A web app is an application built with web technologies (HTML, CSS, or JS) that stores and manages data (in a database) and is used by one or more users to handle tasks over the internet. In layman terms, if you’ve ever used Google Docs, an image editing app like Pixlr, or played a game on your browser, then you have experienced what a web app is firsthand.
Maybe you’ve had a great idea for a while that is just screaming to get implemented, or you have a business that you think could gain a lot from having a web app, or maybe you are a newcomer wanting to get their feet wet. Whatever the case, starting a web app project can be intimidating.
If you have a big project in mind and have little to no development experience, your best bet is to get professional help. Businesses all over the world outsource the development of their project to third parties who can manage the process off-site. On the other hand, if you are a newcomer and are just starting with a small idea and are not sure where to start, the tips below are for you.
Nail down your idea
One of the banes of software outsourcing companies is dealing with clients who don’t have a precise idea of what they want. Without a clear end-goal, you end up with aimless development, feature creep, and constant backtrack. Developing an app without a clear goal is like trying to navigate a jungle without a map, a compass, or a GPS.
Don’t start developing until you can answer concisely, “what do I want my app to do?”. If it takes more than one paragraph to explain, your idea might be too broad, especially if this is your first project.
Don’t worry if you end up with a simplistic answer – that’s exactly what you want. You’d be amazed at how many big tech companies started with the smallest of ideas.
Pick the languages and frameworks that suit you
Developing a web app is going to require a few things:
- A backend language that handles the inner working of your app. Python and Ruby are great examples of simple programming languages that are widely used in web app development.
- DevOps, as in, a way to deploy your app and a host for your app.
If you already know how to program, then play to your strengths, use the coding languages that you are familiar with. If you are an absolute newcomer then you have to make a choice:
- You can learn the basics and do it yourself. There are hundreds of quality courses out there, and many of them are free.
- Alternatively, you can use a no-code solution or a web app builder. Keep in mind that while these apps take care of a lot of the heavy lifting, you are also more restricted in terms of customization.
Finally, if you decide to do it on your own, search for a good web app framework. A framework is just a set of tools that automatizes some of the tasks – it’s like a do-it-yourself toolkit. Great examples are Django and Flask, both frameworks for Python.
Use tutorials to get you started
So, you did your courses, you got a framework, you downloaded an IDE, and are ready to go… now what? There is no single path to making a web app. You could start with your database, your aesthetics, or even your landing page.
A good way to give yourself some structure and have a blueprint to work with is to look for a tutorial of someone making a web app with your chosen framework and then adapting that tutorial to your project.
Your best choice here is to find a consultant or someone you can rubber duck your ideas with, but if that is out of the question, there are plenty of online resources to help you. Remember that there are sites like StackOverflow with developers helping people all over the world.
As you get more practice you’ll eventually find yourself trying to do things outside of what the tutorial taught you and, yes, you will fail spectacularly while trying to get there, but the more you practice, the better you get at it.
Remember that, as a newcomer, your focus should be making something that works. It doesn’t have to be pretty and the code can be a recursive mess, but as long as it’s working, it’s fine. You’ll have plenty of time to rework your code later on.
Start small, then scale
Trying to create the next Instagram out of the gate will only lead to exhaustion and frustration. It’s better to start small and do one thing right rather than have a hundred things that don’t work how they should.
Think of how apps start small and add functionalities as they grow. This goes back to our first point. If you have a clear goal then you should already know what it is: that one thing that you want your app to do out of the gate.
Don’t discard good ideas, though. Write them down and save them for later. Once you get your web app off the ground you’ll have plenty of time to implement new features.
Finally, the biggest piece of advice is to not be too hard on yourself. Starting a development project isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly fulfilling. If you get stuck, it doesn’t mean that you are not meant for this, it means that you should stand up from your PC and do something else. And remember, like any other skill, take your time, practice a lot and you’ll have a functioning web app before you realize it.