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What Is a Progressive Web App? A Full Guide to PWA

Progressive Web App

Nowadays, each company has its own website, but due to the market situation, it becomes necessary to create a native app. So users have more than a choice of what to use. Customers get a product with a quick launch, good performance, and an ability to access offline. However, the development of such a native app takes a lot of spendings.

But you can get a good product that costs less but has functionality similar to native apps. And we are talking about progressive web apps (PWA).

From this article, you’ll find out about what PWA is, how it can help develop your business, and what are the benefits of PWA versus native apps and web Apps.

What is a Progressive Web App?

A progressive web app is a website transformed into a mobile app in a browser (visually and functionally). Like websites, PWAs are written in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

For the first time, PWAs appeared in 2015 only for Android, and a little later, in 2018, became available on iOS 11.3. On Android, PWAs work almost like native apps. So as native ones, progressive web apps have speech recognition, payment ability, log into the app using fingerprint authentication, and much more.

But, if the app requires access to the device functions, then it needs additional APIs (Bluetooth, Geolocation API, NFS API). Besides, you may need PWA Builder if you decide, for example, to run your PWA in Google Play.

On iOS, PWAs work well too but compared to native ones, Apple doesn’t support them as much. For example, push notifications on PWA don’t work in Safari.

So, how PWAs work? When you go to such a website, you can install a progressive app on your mobile device without Google Play or App Store helping. After that, its icon appears on the device home screen. When the user clicks on it, the web page opens in a separate window.

PWAs have online and offline access, push notifications, synchronization in the background. You don’t even need a URL address to switch to full-screen mode. Also, the PWA is served over HTTPS, so all your data will be confidential and protected.

What are the Advantages of PWA for Users and Businesses?

It’s cheaper to convert a website into a progressive web app than build a native one. And this is one of the main PWA advantages. You also save development time.

PWA advantages for users:

  • PWA has high productivity because it deals with the local cache, and fewer requests are sent to the server.
  • A PWA weighs less than native apps.
  • Users can view content with a limited Internet connection or its lack because PWAs can work offline.
  • It’s quicker to install PWA – users need to go to the site and add it to the main device screen in one click. In contrast, the native app installation takes more actions (go to the Google Play/App Store, find the app, click “install”, open and launch the app).

PWA advantages for businesses:

  • You don’t need to reckon in the App Store or Google Play requirements so that users can install your PWA. Accordingly, you don’t need to pay them a 30% commission.
  • The development takes less time, as PWA works well on different OS.
  • It’s available to send push notifications to users in Windows, Linux, ChromeOS, and macOS (not Safari). For example, if you’ve installed Google Duo PWA and someone is calling you in Duo, you’ll receive a notification about it.
  • In PWA it’s easier to run updates. When going to the site, users always get its current version.

PWA helps businesses develop. Such well-known companies as Pinterest, Starbucks, Twitter, Google, Forbes, The Washington Post, and Uber use PWA. 

What are the differences between PWA, Native, and Web Apps?

The progressive web app is like a website with some additional benefits that native apps have. To understand the difference between native app, web app, and PWA, take a closer look at each type.

Native app.

Native apps are designed for Android and iOS and installed on a mobile device via Google Play and App Store. Hence, you need to comply with the app stores’ terms to update the app on a device. Native apps have full access to the device’s hardware and mostly available when there is an Internet connection.

Web app.

The web app runs in a browser on a remote server, and you needn’t install it on the device. When the app updates, users visit the website and immediately use the already updated version. The web app requires an Internet connection to access it and has limited access to the device’s hardware. 

Progressive web app.

PWAs contain the same features and user interface as native apps. But like web apps, PWAs don’t have full access to mobile device hardware, don’t need to be installed, and are updated automatically. These apps use a cache so users can view content even when an Internet connection is unavailable.

What does PWA do?

Progressive apps aren’t attached to frameworks or other tools. To make a PWA from a website, you need to comprise the service worker and the manifest.json file. Let’s see what these are.

Service worker.

A service worker (SW) is a file that’s run in the browser in the background. It’s written in the JavaScript programming language. Secure HTTPS connection is an essential prerequisite for the work of SW.

Here are some of the key PWA features that are supported by the service workers:

  • Offline mode.

When the user opens the app sometime later, the interface loads instantly. This is because the service worker caches it. But users can’t receive and send messages, for example, or make payment without an Internet connection. However, they can view message history as the site is still running.

  • Push notifications.

When the PWA isn’t active, users can view push notifications that come from the server. This is since service workers work separately from the app.

  • Synchronization in the background.

When users send a message, the service worker checks their Internet connection. If it’s absent, the service worker will wait for the network connection to send the message.

Manifest file.

The manifest file is a JSON file that helps developers to control how your PWA should be launched (in full-screen mode, don’t contain a visible URL line), what screen orientation should be, how the app will look on it, and is it possible to add a PWA to the main screen.

To build a PWA you can use such technologies as React, Polymer, Ionic, and AMP. Also, find out more about how Angular brings easier PWA.

When a PWA development prevails over the website?

Here are some reasons:

  • The app doesn’t need advanced features
  • Interaction for the app with native features like geolocation or Bluetooth is unnecessary
  • The user interface doesn’t need customization
  • Want to enter the market quickly, but your time and  budget are limited
  • You need your app to work on different OS and devices
  • Indexing by search engines is crucial

PWA is also suitable for media as they provide users with offline access to cached data, and great for booking tickets, shopping online.

One of the first companies that adopted PWA is The Washington Post, after that – Financial Times.

Summing up

PWAs provide both companies and ordinary users with a lot of benefits. Such apps aren’t expensive due to the slight building complexity. But they have limitations, especially on iOS. So you can do otherwise and create a cross-platform app on Flutter. It also takes less time and money spending. And your app will work well on both iOS and Android.

About the Guest Author

Kate Orekhova is a tech writer at Cleveroad. A writer by day and a reader at night, she’s keen on technology and innovations. Her passion is to tell people about the latest tech trends in the world of IT.

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