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What Are PWAs? Progressive Web Apps – The Complete Guide

By January 27, 2024February 1st, 2024Web Applications, Mobile Apps
what are pwas

Progressive web apps (PWAs) have rapidly gained momentum as a major mobile web technology trend since being introduced by Google in 2015. They combine the best attributes of traditional websites and native mobile apps for a heightened user experience.

Recent advancements in browser capabilities, service workers, and caching APIs have enabled PWAs to offer native app features like push notifications, offline usage, and home screen installation while leveraging the broad ecosystem of web development.

According to recent surveys, over 65% of companies are investing in PWAs, with the primary motivations being easier deployment than native apps, reduced development and maintenance costs, and maximizing reach across platforms.

PWAs take advantage of the greater accessibility and flexibility of the open web. Unlike native apps which require different code bases and app store approvals, PWAs can instantly deploy updates to users. The unified codebase also enables faster feature development.

With global mobile internet usage surpassing 4.5 billion people in 2022, PWAs present an opportunity to engage users through app-like experiences without the overhead of multiple native apps. As browsers and web capabilities continue advancing, adoption of PWAs will likely accelerate among enterprises seeking easier cross-platform development with native app benefits

In this article, we provide a guide about what PWAs are, why you should build PWAs, who is currently building PWAs, and more.

What are Progressive Web Apps?

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are a modern approach to web application development that combines the best features of web and mobile applications. They offer users an immersive and app-like experience directly from their web browser, providing a seamless and engaging interaction.

Unlike traditional web applications, PWAs are designed to be responsive and work across different devices and platforms, including mobile phones, tablets, and desktops. This eliminates the need for separate development efforts for web and mobile applications, saving time and resources.

PWAs leverage technologies such as HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript to create a user interface that is both visually appealing and highly interactive. They are built with a mobile-first approach, ensuring a smooth user experience on mobile devices. PWAs can take advantage of device features like push notifications, camera access, geolocation, and more, making them feel like native mobile apps.

What are the Benefits of PWAs

Benefits of Progressive Web AppsProgressive Web Apps (PWAs) offer numerous benefits for both businesses and users. Here are some of the key advantages of PWAs:

Enhanced User Experience

PWAs provide a seamless and engaging user experience that rivals native mobile apps. They offer a responsive design and smooth performance, making interactions feel more natural. With features like push notifications, offline functionality, and access to device capabilities, PWAs create a rich and immersive user experience.

Cost-effective Development

Developing PWAs can be more cost-effective compared to building separate native mobile apps for different platforms. PWAs leverage existing web development technologies and skills, reducing the need to learn platform-specific languages or frameworks. This streamlines the development process, saves time, and lowers development costs.

Cross-platform Compatibility

One of the major advantages of PWAs is their ability to work across different platforms and devices. Whether users are accessing the app on a mobile phone, tablet, or desktop, PWAs adapt to the screen size and provide consistent functionality. This eliminates the need for separate development efforts for different platforms, saving time and resources.

Offline Functionality

PWAs can work offline or in areas with limited connectivity. By utilizing caching and service workers, PWAs store essential assets and data on the user’s device. This allows users to continue using the app and accessing previously loaded content even when they are offline. Once an internet connection is restored, the PWA can synchronize data in the background, ensuring a seamless experience.

Improved Performance

PWAs are designed to be fast and responsive. They leverage technologies like caching, preloading, and lazy loading to optimize performance. PWAs load quickly, even on slower networks, and provide a smooth user interface that feels snappy and responsive.

Discoverability and Shareability

PWAs are discoverable through search engines, just like traditional websites. This makes it easier for users to find and access the app, increasing its reach and visibility. Additionally, PWAs can be easily shared via URLs, allowing users to share specific content or experiences within the app with others.

Easy Updates and Maintenance

Updating and maintaining PWAs is simpler compared to native apps. Since users access the app through the web, updates can be rolled out seamlessly without requiring users to manually update the app. This ensures that users always have access to the latest version of the app with bug fixes, security patches, and new features.

