatible with Windows, Mac OS, or Android broadens your customer reach, as users can access it on various devices. 

Additionally, users can choose their preferred browser, such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome.

  • Enhanced security

Web applications are typically deployed on dedicated servers managed by skilled administrators. They ensure the security of your sensitive information and will identify potential breaches safeguarding your business.

  • Faster development

Web apps tend to take less time to develop than native mobile applications, making investing in web application development a strategic choice. This accelerates time-to-market, allowing you to launch software solutions ahead of market competitors.

  • Cost efficiency

Opting for web app programming helps reduce operational costs significantly. Without the need for hardware purchases, regular device upgrades, and complex system maintenance, capital expenditures are minimized. The simplified architecture of web applications also requires less ongoing support and maintenance, further cutting costs.

What a web app is not?

If you’re new to web application development, you may be confused about the difference between web apps, websites, and mobile apps. Here is a comparison table to help you out.


We have all the necessary specialists to ensure that your web app is developed on schedule while meeting market demands for quality and functionality. Check our services to learn exactly how we can help.

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How to create a web application?

Now that you know what a web application is, how it works, and what advantages it has, let’s proceed to the main stages of the web application development process. Armed with this information, you will know how to create a web app in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

Step 1. Clarify the problem to solve

Your first step is to decide which goal you want to reach with your application. This will affect the choice of features, which in turn will decide the project scope, timeline, and cost.

Basically, there are two key reasons to create a new product: 

  • to solve a pain point. Example: Slack addresses the issue of collaboration in remote teams by providing a platform for real-time messaging, file-sharing, and project management.
  • to provide a benefit. Example: Canva provides a benefit by simplifying the creation of graphics, presentations, and marketing materials for people without advanced design skills.

What is the purpose of your web app development project? Clearly identify the specific outcomes and benefits you expect.

Step 2. Conduct market research

You know what kind of web app you want to create, but how can you be sure anyone will want to use it? To maximize the chance of market success of your web application, we recommend looking at industry reports and talking to potential users. Look for answers to the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience for your web app? Understand the needs and preferences of the potential users and use this information to tailor your idea to their specific demands. This way, you’ll ensure that there is a genuine need for your solution and it has the potential for success;
  • Are there similar solutions already available? Identify your competitors and understand what their apps offer. This way, you can think of a way to differentiate your web app, ensuring it provides unique value and stands out in the market;
  • What technologies are popular for projects like yours? Looking at trends and competitors will help you make informed decisions about the technology stack, design elements, and features that will make your web app competitive and up-to-date;
  • What are the common challenges and risks? By monitoring competitors, you can make conclusions about the best and worst solutions and strategies and apply them to your business;
  • What are the best monetization strategies? By looking at existing solutions, you will develop a realistic idea about effective revenue models and monetization strategies.
What is product-market fit?

Step 3. Choose the web app type

Another important factor to consider when thinking about how to make a web app is its type. Different types of web applications vary in their functionality, purpose, and features. The most popular web app types are as follows:

  • Progressive web applications (PWAs). Though these web apps are similar to websites, they offer a seamless native mobile app experience. They support offline work, push notifications, and responsive pages. Key business advantages of progressive web apps include improved conversion rates, enhanced customer engagement, and higher search rankings.
  • Single-page applications (SPAs). Unlike other web apps, SPAs don’t necessitate reloading pages from the server. Most content remains unchanged, with only specific parts requiring updates. This leads to better performance and user experience, streamlining business web app development. Popular examples include Trello, Gmail, Twitter, and PayPal.
  • Multi-page applications (MPAs). Unlike previous web app types, MPAs consist of multiple pages that fully refresh whenever data changes. Examples include online stores, web portals, and business web applications.
  • Portal web applications. These apps mandate authentication and authorization. Typically used by large enterprises, they create personal profiles for employees or partners, grant access to specific information, and track activities.
  • CMS web applications. Content management systems enable easy creation, management, and modification of content without requiring technical expertise or knowledge of markup languages. Well-known CMSs include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal.
  • Static web apps. These applications don’t involve user-server interaction. Content is delivered to browsers without server-side alterations, making them suitable for solutions that don’t require personalized or regularly updated content.
  • Dynamic apps. In contrast, dynamic web apps engage users actively, generating real-time data in response to user requests. They are technically complex, utilizing various programming languages like PHP or ASP.NET for web application development.
  • E-commerce web applications. These apps facilitate online buying and selling, incorporating advanced features such as electronic payment gateways, mobile e-commerce, chatbots, and inventory management.

