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Single-Page Application Development: The Definitive Overview

Andrii Horiachko
05 June 2020 • 15 min read
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Single-Page Application Development: The Definitive Overview

There is no doubt, users love fast websites and that will not change for the nearest time. 

Here is a smart technology that can help you deliver an exceptionally smooth experience for your website users, which is Single Page Application.

According to Google study, where they trained a deep neural network to figure out correlations between the page loading time and how it impacts users’ behavior and such metrics as bounce rate and conversions data of that same are crucial:

mobile page speed

Besides that, the DoubleClick by Google study cited above, it was found that sites loading within 5 seconds had 70% longer sessions, 35% lower bounce rates, and 25% higher ad viewability than sites taking nearly four times longer at 19 seconds. 

For now, you should have no hesitation that you need to care about the website loading speed if you are building a web solution.

In this article, we will explain why Single Page App can be a solution to this problem and why such world brands as Pinterest, Google Maps, Gmail, Airbnb, Netflix, and PayPal choose this technology for building their robust web app.

However, in the past, SPAs haven’t been the best choice for marketers when it comes to managing content. Fortunately, you now can connect your SPA with the right CMS to give both developers and marketers an unprecedented level of control.

 

What is a Single-Page Application?

A single-page application framework is a single page where lots of information stays the same. Only a few pieces need to be updated.

You can check Single-page application examples like Trello, Gmail, or Facebook to get a better understanding of this quality. 

single page app example

These apps are regularly updated with topical content, but the basic layout will be the same each time you visit. 

This kind of browser-based application sends what you need with each click, and your browser renders the information. This differs from a traditional page load. With conventional page loads, the server must re-render a full page with every click you make and send it to your browser.

The client-side methodology of a SPA makes load time much faster for users. At the same time, there is a lot less information that a server has to send. This is much more cost-effective, so it’s no surprise that developers have become dependent on SPAs.

 

How Does Single-Page Application Architecture Work?

The first main difference of SPA compared with MPA is that there is no interruption of the user experience between pages’ loading. When you are using SPA, it might seem like you’re using a simple offline desktop app.

And that is thanks to SPA architecture structure and work. You can see that there is a lot of similar and stable content on most websites. It’s not highly interactive content but rather static elements like headers, footers, navigation bars, logos, etc. There are also many repeating layouts and templates, like blogs or self-service sections. The Gmail setup we mentioned is a perfect example of this. 

Single-page application architecture lets you easily navigate the build process. SPAs, if employed properly, are like fully interactive site guides. They work as repeating guides you can use, piping in the proper data and content to fill out each template.

Either way, you’ll see the same tree, but the speed of SPAs becomes evident when you request new content. For instance, if you click on “next,” open mail, or filter results, you’ll get much faster page-loading than if you weren’t using a SPA format. 

In MPAs or websites, users switch between separate pages to access the content for which they are looking. If you are using a SPA, you can be directed to different areas of a single page almost instantaneously.

Clicking a link or button when you’ve used a SPA setup won’t reload the page. The browser will display the page in a particular state. When prompted, only the requested content will be changed, while the rest remains the same as in the Gmail web app:

spa example

This is possible thanks to AJAX, which lets the client communicate with the server without reloading the page. A SPA system sends the AJAX request to the server and gets JSON data back from it. Then, it renders the required parts of the web page directly in the browser.

If you look at Trello, Gmail, or your Facebook newsfeed, you will see that they apply the same technology. All these are single-page web solutions that have become extremely popular.

 

SPA vs. MPA: The Difference Between a Typical Website and Single-Page App

Speed   

When you look at a single-page application vs. MVC, you'll know that the speed becomes a key factor. When you load SPA for the first time, the further usage of the app is seamless and faster. The MPA loads slower, and it reloads each time when the user clicks on any of the buttons, visits another page or scrolls down the page, that is not a case with SPA speed.

spa of facebook

Security               

SPAs are prone to hacker attacks. You can improve their security by implementing the right tools, though. MPAs require a thorough approach so that each separate page of the site can be protected. It’s doable, but it is time-consuming and meticulous.

