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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 regarding web development. With so many different opinions, you may find it hard to determine which architecture to use for your web application. This blog presents 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?
One web page's applications 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 app parts seamlessly, and the page won’t reload whenever you click on something.
Image source: Trello
Even though SPA is a more recent phenomenon, it is everywhere. 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 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 traditionally, requiring the app to reload entirely every time a user interacts with it.
MPAs generally have large data and complex architecture. The MPA pages in MPAs mostly contain static content and links to other internal pages. This is why MPAs have a more intricate and multi-layered user interface.
Most large-scale eCommerce apps are built as multi-page applications.
Advantages of single-page applications
Single-page applications came into being only because developers wanted to overcome the limitations of multi-page applications. The major advantages of building single-page applications are:
1. Speed and responsiveness
Regarding 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.
Additionally, single-page applications only reload the required content when a user asks. 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.
Since websites receive a major chunk of traffic from mobile devices, every web application must 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 as an application, you don’t need to make many efforts to readjust the same for mobile devices.
3. Linear user experience
Single-page applications present an organized, linear interface to the user. Everything from the web app's name to its content listing 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 content phase to another, users can experience a seamless journey while conveniently scrolling through the application.
4. A clear division between the front end and the back end
Single-page applications allow you to keep the front and back end completely independent. The main advantage is that your development team can work on both the front 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 change how the data enters the framework. You can do so easily without worrying about its implications on the UI of the web application. Conversely, you can rewrite the app's front end with no impact on the server except for a few static files.
5. Caching capabilities and offline support
Single-page applications are loved for their ability to cache any local data efficiently. A 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 it whenever needed. As a result, SPAs can also function to a great extent, even when the device loses internet connection.
6. 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, implementing single-page application best practices can overcome most of these limitations.
1. SPAs aren’t very SEO friendly
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, you can overcome this limitation with server-side rendering and intelligent search engine optimization practices.
2. 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 visitors’ jump between different SPA states. This can get tedious for the users.
3. SPAs are at a greater security risk
5. SPAs aren’t scalable
This is 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.
Advantages of multi-page applications
Multi-page applications have been around forever, and rightly so. MPAs can benefit greatly if your web application caters to diverse users.
1. 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.
2. 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 ideal for web development if you aim to include numerous features, products, or services for your business.
3. 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 change your web application's content 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.
4. MPAs provide users with a visual map for large apps
There shouldn’t be any confusion concerning single-page vs. multi-page apps when building 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 your products on one page.
MPAs not only organize the information clearly but also makes it easy for the users to locate what they are looking for. The tabs you categorize your content in act like a visual map for the users to navigate without 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 why the community is rapidly adopting SPAs for various projects.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 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 is 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 requirements and preferences.
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SPA vs. MPA: The Bottom Line
The approach to single-page apps vs. multi-page apps needs to be holistic. Deciding whether to choose SPA or MPA for web development requires a 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 to convert your idea into an app most efficiently.
Q1: Can SPAs and MPAs coexist within the same application?
A: Yes, it is possible to have a hybrid approach where a web application combines elements of both SPAs and MPAs. This is often referred to as a "hybrid application." In such cases, certain sections or features of the application may be implemented as SPAs for enhanced interactivity. At the same time, other parts are built as MPAs to cater to specific requirements such as SEO or complex content.
Q2: Can SPAs or MPAs be converted from one type to another?
A: Converting an application type involves significant refactoring and depends on specific requirements and resources. For example, MPA to SPA involves rewriting front end for dynamic updates and state management, while SPA to MPA requires restructuring for server-side rendering and multiple HTML pages.