What is a web application?
Web applications are popular due to the ubiquity of web browsers, and the convenience of using a web browser as a client, sometimes called a thin client. The ability to update and maintain web applications without distributing and installing software on potentially thousands of client computers is a key reason for their popularity. Common web applications include webmail, online retail sales, online auctions, wikis and many other functions.
A significant advantage of building web applications to support standard browser features is that they should perform as specified regardless of the operating system or OS version installed on a given client. Rather than creating clients for MS Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and other operating systems, the application can be written once and deployed almost anywhere. However, inconsistent implementations of the HTML, CSS, DOM and other browser specifications can cause problems in web application development and support. Additionally, the ability of users to customize many of the display settings of their browser (such as selecting different font sizes, colors, and typefaces, or disabling scripting support) can interfere with consistent implementation of a web application.
Another approach is to use Adobe Flash or Java applets to provide some or all of the user interface. Since most web browsers include support for these technologies (usually through plug-ins), Flash- or Java-based applications can be implemented with much of the same ease of deployment. Because they allow the programmer greater control over the interface, they bypass many browser-configuration issues, although incompatibilities between Java or Flash implementations on the client can introduce different complications. Because of their architectural similarities to traditional client-server applications, with a somewhat "thick" client, there is some dispute over whether to call systems of this sort "web applications"; an alternative term is "Rich Internet Application" (RIA).
Applications are usually broken into logical chunks called "tiers", where every tier is assigned a role.Traditional applications consist only of 1 tier, which resides on the client machine, but web applications lend themselves to a n-tiered approach by nature.Though many variations are possible, the most common structure is the three-tiered application.In its most common form, the three tiers are called presentation, application and storage, in this order. A web browser is the first tier (presentation), an engine using some dynamic Web content technology (such as ASP, ASP.NET, CGI, ColdFusion, JSP/Java, PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby on Rails or Struts2) is the middle tier (application logic), and a database is the third tier (storage).The web browser sends requests to the middle tier, which services them by making queries and updates against the database and generates a user interface.
For more complex applications, a 3-tier solution may fall short, and you may need a n-tiered approach, where the greatest benefit is breaking the business logic, which resides on the application tier, into a more fine-grained model.For example, creating a separate business logic tier. Or adding an integration tier that separates the data tier from the rest of tiers by providing an easy-to-use interface to access the data.For example, you would access the client data by calling a "list_clients()" function instead of making a SQL query directly against the client table on the database. That allows you to replace the underlying database without changing the other tiers.
There are some who view a web application as a two-tier architecture. This can be a "smart" client that performs all the work and queries a "dumb" server, or a "dumb" client that relies on a "smart" server. The client would handle the presentation tier, the server would have the database (storage tier), and the business logic (application tier) would be on one of them or on both. While this increases the scalability of the applications and separates the display and the database, it still doesn't allow for true specialization of layers, so most applications will outgrow this model.
An emerging strategy for application software companies is to provide web access to software previously distributed as local applications. Depending on the type of application, it may require the development of an entirely different browser-based interface, or merely adapting an existing application to use different presentation technology. These programs allow the user to pay a monthly or yearly fee for use of a software application without having to install it on a local hard drive. A company which follows this strategy is known as an application service provider (ASP), and ASPs are currently receiving much attention in the software industry.
Writing web applications
There are many web application frameworks which facilitate rapid application development by allowing the programmer to define a high-level description of the program. In addition, there is potential for the development of applications on Internet operating systems, although currently there are not many viable platforms that fit this model.
The use of web application frameworks can often reduce the number of errors in a program, both by making the code simpler, and by allowing one team to concentrate just on the framework. In applications which are exposed to constant hacking attempts on the Internet, security-related problems caused by errors in the program are a big issue. Frameworks may also promote the use of best practices such as GET after POST.
Web application security
The Web Application Security Consortium (WASC) and OWASP are projects developed with the intention of documenting how to avoid security problems in web applications. A web application security scanner is specialized software for detecting security problems in web applications.
Browser applications typically include simple office software (word processors, online spreadsheets, and presentation tools), with Google Docs being the most notable example, and can also include more advanced applications such as project management, computer-aided design, video editing and point-of-sale
Browser applications typically require little or no disk space on the client, upgrade automatically with new features, integrate easily into other web procedures, such as email and searching. They also provide cross-platform compatibility (i.e., Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) because they operate within a web browser window.
Standards compliance is an issue with any non-typical office document creator, which causes problems when file sharing and collaboration becomes critical. Also, browser applications rely on application files accessed on remote servers through the Internet. Therefore, when connection is interrupted, the application is no longer usable. Google Gears is a platform to ameliorate this issue and improve the usability of browser applications.