The Development Process           

One of the advantages of the single-page application is reusable back-end code and entirely separated back-end and front-end parts of the development. With the MPA method, there are many dependencies between the back and front-end.

JavaScript Dependencies              

With SPAs, Java dependencies are present. Depending on the version and type of browser you are using, problems might occur with an initial load. If you use an MPA, there is no JS dependency whatsoever. 

Link Sharing       

The modern SPA features one single link to the entire app. However, deep linking allows you to link to a specific piece of content. With MPA use, a separate link for every page of the MPA is required. 

User Experience      

The SPA is usually described as being mobile-friendly, responsive, and uninterrupted. The MPA, meanwhile, has better information architecture.

 

How to Build a Single-Page Application

Well, you know  the key differences between MPA and SPA, let’s have a quick overview of SPA development tutorials and what pitfalls you might be faced during this process:

JavaScript and Supporting Frameworks

You or your development team can either use pure JS or try another popular framework, like Vue, Angular or React. When you are creating a single-page web app, you must choose an appropriate framework that will help reduce development costs while still delivering a high-performance application. There are multiple options from which to choose. One of the best and probably not so popular is the Svelte Js framework, perfect for the single-page application and one of the fastest technologies on the market. Besides, another option could be Ember, Aurelia, Angular, React.js, Vue.js, and Meteor.

frontend-frameworks

AJAX

AJAX is used for asynchronous JavaScript and XML. It needs to implement SPA architecture that we as users can see as the “unnoticeable” page reload feature. That’s what enables the flawless, smooth data exchange between server and client. Here is a simple example of how AJAX works without reloading page when it has been changed.

ajax

Back-End Technologies

One of the benefits of a single-page application is its versatility. Hence, you can choose the back-end technology from multiple options. For example, Node.js is a great option for SPA back-end development. Or if you prefer, PHP, that still remains popular, and its frameworks, they are a solid choice for this kind of development, as well. 

You might decide to do something like combine Vue.js on the front-end, and Laravel PHP framework on the back-end. This combination could be used to create a clear and straightforward API-driven single-page application. 

Database

You’ll need to compare the existing options and pick the one that will work best for you. It should also be the one with which your engineering team is most familiar. MongoDB or MySQL are often the best fits.

databases for spa

Single-Page Application Advantages

There are a bunch of single-page application benefits that really matter for businesses. Some of those would be improved application consistency and performance, as well as reduced development time and infrastructure costs. Let’s make a quick overview of the most crucial SPA advantages:

  • Speed and Responsiveness

With single-page applications, a server doesn’t need to reload resources like CSS, HTML, and scripts with each interaction. Such files only require initial loading. After that, the server only downloads new data. SPAs also reload only pieces of content, so they have a lighter server payload. SPAs also reduce response times. This is because of moving data processing from the server to the browser. This is why these apps allow for fast interactions with users. And the most significant result of that for business is that the faster app you build higher opportunities to pull ahead of your competitors. 

  • Improved User Experience

Employing a single-page application for your business allows you not only to deliver faster web apps but along with that to create dynamic, fast, and interactive user experiences. As more functionalities are built as modular services that can be updated independently, it becomes easier to experiment with how they are used and displayed. 

That results, in improved website users’ behavior like time on site, bounce rate, and higher conversions rate. As you can see, according to Cloudflare’s study, the fastest app means bigger profits.

page-load-time impact on conversion rate

  • Reduction of Response Time and Hardware Costs 

Single-page apps try to solve poor performance problems and increase conversion rates. If you use them, you can save quite a bit on hardware IT costs. 

  • Faster Development and Testing Processes

Single-page apps can distinguish between data and the user interface. This helps to streamline the development and testing phases. This distinction also lets you handle all future integrations and changes in how data enters the SPA framework and goes to other systems with no massive interface implications. That leads to quite faster development and QA phases. Besides, proceeding with SPA development according to the rapid SDLC methodology, you probably can achieve the fastest time-to-market.

  • Adaptability

A SPA brings you relief when developing a mobile application. That’s because you can reuse the same back-end code from a web-based application for the mobile app. That’s quite challenging with a multi-page app.  Another advantage of SPA is its interoperability. With APIs, the SPAs you build in one language can work easily with back-end services that were developed in different languages.  