Differences Between PWAs and Native Apps

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) and native apps are two distinct approaches to application development, each with its own set of characteristics and advantages. Here is a chart outlining the key differences between progressive web apps (PWAs) and native apps:

Feature Progressive Web Apps Native Apps
Development languages HTML, CSS, JavaScript Swift, Kotlin, Objective-C, Java
App stores required No Yes
Approval process for updates No Yes
Cross-platform capability Yes No
Accessibility All modern browsers App store downloads
Offline usage Service workers enable some offline Full offline usage
Push notifications Supported Supported
Installable on device Add to home screen Full app install
Performance Good, but depends on network/caching Consistently fast
Distribution Via web URLs Via app stores
Development costs Lower Higher
Codebase Single Platform-specific
Security HTTPS protection Full encryption

Progressive Web App Architecture

If you read the Google Developer Docs about what a Progressive Web App is, you’ll hear phrases like “Progressive Web Apps are fast and reliable — they’re the future of web applications.” But what does that mean?

PWA-development-ArchitectureGoogle often refers to the acronym “FIRE” to describe PWAs. Google says that Progressive Web Apps are:

  •   Fast
  •   Integrated
  •   Reliable
  •   Engaging

That sounds nice, but what exactly is the architecture behind progressive web apps?

The most popular architecture for Progressive Web Apps is the “app shell” concept which combines server-side rendering and client-side rendering to get the best of both worlds. This app shell involves loading a minimum UI to the user the initial time they visit your web app. After that, the visitor can view a cached version of the app until new content is available. 

With the “app shell” architecture, your PWA is composed of a shell and new content is put into that shell once your app has a network connection. Fetching new content to put in the shell is done by web workers working in the background. The great thing about this is that with PWAs, you don’t have to worry about complete page reloads each time a user wants to get new information — only the newer information is transferred and replaced.

One important thing to know is that a Progressive Web App is still a website and contains HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. The difference is that Progressive Web Apps feel more like native apps, including having the ability to be functional with an unstable network connection. This means that you can develop native-like mobile apps without having to know Java or Swift, keeping development costs down.

Examples of Progressive Web Apps

Users like the feel of native apps. Many times, native apps can feel much more responsive than browsing on a mobile browser, but developing a native app in parallel to your web app can be expensive. That’s why many companies are taking advantage of Progressive Web Apps. Here are some companies that are currently supporting Progressive Web Apps.


Tinder, the famous dating app is known for swiping left or right, has also taken advantage of Progressive Web Apps. Tinder has been able to transfer its now-iconic look and feel to a web browser. Previously, if you wanted to use Tinder, you had to download the Tinder mobile app, but by creating a Progressive Web App and allowing users to have a similar experience on desktop, Tinder was able to capture a whole new market they didn’t have access to before.


Twitter has also seen success from using Progressive Web Apps. After launching the PWA version of Twitter, Twitter saw a 65% increase in pages per session, a 75% increase in tweets sent, and a 20% decrease in bounce rate. The improved speed and performance of a PWA compared to a traditional mobile-web version along with the convenience of PWAs surely played a role in these improvements.


Alibaba is another company that has used a PWA to improve its business. The online giant was able to use the power of PWAs to improve customer experience and lead to more sales on its platform. By developing a PWA version of its eCommerce site, Alibaba was able to increase conversions by 76%, increase monthly users on iOS by 14%, and increase monthly users on Android by 30%.

Migrating a Web App into a Progressive Web App

Google recommends that when turning your website into a progressive web app, you focus on a single user journey first. That is, the first iteration of a Progressive Web App does not have to be feature complete — it doesn’t have to be an exact replica of the web app or native app. 

For example, Air Berlin wanted to build a Progressive Web App for the company, but building out a complete Progressive Web App would have taken much longer than the time allowed for development. The company focused on post-purchase features such as helping travelers pull up itinerary information and boarding passes.

Progressive Web Apps

That means even if you aren’t ready to migrate your whole web app over to a PWA, you can start building out features one at a time. This gives you a chance to test the waters of a PWA for your business while decreasing risks.

But how does turning a web app into a Progressive Web App work at the technical level?

Turning a web app into a Progressive Web App first involves creating a manifest file. This manifest file is the key to building Progressive Web Apps. The manifest file sets up options for the PWA such as telling the mobile device what icon to show in the task menu and what color to use for the UI. The manifest file also registers a service worker, one of the key parts of a Progressive Web App. After this initial step, developers should focus on “PWA-ifying” specific user journeys until all are built out.

