Currently, there are two ways of building websites: as multi-page applications (MPAs) or as single-page applications (SPAs). SPAs are more modern, but that does not invalidate MPAs. The decision between a single-page and multi-page application depends on business goals and the future architecture.
Here some of the pros and cons of single-page and multi-page applications.
What’s a Single Page Application?
A SPA works in the browser and requires no page reloads and no extra time for waiting. The page doesn’t need to be updated since content is downloaded automatically. Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Google Drive, or even GitHub are excellent examples of single-page apps.
Now let’s dive a bit deeper into SPAs and consider the pros and cons of this development approach.
Advantages of Single-Page Applications
Faster and responsive
Since single-page applications don’t update the entire page but only the required content, and so they significantly improve a website’s speed. Most resources are only loaded once throughout the lifespan of an application. Only data is transmitted back and forth. This is a great advantage, and according to Google research, if a page takes more than 200 milliseconds to load it can have a potentially high impact on business and sales.
Better caching capabilities
A single-page app can cache any local data effectively. A SPA sends only one request to a server and then stores all the data it receives. Then 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.
Simple, linear user experience
SPAs provide users with a simple linear experience. These web apps contain a clear beginning, middle, and end. With SPAs, scrolling is convenient and uninterrupted; there’s no need to click on endless links. The scrolling nature of SPAs makes them perfectly suited for mobile users.
Easy debugging with Chrome
It’s easy to debug an SPA with Chrome since such apps are developed on frameworks like AngularJS Batarang and React developer tools. 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.
But with all their benefits, SPAs also have some disadvantages that you should consider. Let’s take a look at them.
Disadvantages of Single-Page Applications
Poorer SEO optimization
Lacking browser history
An SPA doesn’t save when visitor’s jumps between states. This means that when users click the back button, they won’t go back. A browser only takes users to the previous page, not to the previous state in an app.
More Security issues
Single-page apps are more vulnerable to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks than are multi-page apps. Using XSS, hackers can inject client-side scripts into web applications.
One security issue is the exposure of sensitive data. If developers aren’t careful about what data is contained in the initial page load, they can easily send data that shouldn’t be exposed to all users. The entirety of an SPA isn’t generally visible in the browser, which can provide a false sense of security.
When to use an SPA
Single-page web applications fit perfectly for building dynamic platforms with small data volumes. Furthermore, a single-page app is ideal as a base for future mobile app development. The main drawback of this development approach is poor SEO optimization. But this architecture is excellent for SaaS platforms, social networks, and closed communities where search engine optimization doesn’t matter. If a project requires effective SEO, on the other hand, then you should use a multi-page application.
What’s a Multi-Page App?
Comparatively, a multi-page website is a more complex website that contains multiple different pages like an eCommerce store such as Amazon or eBay.
eBay is a prime example of an online store that consists of several pages with static information such as: text, images, and several links to other pages. Multi-page apps work in a traditional way and are extremely large out of necessity. Due to the amount of content they contain, multi-page apps are generally many levels deep with lots of links and intricate interfaces. An MPA like eBay can consist of many micro-websites and subsections to break down content and allow multiple entry points.
Before choosing this development approach, let’s look at the key advantages and disadvantages of building multi-page applications.
Advantages of Multi-Page Applications
SEO is better on MPAs since the architecture is native to search engine crawlers. Such apps provide better control over SEO thanks 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.
MPAs allow you 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 don’t 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.
Better Insights from Analytics
MPAs can provide lots of analytics with valuable information on how a website is performing: which features are working and which aren’t. With a single-page app, the only useful information you can collect is who visitors are and for how long they stay on the site.
Disadvantages of Multi-Page Applications
Along with the advantages there are some considerable disadvantages of building a multi-page app. Let’s consider them.
Slower speed and overall 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 such as the header and footer. This negatively 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.
Harder maintenance and updates
Maintaining and updating multiple pages can be a pain, and things only get worse the bigger a website becomes. In addition, maintaining security may be problematic because developers need to secure each separate page. Single-page apps allow developers to just secure data endpoints.
When to use a Multi-Page App
A multi-page application is appropriate for large companies with a broad range of products or services that require lots of features and multiple menus. An MPA is more suitable for online stores, business sites, catalogs, and marketplaces. Companies running these sites most likely also have diverse user bases. To put it simply, if you have a lot of content and features to include on your website or if you are selling multiple products and services, an MPA would be the better choice.
Million Dollar Question: Which should you use?
It really depends on the situation. Each architecture has its pros and cons and is well suited to a particular type of project and specific business goals.