Single-Page Apps vs Multi-Page Apps: What To Choose For Web Development

Krunal Shah

Jun 23, 2020 | 10 min read

Single-Page Apps vs Multi-Page Apps

The journey of a successful web application begins with choosing the right technology stack and the right architecture for it. There has been an ongoing debate about single-page apps vs multi-page apps when it comes to web development. With so many different opinions around, you may find it hard to determine which architecture to use for your web application. In this blog, we present a crystal clear explanation of the pros and cons of single-page applications vs multi-page applications. In the end, we have also listed the best use cases for each type.

What is a single-page application?

Applications that are contained within one web page are called single-page applications (SPA).

The browser downloads the entire app data when you visit SPA web applications. Thus, you can browse through different parts of the app seamlessly and the page won’t reload every time you click on something.

This is because a single page application executes the logic in the browser, instead of a server. It does so with JavaScript frameworks that can lift this heavy data on the client-side. JavaScript also enables an SPA to reload only those parts of the app that a user requests for, not the entire app. As a result, SPAs are known to deliver fast and efficient performance.

Trello web-based list-making application

Image source: Trello

Top JavaScript frameworks are commonly used to build beautiful, high performing single-page applications. Angular with its advanced features and Reactjs with its exhaustive library are popular choices for this application type.

Even though SPA is a more recent phenomenon, it is everywhere around us. Most Google applications like Gmail and Google Docs are single-page applications built with Angular. Even GitHub is a single-page application. Many online content platforms are also SPAs. Netflix is a prominent example of a single-page application.

Popular social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter were single-page applications built with Reactjs. However, these are more of hybrid apps that also use a multi-page architecture for some actions. For instance, scrolling through the feed doesn’t need a page to reload. It is a complete SPA. However, moving from the Feed to other tabs like Photos or Friends does need a page to reload.

What is a multi-page application?

As the name suggests, a multi-page application (MPA) is an app that has more than one page. It works in a traditional way, requiring the app to reload entirely every time a user interacts with it.

Multi-Page Application

MPAs generally have large data and complex architecture. The pages in MPAs mostly contain static content and links to go to other internal pages. This is why MPAs have a more intricate and multi-layered user interface.

You can build an MPA simply with HTML and CSS. However, many developers also choose to use JavaScript and jQuery to improve the performance of the app.

Most large scale eCommerce apps are built as multi-page applications.

Single-page apps vs Multi-page apps: Advantages of single-page applications

Single-page applications came into being only because developers wanted to overcome the limitations posed by multi-page applications. The major advantages of building single-page applications are:

Speed and responsiveness

When it comes to single-page apps vs multi-page apps in terms of performance, the former always wins. In single-page apps, most application code resources like HTML, CSS, and scripts don’t need to be loaded with every interaction. After the initial loading, only new data moves back and forth between the server and the browser.

Page Lifecycle

Additionally, single-page applications only reload the required content while a user asks for it. So the server payload in these apps is very light. As a result, single-page apps are much faster to use and interact with than multi-page applications.

Mobile-friendliness

Considering how websites receive a major chunk of traffic from mobile devices, every web application needs to have a mobile-friendly version. Single-page applications enable you to reuse the backend code of your web app for building the mobile app.

Single-page application frameworks you use can make the mobile app development process even easier and faster. Moreover, since the UI in SPAs is already designed in the form of an application, you don’t need to make many efforts in readjusting the same for mobile devices.

Linear user experience

Linear User Experience

Single-page applications present an organized, linear interface to the user. Everything from the name of the web app to the listing of its content is structured from top to bottom on one page. This structure makes it extremely easy to navigate SPAs.

Because there is no need to click links to transition from one phase of the content to another, users can experience a seamless journey while conveniently scrolling through the application.

A clear division between the front end and the back end

Single-page applications allow you to keep the front end and the back end completely independent. The main advantage of this is your development team can work on both front end and back end simultaneously.

Moreover, because an SPA can distinguish data from UI elements, testing SPAs becomes much less tedious.

SPAs also make it easy to scale the app or make changes in how the data enters the framework. You can do so easily without having to worry about its implications on the UI of the web application. Conversely, you can rewrite the front end of the app with no impact on the server except for a few static files.

Caching capabilities and offline support

Single-page applications are loved for their ability to cache any local data efficiently. An SPA needs to send a request to the server only once. After that, it stores all the data it receives from the server so that it can use this data whenever the need be. As a result, SPAs can also function to a great extent even when the device loses internet connection.

Easy debugging with chrome

Debugging with chrome is much easier in single-page applications than multi-page applications. There are two underlying reasons for this. First, you can view the entire code simultaneously on one page. Secondly, SPAs are built with frameworks that have their own debugging tools. For instance, you can easily debug an SPA built with React or Vue with React developer tools and Vue.js devtools respectively.

Disadvantages of single-page applications

Choosing the single-page app architecture does come with its own share of disadvantages. However, most of these limitations can be overcome by implementing single-page application best practices.

SPAs aren’t very SEO friendly

SEO can be a deciding factor in the single-page apps vs multi-page apps consideration. Single-page applications are run using JavaScript and it loads content only after an interaction by the user. So when a web crawler attempts to index the page in the search engine, it looks like an empty page with no content.

