What is a progressive web app?

You’ve probably heard plenty of buzz about something called progressive web apps over the past couple of years – you might have even been given the opportunity to use some of these on your devices. You’re also here reading this article, so it’s probably safe to say you’re also at least somewhat interested in learning more about progressive web apps. Let’s dive into what they are, some characteristics of one, and how progressive web apps affect you as a developer.

What’s this all about then?

A progressive web app is a program that is stored on a server somewhere and given to the user on a web browser, but is delivered with and interacted with as a native application experience. Stated more simply, it is a web application that feels like a native application to the user. It is built using web development technologies (browser, server, database, etc.), but it’s created with the design and feel of being a native application for the end users. It is a great attempt at creating an application that combines the benefits of a web-based application and a native application.

Progressive web apps have some defining characteristics, like they are:

  1. Reliable: The app should load instantly even under poor network conditions.
  2. Lighting fast and app-like: The app should respond to the user’s actions with speed and with a smooth interaction.
  3. Engaging and responsive: The app should give the feeling that it was made specifically for that device, but it should be able to work across all platforms.
  4. Protected and secure: Since it is still a web app, it is served over HTTPS to make sure the contents of the app are not messed with.
  5. Installable: The app can be saved to a device’s home screen for offline usage.
  6. Linkable: The app can be shared and accessed through a URL.
  7. Up-to-date: The application is always up to date using service workers. 

Why should you care?

Now let’s dive into why application developers should be interested in progressive web apps. As you probably already noticed when reading the list above this, there are plenty of benefits to using progressive web apps for the user. First off, it keeps the simplicity and speed of developing a web application. It is built using the same old web technology that you have been building your web application with, which tends to be easier and cheaper to get developed compared to a native application because that is device specific, and involves learning more techonologies.

Second, it has service workers that allow users to use the application with some offline functionality. The service workers usually cache application resources in order to be used offline. In a standard web app, you would not be able to access anything offline, but in a progressive web app it gives that added benefit to the user.

Third, it allows for fluidity between all of your devices. Because the user interface and the interactions with it are the same on all devices, it is easy for the user to use the progressive web app on multiple platforms.

Fourth, learning about the topic of building a progressive web application does not involve you learning a new technology if you have already been developing web applications for some time now. All you need to do as a developer is to build the web application with the correct principles in mind when starting out.

Looking ahead

Progressive web appsare an awesome combination of a web app and a native app that have the combined benefits of developing either/or, and bringing it to the user in one application. You can build the application more easily, it can be used at least partially offline, it allows for a nice fluidity between all of your devices, and it does not require much extra learning on your part. I would highly suggest you take this approach into consideration when building your next application.

If you wanted to take a look at some of the progressive web apps that are out today, check out this link. It gives you a link to some of the better progressive web applications to date. 

About the author

Antonio Cucciniello is a Software Engineer with a background in C, C++ and JavaScript (Node.Js) from New Jersey.   His most recent project called Edit Docs is an Amazon Echo skill that allows users to edit Google Drive files using your voice.  He loves building cool things with software, reading books on self-help and improvement, finance, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on twitter @antocucciniello, and follow him on GitHub here: https://github.com/acucciniello

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