Step 4. Define the required functionality

Your next step in the “how to make a web app” quest is to choose the right functionality for your future application. 

The basic functionalities that make software a web app include:

  • User interface components, including navigation bar, tabs, search bar, error messages, etc.;
  • Client-server interaction components;
  • Data storage and management, including databases, caching mechanisms, encryption, etc;
  • Authentication and authorization features to ensure that only authorized users can access specific features or data;
  • State management features to provide a seamless and consistent user experience;
  • Dynamic content that changes based on user interactions, such as forms and buttons;
  • Cross-browser compatibility;
  • Responsiveness.

Your web app will have additional features that vary based on the type of web app you’re creating. Thus, for an e-commerce web application, you should consider a seamless checkout process, and multiple payment gateways, along with the fundamental features.

Step 5. Create the web app workflow

Consider your target audience’s needs and preferences when outlining the steps they should follow to achieve their goals in your web application. Depending on the app’s type, users may have various goals and ways to achieve them. 

Here’s a simplified guide to creating a web app’s workflow:

  • Identify entry points through which users will start their journey. This may be through logging in, clicking on specific links, or submitting forms.
  • Map user paths, which are the sequences of decisions and actions users may take to complete specific tasks.
  • Create user journey maps or flowcharts to illustrate the sequence of interactions and decisions users will encounter.
  • Seek feedback from stakeholders to ensure the workflow aligns with the overall goals and vision of the web app.
  • Ensure the workflow remains consistent and optimized for various devices, accommodating the diverse ways users access the application.
A sample workflow for a web app

Step 6. Consider the design of your web app

Balancing aesthetics and functionality while ensuring consistency across various devices and platforms is a significant challenge in web application development. Here are considerations to address these challenges:

  • Develop wireframes using the user flow created earlier. This helps establish the basic layout and structure of the web app, focusing on content placement, navigation, and overall flow;
  • Define visual identity, incorporating color schemes, typography, and brand elements that resonate with your web app’s purpose;
  • Use visual hierarchy to guide users’ attention. Emphasize important elements and create a clear flow of information.
  • Prioritize designing for mobile devices before scaling up to larger screens. This approach helps identify and emphasize essential features and content.
  • Implement subtle animations and micro-interactions to enhance user engagement and provide feedback for user actions.
  • Create a style guide to guide future design decisions.

Provide detailed design specifications for developers, including dimensions, colors, and font sizes. This ensures accurate implementation and consistency across the entire web application development process.

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Step 7. Create a prototype (optional)

A prototype is an interactive model of an application. It is designed to demonstrate the functionality, user interface, and user experience of the final product before full development begins.

By creating a prototype before full web app development, you can provide clarity and establish a better understanding between stakeholders. It also allows to test the assumptions about user behavior and expectations, helping to identify how to make a web app with minimum risks.

Here’s a recommended approach for building your web application prototype:

  • Clarify the assumptions you want to test. This will determine the scope of the prototype.
  • Create low-fidelity wireframes considering the earlier created user flow. Focus on the overall layout and hierarchy without worrying about details.
  • Gradually add visual elements and incorporate micro-interactions and animations to demonstrate how the interface responds to user actions.
  • Share the prototype with stakeholders, team members, and anyone involved in the project and encourage them to give feedback.
A sample prototype for a web app

Step 8. Consider building an MVP first (optional)

If you wonder how to create a web app with minimum investment, we recommend developing an MVP first. The concept of a minimum viable product allows you to validate your business idea and ensure that you achieve product-market fit without extensive time or resource commitments.

