What are Progressive Web Apps (PWAs)?

By Ross Wilson | 12 Dec 2018

The talk about Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) has been growing exponentially over the past year, but the understanding about what they really are seems to have been left behind, with promises of the “next big thing” being at the forefront of conversation.

So, what are they and why are so many people talking about them?

The answer to the first question has only truly been ironed out within the past year, but is now well agreed among the developer community and has been defined by Google here. Fundamentally, the idea is just a list of technical considerations around how a site is built, like serving the site over ‘https’ and ensuring the page is responsive on all devices. Now, you may be thinking that having a list of technical checks doesn’t really answer the questions I posed above – and you would be right. I believe this is where much of the confusion comes from.

A Progressive Web App is a web app that acts more like a traditional app and can be downloaded from an app store. It allows for many of the features a more traditional app provides, such as push notifications and offline use – the latter being the most exciting in my mind. By taking advantage of browser caching and JavaScript, developers are now able to create web apps that, once initially loaded, are able to maintain functionality even if internet connection is lost, or if there isn’t a consistent connection.

Speed improvements

The addition of offline functionality gives developers the ability to create websites and removes the need for bespoke applications to be built for app stores. On top of that, some developers have been able to take advantage of PWAs to make websites load three times faster than native apps.

To conclude, in order for a site to be a Progressive Web App, it must meet a certain set of criteria that effectively make the site faster, more reliable, and able to appear as normal even when the user loses internet connection – thus improving the end user’s overall experience of surfacing the web, especially on mobile devices.