Additionally, SPAs look and feel more like applications than websites. This means that you don’t need to adapt SPA functionality or design for mobile devices specifically.

  • Offline Support and Caching

Single-page applications can also cache to any local storage with dispatch. They send one request to a server and then store all the data it receives. 

The app can use this data. That’s why a SPA can operate when it's offline, unlike an MPA, so you can keep using it even if your device loses its connection. Whenever the connectivity returns, the local data synchronizes with the server.

 

Single-Page Application Drawbacks

For all their fine qualities, SPAs do have some disadvantages when compared to multi-page applications. Let’s go over some of those.

  • Loss of Certain Editing Tools

Marketers are used to having some particular editing tools at their disposal. It’s true that some of those tools are present with the MPA model, but not with a SPA. If your development team is used to those tools, that might be the reason to avoid creating a SPA.

  • Difficulty with Personalization

It’s also a valid point that SPAs are more challenging to personalize if you want to create an app that is distinctly on-brand. Because they are designed for much of the content to remain static when the page loads, you often have to spend time creating custom templates that utilize the color scheme or graphics that stand for your brand. Some developers feel that this sort of thing is easier with MPAs.  

  • Poor SEO Optimization 

Since SPAs work on JS loading data upon request from the client, they lose search engine optimization functionality. Unchanging URLs mean a lack of unique addresses for different pages.

This means that trying to optimize such a site for search engines becomes genuinely challenging. Besides, optimization of such an app might be complex, though the majority of SPAs get indexed well by Google according to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst explanation:

spa and seo

  • Poor Link-Sharing Capabilities 

SPAs have a single URL address. This makes sharing bigger pieces of content a more complicated process from the development perspective, so linking is not as simple as with MPAs.

  • Difficult Analytics Tracking

Analytics tools rely heavily on entire new pages loading in browsers, initiated by a new page load. SPAs don’t work this way. 

It’s possible to add page load events to a SPA using the HTML5 history API. This will help integrate analytics. The problem comes about when you’re trying to ensure that everything is being tracked accurately. So when you adding the Google Analytics tracking code, you need to pay more attention to the code integration compared with the usual website. Some frameworks do provide open-source analytics integrations that address most of the major analytics providers.

 

When to Create a Single-Page Application

Keeping in mind SPA pros and cons, for sure, this kind of app might not best match for some cases. So let’s examine some when it’s better to develop SPA instead of the simple website:

  • You Wish to Build a Native-Like Browser Experience

A SPA is a setup through which you can build a high-functioning app that runs smoothly on any device and in any browser. The SPA system provides a chance to create a mobile app base, while at the same time, you can offer a native-like app experience that will work in popular browsers.

  • You Want a Fast, Dynamic Platform that Won’t Handle Lots of Data

Let’s say that you want to get the high responsiveness and speed of your app, but you don’t need your website to be high-load. If that’s your situation, then a SPA is ideal for your needs.

  • You Need Fast Results

If you need to launch your app as fast as possible, a SPA is going to be the way to go. By using a single-page app development approach, you can launch a responsive website much faster than with MPA. Hence, the SPA is a great choice for MVP development. After that, you can collect user feedback, validate your app idea whether it is successful or not to develop the entire website. So with SPA, you can grow your business much more rapidly than if you chose to implement MPA.

  • You Want Impressive Client-Side Functionality

A rich, user-oriented interface is perfect for generating attention and making visitors stay on your website. It’s also helpful in getting them to take specific actions. 

  • You Have a Ready-Made API

If there is an API for public or internal use, you can use the SPA method to build it instead of trying to reproduce the needed logic with an MPA.

A SPA setup will work for you if you plan on creating SaaS platforms, social networks, storytelling websites, closed communities, or landing pages. Generally speaking, any website can become a SPA. Now, you know what single page app means, its pros and cons, how it differs from MPAs, what is its development process, and when it’s better to use this kind of app. Besides, if you are going to develop your product, but still not sure what model to choose, get our quote on web app development and we together figure out the best choice for your product.

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