You probably visit websites like Netflix, Pinterest and Gmail on a daily basis.
Did you know that these are all single page applications?
Perhaps you’re hearing this term for the first time, and you’re wondering what it means?
In this article, we’re going to provide more information on what a single page application is, the pros and cons, when you should use it, and if it is better than multi-page applications.
What Is a Single Page Application?
A single page application is an app or website that works within a browser and does not reload the page while you’re using it.
Everything loads on a single page, as the name suggests, instead of having multiple pages like the websites we’re all familiar with.
Think of Facebook – every feature and aspect of the app is displayed on a single page, hence the popularity of endless scrolling.
Now imagine what it would look like if it was a multi-page application – different menus and categories, leading to different pages.
It kind of loses its charm now, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, there are situations where an SPA isn’t the best option to use and vice versa.
Let’s explore when a single page app is appropriate and when not to rely on it.
Single page applications have a lot of advantages, which we’ll present briefly.
- Speed is considered the main advantage of using a single page application. Like most of the resources, a single page app requires things like HTML, CSS and various scripts, which are already loaded when you launch the application. This means the app doesn’t need to reload while you’re using it. The sole component that changes is the data transmitted from and to the server. The end result is that the app is very responsive and saves time from client-server communication.
- Development is simpler and smoother, as there’s no need to write code to render the pages on a server. It’s even better if you have a team of developers, as backend developers can focus on the API, while frontend developers carry out the UI.
- Mobile apps become easier to make, since the developer can reuse the backend code. Instead of using time to write code for both mobile and desktop applications, the developer uses the same server-side code and API.
- Debugging is easier, as well. The Chrome browser has special tools for main technologies SPAs use, (React & Angular Batarang) which makes the process faster and easier. You can also monitor network applications, and investigate page elements.
- Caching is efficient, since the app only sends one request, stores all transmitted data, and can then use this data.
Nothing in life is perfect, so let’s take a look at the bad side of using single page applications.
- Security risks are higher compared to “traditional” apps. This is because SPAs use XSS (Cross-site scripting) which enables attackers to inject malicious client-side scripts into applications.
- Memory leaks can happen. The app can run for hours at a time, which can deplete the available memory on the user’s machine.
Single Page Application Framework
After we’ve outlined the pros and cons of using single page applications, let’s discuss the popular frameworks used to develop SPA.
All EmberJS applications work as single page applications. This framework offers basic templates, however it also features some high-end functionalities such as:
- URL routing
- Easy testing and deployment of web apps
- In-built data layer allows for integrations with popular database environments
- Ember Add-ons for implementation of new functionalities
- Easy to use UI architecture
- Virtual DOMs
- High performance, highly scalable & flexible
- SoC (Separation of Concerns)
- Promotes reusability
- Testing and debugging
- No dependencies to code
- Dependency injection
- Two-way data binding
- Extensive JQuery support
- Automatic HTML tag updates
- Straightforward coding designs
- Very flexible
- Easy learning curve
- Minimalistic ecosystem
- Easy to use
- Two-way data binding
- Reusable components
- Easy integration with third-party applications
Popular Single Page Application Examples
Perhaps the most important aspect, from a non-technical point of view, is to imagine what single page applications can execute in practice.
At this point of the article, you might be feeling like:
That’s why we’re going to take a look at some popular single page apps and help you get a better understanding of SPA.
- Facebook. The social media giant is a great example of a single page application. Scrolling through the news feed, every piece of content is preloaded onto the page, so you don’t need to leave the page.
- Gmail. Whether you compose a message, browse through folders, or click on a message in your inbox, Gmail always remains on the same web page.
- Netflix. The streaming service uses the React framework to enable smooth access to users. Watching movies on your TV set, without much lag, is made easy thanks to SPA, especially considering how many users the site has, and how much data is being processed.
- Trello. The popular project management tool utilizes the single page application method to a large extent. Highly-interactive interface with just a single view, which makes it easier to organize your tasks without having to switch between pages.
What Is a Multi Page Application?
Multi page applications are the opposite of single page applications. The main difference is that the former consists of multiple pages. MPA’s are a classic approach to web development. These pages refresh every time data changes. Examples of MPA are forums, blogs, news websites.
- SEO is easier, since every page can be individually optimized, proper SEO management can be achieved. This way you can optimize for one keyword per page, basically the regular way SEO is done.
- Better navigation is present, as multi page applications use the classic website approach with menus and categories. Most people are very familiar with this type of navigation, and so it’s much easier to find your way around a website.
- Front-end and back-end integration is tedious, due to the fact that these components are deeply integrated, hence it can take longer to test and develop multi page applications.
- Security, maintenance and updates are more intimidating tasks for tech support to handle, because of the number of pages. Figuring out which page is causing issues takes longer than having a single page to troubleshoot.
Single Page Application vs. Multi Page Application: When to choose SPA over MPA
The question you’re bound to ask at this point: how do I decide whether I should use a single page application or multi page application to build my website?
To begin with, of course, it depends on the type of application/website you want to build. You need to assess your business needs and the technical resources you have available.
Consider the following questions:
Is SEO important for my website? Does my site have a large number of products and/or services? Do I want to build a dynamic platform? Do I need to manage large amounts of data? Is your web space limited?
Naturally, there’s a lot of thought processes that need to happen, as most of these questions can not be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
Another important “to-do” is to discuss matters with your marketing team beforehand, as building a single page website could make things difficult for them.
All in all, create a detailed plan and synchronize it with your team, and only then decide if you should use a SPA or MPA.
Now you know what a single page application is, and who needs it. Moreover, you have been acquainted with SPA frameworks, and the key differences between single and multi page apps.
Go ahead and tell them that Netflix is a single page application and how this helps them improve user experience.
But more importantly, use the information you’ve gathered and apply it to your business. That’s what truly counts.