While prototyping primarily focuses on testing specific design assumptions and enhancing collaboration among stakeholders, the MVP approach involves constructing basic functionality to satisfy early adopters. It includes all the essential features needed for users to accomplish their goals but may lack some non-essential, “nice-to-have” features.

To build an MVP, consider the following:

  • Identify the essential features of your web application without which it won’t be able to perform the intended functions.
  • Refine user flows to adjust them to incorporate the selected features for the MVP.
  • Design a user interface that is functional and user-friendly. Keep the design clean and focused on the essential elements required for the core features.
  • Develop the MVP and conduct thorough testing to identify and address any bugs or issues.
  • Launch the MVP to a limited audience or beta testers and collect feedback.
  • Plan the next development iterations to incorporate improvements based on user demand.

The following metrics will help you define whether your web application brings value to the target audience:

  • Acquisition rate – number of potential buyers who came across your product within a certain period.
  • Customer acquisition cost – this metric refers to the total amount of money spent on one customer over the business lifetime.
  • Conversion rate – the percentage of visitors who turned into paid customers.
  • Return on investment (ROI) – we divide the profit we get on an investment by the cost of this investment.

Read also: How to Build an MVP step by step? 

Step 9. Decide on the development approach

Two popular approaches to custom web app development are utilizing low-code platforms and opting for outsourcing with a software development company. Let’s delve into each option:

Low-code or no-code development is known for its speed and reduced development cost, as there is little manual labor involved. Plus, you will likely not need a full team of expert developers; individuals with basic coding knowledge can work on your project under the supervision of one expert.

However, low-code platforms usually come with a pre-defined set of features that you can choose from to mix and match. That means you will be limited in terms of customization and won’t be able to implement unique features. Low-code development also depends on the vendor in terms of scalability and use of resources.

Outsourcing offsets the disadvantages of low-code platforms. With a team of professional developers, you are free to implement any functionality using any technologies of your choice. You will also get technical support.

There aren’t really any specific disadvantages to this engagement model, except that you have to ensure perfect understanding and communication between your team and the outsourced employees to get the expected result.

Here is the comparison between these two models:

FactorLow-code developmentOutsourcing
Speed of developmentRapid development with visual interfaces and pre-built componentsEfficient development with access to a skilled external team
CostPotentially lower initial costs due to reduced effortsCosts may vary based on the outsourcing partner’s location and expertise
ControlLimited control over underlying code; may be a challenge for highly customized solutionsSome control is relinquished to the external development team; project oversight is critical
ScalabilityLimited scalability for highly complex or large-scale projectsFully scalable
CustomizationLimited customization due to reliance on built-in features and componentsHigh customization potential, depending on the outsourcing partner’s capabilities
Risk managementLow risk of development errors due to visual development tools and templatesExternal dependencies may introduce risks; risk mitigation strategies are crucial
Best suited forProjects with standard requirements and quick time-to-market goalsWide range of projects

Read also: Top 5 Upwork alternatives to hire better software developers

Step 10. Build the web application

Similar to other software, a traditional web application is made up of three layers: the front-end, the back-end, and a database. Now, let’s highlight the important aspects to focus on for each of these layers:

Web application database

  • Design the database structure using an Entity Relationship Diagram (ERD). Identify entities, relationships, and attributes.
  • Select a suitable Database Management System (DBMS), such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or MongoDB, based on your application’s requirements.
  • Create database schema, including tables, indexes, and relationships.

Building the back-end layer

  • Choose a programming language. Common choices include JavaScript (Node.js), Python, Ruby, Java, or PHP.
  • Implement RESTful APIs to handle communication between the front-end and back-end.
  • Implement user authentication and authorization mechanisms to ensure secure access to your web application.
  • Handle the business logic of your application. This includes processing user requests, interacting with the database, and performing necessary computations.

