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What Is a Single Page Application? Explanation and Examples

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23/06/2022 |

6 min read

Dominika Reszke

For contemporary users, who can’t do without interactive and intuitive solutions, a single page application may be just what they need. And one of the reasons why businesses choose it is the willingness to provide clients with an outstanding – smooth, scalable, and fluid – user experience. Single page applications (or SPAs) are to load very fast and engage end-users immediately, grabbing their attention right away.

Single page apps are known for replacing the old desktop applications – computer programs running locally on desktop computers or laptops. However, a single page app concept itself is something that dates back to the year 2002. So, since the SPA idea is roughly 20 years old, can it still offer something exciting in the year 2022?

In this article, we’ll discuss ins and outs of a single page web app, explain how it works, give some interesting examples of its use, and elaborate on the benefits and downsides of SPAs in the third decade of the XXI century.


Table of contents:

  1. Single page application in brief
  2. SPA application – how it works
  3. Single page apps – notorious examples
  4. Single page web app – is it worth it?

Single page application in brief

Single page applications have taken the world of web development by storm, being one of the major trends right now. It may be attributed to the fact that a web app that is a SPA, based on AJAX development techniques, offers impressive responsiveness and high performance.

Although just a single document, and not the whole web page, gets reloaded in a SPA, end-users have the impression that a given page has been fully refreshed. It wasn’t so but it would have been in the case of a multi-page application that works in a more „traditional” way. This classic approach implies that a large number of pages, or the entire web page content, get refreshed completely.

A single page app and a multi page application both represent the two major design patterns for building web applications in use nowadays. The single page application architecture is not as complex as the multi page application architecture, known for multilevel navigation.

Some of the tools, technologies, or SPA frameworks that stand behind single page apps include React, AngularJS, Vue.js, Ember.js, Meteor.js, and Knockout.js. Within the SPA process, single documents get updated via JavaScript APIs, and using SPAs is recommended when the development team is already acquainted with JavaScript, TypeScript, and Blazor WebAssembly development. Because SPAs are usually based on heavily-used frameworks enhanced with their own debugging tools, debugging is made much easier.

SPA application – how it works

A single page web application or one page application is a kind of web app or website that loads only a single web document, dynamically rewriting, or altering, the current web page and not requiring page reloading during use. What it does reload from the server side, is new JSON data.

What sets SPA apart from solutions based on a traditional page load is that a web browser doesn’t load whole new pages at this point and a lot of information stays the same, without the web server re-rendering a full web page. However, the URL does change although no new page has been loaded.

What’s crucial here is that the server doesn’t get involved whenever the user interacts with a web app as with SPAs a given page is downloaded only once, when it is executed. What single page apps load are HTML, CSS, as well as JavaScript resources.

SPAs heavily rely on JavaScript frameworks and libraries. Following the initial page load, JavaScript handles everything about the app. Interestingly, Meteor.js, a full-stack Javascript framework, was designed exclusively for single page applications.

Single page apps – notorious examples

A well-known single page application example is Google Maps. But there are much more in store, including world giants and household names. These are Netflix, Gmail, GoogleDrive, YouTube, Evernote, PayPal, and GitHub, to name but a few web apps that can be called single page applications. SPAs can also be found in Jira, Trello, Slack, Telegram, and many other dashboards, social networks, or on-premises apps.

Because many SPAs are heavily used and known all over the world, the scale of their application may seem immense and overwhelming. But the truth is that the vast majority of the websites, as of 2022, are still multi page applications. However, if you want to build a feature-rich app with a quick loading time – like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Airbnb – then a single page application may be a go-to solution.

On top of that, a SPA web application is well-suited to mobile environments, with scrolling as a primary way of getting what users need, without clicking through links and menus, just like it is in the case of MPAs. 

In turn, MPAs are typically used in large e-commerce websites (e.g. Amazon and eBay), but also in online publishing websites, blogs, forums, and the like.

Single page web app – is it worth it?

Among many overly complicated digital products and solutions, a simple single page application may be what many users need and appreciate. In the times when seamless user experience is so vital, quick loading time may tip the scales, keep potential customers interested and, eventually, turn them into existing ones. And increased sales are something worth fighting for in an immensely competitive digital environment.

Here are some benefits of using single page applications:

  • quick loading time and increased speed
  • faster navigation, quick response to user actions
  • high scalability potential
  • simplified customer journey
  • enhanced, continuous user experience
  • mobile-friendliness
  • client-side rendering
  • easy debugging
  • simplified, fast, and streamlined development
  • better reusability of page elements and backend code
  • caching of all necessary local data

On the downside, SPAs may not be as secure as MPAs, and succeeding in SEO activities – being indexed and ranked high in search engines – is not a piece of cake in this case. However, the right search engine optimization for SPAs is not impossible and there are many interesting ways to do it.

Also, according to many developers, single page applications are not the best option for low-interaction static websites. Some even say that „SPAs were a mistake” as they are only proper for media – video or audio – sites. However, if you need something appropriate for a dynamic project with a limited amount of data or a SaaS product, a SPA web app may still be a good choice.

And you, how do you find single page apps’ usefulness in 2022? Are SPAs something that is worth specializing in? What do you think the future will hold for single page web apps?

Rated: 5.0 / 1 opinions
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Dominika Reszke

IT Content Writer with 12 years of professional writing experience. Prefers facts and figures to any kind of fiction.

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