Moreover, SPAs are developed by combining all the content into one web page. So you can’t rank different parts of your content for relevant keywords. However, with server-side rendering and intelligent search engine optimization practices, you can overcome this limitation.

SPAs need additional effort to facilitate back and forward functions

One of the major disadvantages of SPAs is that users can’t go back to the previous state of the app when they press the back button. Instead, the browser takes them to the previous page because it can’t save visitor’s jump between different states of the SPA. This can get tedious for the users.

However, this problem too can be solved by equipping SPA frameworks with HTML5 History API. Using this app, developers can access browser navigation history through JavaScript.

SPAs are at a greater security risk

SPAs greater security risk

Although securing a single-page application is much faster than securing an MPA, it may not necessarily prove to be very effective. SPAs run on JavaScript and JavaScript doesn’t do code compilation. Due to this, hackers can exploit cross-site scripting (XSS) to gain access to the client-side codebase of the app and inject it with malicious code.

The best defence against this security threat is to ensure you send only downloadable data to the browser. It helps to break down downloadable JavaScript into smaller chunks to ensure its security.

SPAs are too dependent on JavaScript

Single-page apps are built and run on JavaScript. This dependence on JavaScript can sometimes hinder the performance of the app. If a user has disabled JavaScript in their browser, they can’t see your app content at all. It appears like a blank page. This could lead to higher bounce rates and make SEO performance of your SPA even worse.

SPAs aren’t scalable

This is the very reason why multi-page apps still hold a strong position in the single-page apps vs multi-page apps debate. Single-page applications aren’t easily scalable. If you add more content or features to an existing SPA, it will increase the initial app load time to a great extent and affect the performance of the application.

Single-page apps vs multi-page apps: Advantages of multi-page applications

Multi-page applications have been around since forever and rightly so. MPAs can provide great benefits if your web application caters to a diverse user base.

MPAs are great for SEO

The biggest advantage a multi-page application offers is SEO optimization. Unlike SPAs, you can dedicate different pages of your MPA to different pieces of content. This way, each page can be optimized for a particular keyword. By adding appropriate meta tags to these optimized pages, your web application pages can rank better on Google SERP.

MPAs are easily scalable

There are no limitations to adding new content or features to multi-page applications. You can add as many new pages to the applications as you need to accommodate more content. Thus, MPAs are an ideal choice for web development if you aim to include numerous features, products, or services for your business.

You can leverage insights from google analytics in MPAs

Google Analytics generates different reports for different pages. With multi-page applications, you can leverage google analytics to draw insights about which pages of your application are performing well and which aren’t. Based on these insights, you can make changes to the content of your web application to increase its visibility and average time spent on the pages.

Single-page applications only have one page, so it’s harder to figure out which part of the application is not generating desired results.

MPAs provide users with a visual map for large apps

There shouldn’t be any confusion with respect to single-page apps vs multi-page apps when you intend to build a large application.

If you have planned to share a huge chunk of information through your web application, you need a structure that can organize it into different categories and classes. For example, if you want to launch an eCommerce store, you can’t accommodate all of your products on one page.

eCommerce store with MPAs

MPAs not only organize the information clearly, but it also makes it easy for the users to locate what they are looking for. The tabs that you categorize your content in act like a visual map for the users to navigate without any confusion.

Disadvantages of multi-page applications

There are certain limitations when it comes to building multi-page applications. These disadvantages of multi-page applications s are the reason why the community is rapidly adopting SPAs for various projects.

Complex development and testing

Front end and back end are tightly coupled in multi-page applications. Development and testing in MPAs are more time-consuming. Moreover, making changes in the front end may also require you to make changes in the back end. This adds more burden on the development team.

Slower performance

In multi-page applications, the browser has to download all the app data every time a user interacts or moves to a different part of the app. This affects the speed and performance of MPAs.

Harder to maintain and update

Developers need to maintain each page of a multi-page application separately and regularly. This can get much more tedious than maintaining a single-page application. Moreover, you also need to secure each page separately which adds to the overall development burden.

Single-page apps vs multi-page apps: What to use for web development

As we have explained above, each architecture has its own pros and cons. To make the right choice, you must define your business goals first. Then, outline the features your web application needs to have in order to realize those goals.

It’s best to use a single-page application when

  • Brand storytelling is the major objective of the web application
  • You want to build a smaller version of a larger app you intend to build in future
  • When your app doesn’t heavily rely on SEO. SPAs are ideal for SaaS products, social networks, and other dynamic apps wherein the user experience doesn’t require extensive movement from one part to the other.

On the other hand, the scalability and SEO friendliness of MPAs are more beneficial when:

  • You want to present a large number of products, services or features through the app
  • The success of your app depends on search engine rankings
  • You want to cater to a diverse user-base with numerous different requirements and preferences.

SPA vs MPA: The Bottom Line

The approach to single-page apps vs multi-page apps needs to be a holistic one. Deciding whether to choose SPA or MPA for web development requires thorough understanding of two aspects. One, the benefits and limitations of each architecture. Two, the requirements of the application. This is where the expertise of consultants and a highly skilled software development team comes into the picture.

We have rich experience in delivering optimized solutions for web applications using both SPAs and MPAs. if you have a project idea in mind, get in touch with us here. We will set up a free consultation call to help you decide how you can convert your idea into an app in the most efficient way.