Building the front-end layer

  • Choose a front-end framework or library such as React, Angular, or Vue.js.
  • Implement front-end components using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Connect the front-end to the back-end by making API calls to fetch and update data. Ensure seamless communication between the two layers.
  • Implement client-side logic for user interactions, such as form validations, dynamic content updates, and responsive design for various devices.

Finally, test and deploy your web app onto a hosting platform. Set up monitoring tools to track its performance and create technical and user documentation.

Prototype vs. MVP vs. full product: which one do you need?

Deciding between a prototype, MVP, and a full product for your web application involves weighing benefits against potential drawbacks. Prototyping and MVP stages help manage risks but may extend development time and costs. 

How do you determine if you need these steps or can skip them for a full web application right away?

Let’s explore the options and their considerations:

  • Skip prototyping and build an MVP

If your web application concept is straightforward and you have a clear understanding of requirements, skipping the prototyping phase is reasonable. This is also applicable when time is crucial and you need to swiftly test a more developed version in the market.

  • Build a prototype and skip the MVP stage

An MVP tests product-market fit with minimal investment. However, if your project places a higher priority on achieving an aesthetically pleasing visual representation and you’re confident in moving directly to the full product, skipping the MVP stage is a viable option.

  • Skip both the prototype and MVP

When your project has a well-defined scope with minimal uncertainty about user needs, market fit, and functionality, prototyping and MVP development may not provide significant value.

  • Build both a prototype and an MVP

Projects with uncertainties in early design concepts and fundamental features will highly benefit from both the prototyping and MVP stages. This is common in first-mover and experimental development projects where initial user feedback is crucial, and the team aims to validate core functionalities before investing in a complete product.

Should you build an MVP or a prototype? A decision tree

Challenges of web application development

Having a web app offers various benefits for businesses like meeting user needs on different devices with fewer resources. However, there are common challenges that arise due to the nature of web applications.

  • Slow operation speed

In comparison to mobile apps, web apps tend to encounter issues with slower loading and running times, primarily due to their reliance on networks and real-time rendering. 

To enhance loading times, it’s crucial to minimize the number of graphic elements and carefully control their sizes. Additionally, web app developers need to be smart about leveraging browser caching capabilities. 

Implementing code optimization strategies for server-side rendering and conducting browser compatibility tests is also vital for the good performance of a web application.

  • Limited functionality

Native apps traditionally had an advantage in accessing device-specific features like the camera, GPS, and sensors. However, progressive web app (PWA) features and APIs help overcome these limitations. 

Some PWAs even offer offline functionality and push notifications, typically associated with native software.

Moreover, investing in a responsive and intuitive design is essential. Adopting design principles aligned with specific platform guidelines, such as Material Design for Android and Human Interface Guidelines for iOS, ensures a seamless user experience across different devices akin to native software.

  • Distribution difficulties

Web apps typically do not get listed on traditional app stores like the Apple App Store or Google Play Store like native mobile apps do. This lack of centralized visibility can make it harder for users to discover and install them.

To tackle this issue, enhance web app discoverability through search engine optimization (SEO) and online marketing. Additionally, consider listing the web app in app directories to increase its chances of being found by users.

Web application development cost

To determine the investment needed for web app development, you should know the key factors that influence the total cost of the completed solution. These are project scope, UI/UX design complexity, and hiring options.

The primary factor to consider is the project scope. Are you making a simple online store or a complex booking management system? Is integration with multiple third-party services required? Keep in mind that a more sophisticated product comes with a higher price tag.

For specific cost estimates, based on our experience, a basic custom web application typically ranges from $80,000 to $100,000 or more. This includes the minimum content and interactive elements needed.

If you’re planning a medium-sized web development project, like an e-commerce app or a solution for a small company, budgeting between $130,000 and $180,000 is common. These projects usually involve interactive elements, a user account system, an admin panel, and some integrations.

Complex applications designed for broad and unstructured objectives or nonlinear workflows come with a higher price range. Expect to invest $180,000 to $300,000 or more for such projects.

