In today's market, web applications are unwittingly replacing the old desktop applications as they are more convenient to use, they are easy to update, and they are not bound to any one device. Even though users are gently moving from browser-based web applications into the mobile ones, the demand for complex and refined apps is already huge and is still growing. If we are thinking about creating our own application, we must know that there are two main design patterns for web apps: multi-page application (MPA) and single-page application (SPA). Both these techniques their pros and cons.

Single-Page Applications

A single-page application is a type of application that works inside a browser and does not require page reloading during its usage.

  • We are using these type of applications every day. These are, for instance: Gmail, Google Maps, Facebook or GitHub.
  • SPAs are all about serving an outstanding User Experience by trying to imitate a natural environment in the browser with no page reloads, no extra wait time. It is just one web page that we visit which then loads all other content using JavaScript — which they heavily depend on.
  • SPA requests the markup and data independently and renders pages straight in the browser. We can do this thanks to the advanced JavaScript frameworks like AngularJS, Ember.js, Meteor.js, Knockout.js .
  • Single-page sites help keep the user in one, comfortable web space where content is presented to the user in a simple, easy and workable fashion.

Advantages of SPA

Fast and responsive

Since single-page applications do not tend update the entire page but only required content, they significantly improve a website’s speed and performance. Most resources like HTML/CSS/Scripts are only loaded once throughout the lifespan of an application. Only data is transmitted back and forth.

Caching capabilities

A single-page app can cache any local data effectively. An SPA sends only one request to a server and then stores all the data it receives. After that, it can use this data and work even offline. If a user has poor connectivity, local data can be synchronized with the server when the connection allows.

Linear user experience

SPAs provide users with a simple linear experience. These web apps – like Saucony, for example – contain a clear beginning, middle, and end. The Saucony web app provides an excellent interactive experience using parallax scrolling and amazing transitions and effects to present the complete customer journey.

Debugging with Chrome

It’s easy to debug an SPA with Chrome since such apps are developed on popular frameworks. These frameworks have their own Chrome developer tools that make debugging much easier than with MPAs. In addition, SPAs allow you to monitor network operations and investigate page elements and data associated with them.

Disadvantages of SPA

SEO optimization

Since single-page apps operate on JavaScript and download data on request from the client side, they provide poor Search Engine Optimization. The URL doesn’t really change and different pages don’t have their unique URL addresses. It’s difficult to optimize these websites for search engines since most pages can’t be scanned by search bots.

Browser history

A SPA does not save visitors’ jumps between states which means, when users click the back button, they will not go back. A browser only takes users to the previous page, not to the previous state in an app. To solve this problem, there’s an HTML5 History API with which developers can equip their SPA frameworks. The History API offers developers access to browser navigation history via JavaScript.

Multi-Page Applications

Multiple-page applications work in a traditional way. Every change like displaying the data or submitting data back to server requests rendering a new page from the server in the browser.

  • These applications are large, bigger than SPAs because they need to be.
  • Due to the amount of content, these applications have many levels of UI. Luckily, it’s not a problem anymore. Thanks to AJAX, we don’t have to worry that big and complex applications have to transfer a lot of data between server and browser.
  • That solution improves and it allows to refresh only particular parts of the application. On the other hand, it adds more complexity and it is more difficult to develop than a single-page application.

Advantages of MPA

SEO

SEO is better on MPAs since the architecture is native to search engine crawlers. Such applications provide better control over SEO due to multiple pages and changing content. Moreover, developers can add meta tags to every page. An MPA gives a better chance of ranking for different keywords since an app can be optimized for one keyword per page.

Unlimited scalability

MPAs allows the users to create new content and place it on new pages. Multi-page apps can include as much information about products or services as required, with no page limitations. Single-page applications do not allow a lot of features on one page, which can lead to longer loading times. Therefore, when company needs more features, they decide to use multi-page applications.

Insights from Google Analytics

MPAs can provide lots of analytics with valuable information on how a website is performing like which features are working and which are not. With a single-page application, the only useful information we can collect is who visitors are and for how long they stay on the site.

Disadvantages of MPA

Slow speed and performance

With multi-page apps, a server needs to reload most resources such as HTML, CSS, and scripts with every interaction. When loading another page, the browser completely reloads page data and downloads all resources again, even components that are repeated throughout all pages like the header and footer. This affects speed and performance.

More time for development

Compared to SPAs, MPAs take longer to develop. In most cases, developers have to code the backend from scratch. There are also difficulties in frontend and backend separation since they interact very closely with each other. Developers need to use frameworks for both the frontend or backend. This results in longer app development.

Which is better?

Before developing any web application, we need to consider the goal of it. For example, if we need multiple categories like in case of online shopping application, then we can use a multi-page site. If we are sure that our site is appropriate for a pure single-page experience, then SPA is the way to go. If we like SPA but can just barely fit everything into a single page, we can consider the hybrid site instead. A hybrid application takes what is the best in both approaches and try to minimize the disadvantages. It is, in fact, a single page application which uses URL anchors as synthetic pages enabling more in build browser navigation and preference functionality.

Perhaps in the future, everyone will use Single Page Application model (including a hybrid app), as it seems to bring a lot of advantages. Many apps on the market are migrating towards this model. However, as some projects simply cannot fit into SPA, the MPA model is still vivid.

Summary

  • In this article we explored the concepts of Single page applications and Multi page applications along with their salient features.
  • We saw the advantages of using both SPAs and MPAs.
  • We also saw certain disadvantages of these types of applications.
  • We should select one of them according to the situation and based on the type of application we want to develop.