Build web apps easily with an experienced development team

Everything is possible with a knowledgeable team. Here are some things to keep in mind as you choose web application developers:

  • Experience and expertise: Look for specialists with relevant experience in web app development, especially in your industry or with similar functionalities. Check their portfolio, case studies, and client references to assess the quality of their work.
  • Technology stack: If you have specific technology-related requirements, ensure the candidates have relevant proficiency. If not, let the team decide how to develop the web application.
  • Communication: Choose a team that values transparency and collaborative decision-making. They must communicate clearly, understand your requirements, and be responsive to your queries.
  • Project management approach: Inquire what is their framework for delivering a project on time and within scope. Ensure that there is a mutual understanding of project milestones and payment terms.
  • Post-launch support: A reliable development team should offer ongoing support to ensure the smooth operation of your web app.

If you haven’t chosen a specific web app development company, Syndicode has a team of experienced business analysts, designers, developers, and quality assurance engineers. They’ll thoroughly assess your project to determine how to create a web app in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

An example of our work is Kinderlime, an automation software for schools that streamlines paperwork and enhances communication between schools and parents. Our professionals added new functionality using custom APIs and improved the application’s UI for better intuitiveness.

The results speak for themselves – Kinderlime received awards for ease of use and effectiveness, eventually merging with a prominent giant in the childcare management industry.

But don’t just take our word for it. Share your contact details and preferred times, and our representative will reach out to provide a deeper understanding of our capabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which programming language is used for web app development? Arrow right

    The top 5 most popular programming languages for web app development are Java, PHP, Python, JavaScript, and Ruby. The robust security features of Java make it a good choice for building banking and fintech web applications. While PHP is suitable for building static and dynamic web projects. Owing to the simplicity of Python code that reduces the development time considerably, this programming language is one of the most preferred options for custom web app development. JavaScript allows the creation of interactive web pages. Finally, Ruby works best for creating e-commerce web applications and minimum viable products.

  • What are the steps of creating a web app? Arrow right

    The first step is the exploration of the problem you are going to solve with your web app. Is it big enough to require a solution? The next stage is market research to learn more about your target audience and competitors. Then, you should list the required features that will allow your application to perform its functions. Your next step is to find a reliable software development team to bring your ideas to reality and convert them into a working product. They will help you choose the right technologies for your project and launch a minimum viable product to validate your ideas. After exploring key metrics and feedback from initial users, you can consider releasing a fully-featured web application.

  • How many types of web apps are there? Arrow right

    There are eight main types of web applications. The first is a progressive web application offering users a native mobile app experience. Then we should mention multi-page applications and single-page apps like Gmail or Twitter that do not require reloading web pages from the server. Besides, there are portal web applications that work best for big corporations. Content management systems allow companies to create, manage, and modify content while e-commerce web apps promote online shopping. Finally, there are static and dynamic web applications.

  • How long does it take to build a full-stack web app? Arrow right

    The time frames for a particular web application may vary depending on the project type and its complexity. However, based on our web app development experience, we can say for sure that, in general, it takes 4.5 months to create the front side of the web app and build its back-end infrastructure. However, if your software development company uses some ready-made solutions, the project will be completed and customized earlier, and you will get your product delivered in 3.5 months.

  • Is it easy to build a web app from scratch? Arrow right

    The ease of making a web application can vary depending on its complexity, the technologies used, and the experience level of the development team. Thus, a to-do list is a relatively simple project that doesn’t require an extensive team of developers and can be done by someone with beginner programming skills. A project management tool, on the other hand, is a more complex web app that involves multiple user roles, real-time updates, and integration with external services. It will take more time and resources to build.

  • Is it cheaper to build a web app or a website? Arrow right

    Whether a web app or a website is cheaper depends on the specific project requirements. Simple websites tend to be more cost-effective, while complex web apps may have higher development costs. The way to effective cost management lies through a thoroughly defined project scope, choosing appropriate technologies, and working with a skilled custom software development services provider.