Google also provides a checklist of requirements that a web app needs to have in order to be considered a Progressive Web App. Some of these requirements include serving the site over https, making sure that all pages are responsive for mobile and tablets, and making sure that URLs can be loaded while offline.

However, if you have built your application using a front-end framework like React or Angular, there are specific things you need to do to turn your website into a Progressive Web App.

Best Progressive Web App Frameworks

React Progressive Web Apps

Many developers like using React to build sleek, modern apps. And React makes it easy to combine the React library you love while still getting the benefits of PWAs. 

If you have worked with React before, then you should be familiar with the “create-react-app” command that is used to start building React projects. Starting out building a Progressive Web App with React is pretty much the same, except for registering a service worker. After registering a service worker, you need to create a manifest file. PWAs built with or without React need this manifest file to tell the web browser the information about the application. This includes giving information about the app name, what icons it should use on the user’s home screen, and the “start_url” — the URL that the app goes to when the app is launched.

Now that you’ve gotten a service worker registered and created your manifest file, you can continue developing the app like you would any other React app. Just make sure you are meeting Google’s guidelines for Progressive Web Apps.

Progressive Web App Angular

Developing a Progressive Web App with Angular is similar to how you build a PWA with React and other JavaScript frameworks. We recommend using Angular CLI version 6 to create PWAs with Angular as that’s the most effective way to do so. The Angular CLI requires Node 8.9 or higher, so make sure you have the correct Node version before trying to use the Angular CLI.

Developing a PWA with Angular requires the developer to create a manifest file and register a service worker. After that, the PWA checklist should be consulted while building out features. We recommend using the Lighthouse Chrome plugin to help guide you while developing your PWA. Lighthouse will give you a score telling you how well your app meets PWAs standards and show you where to improve.

Progressive Web App Features

The main features of Progressive Web Apps are:

  • they mimic the feel of native applications
  • they can be used offline
  • they can be shared just like regular websites

Progressive Web App Mimic Native Apps

The killer feature of Progressive Web Apps is their native-like feeling. Users can feel like they are using a native app instead of a clunky mobile browser. Progressive Web Apps even go as far as being able to be saved on the home screen of a user’s mobile device or tablet and can even send push notifications. Developers can get all these advantages without having to develop an entirely different IOS or Android version of their web app.

Progressive Web Apps can be used Offline or with Unstable Networks

By taking advantage of service workers, users can use the Progressive Web App while offline. Once the device regains a network connection, the service workers can continue fetching information from the server. This is especially important in areas where there isn’t a stable network connection.

Making your web app into a PWA and allowing users to access it without a stable network connection puts you way ahead of your competitors. After all, when users aren’t able to access your competitors’ apps, they’ll still be able to access yours.

Progressive Web Apps can be Easily Shared

By taking advantage of the history API, users are able to share any “page” of a Progressive Web App just like they would share a normal URL. That means users don’t have to go to the Google Play Store or the App Store to use your app. Instead, users share a URL and the history API takes care of everything else. PWAs can also be saved to a smartphone or tablet’s home screen. The manifest file even allows the developer to make sure the PWA’s branding is consistent across the web and mobile devices.

Why Progressive Web Apps are the Future of Web Applications?

If you keep up with internet trends and stats as we do at BitCot, then you’d know that more visitors now access web pages through mobile than desktop. That means when developing websites and web apps, developers need to focus on mobile-first.

But the problem is, many mobile users prefer the feel of native apps over using a mobile browser. In fact, users spend over two hours a day using mobile apps, compared to just 26 minutes using their smartphone’s mobile browser. That means by having a traditional web app instead of a mobile app, you are only getting about 25% of the possible traffic you could be getting.

Progressive Web-apps

To make matters worse for web developers, users spend most of their mobile time between just three apps. That means if your brand isn’t getting seen in one of those three apps, your company is going to be out of sight, out of mind.

But that’s where Progressive Web Apps come into play. By turning your web app into a Progressive Web App, users can enjoy a native-like experience while using your app. Not only that, but you can get the benefits of a native-like app without having separate teams for web, IOS, and Android.

What can Progressive Web App do?

The biggest appeal of Progressive Web Apps is that Progressive Web Apps can be used without a stable network connection. Service workers are utilized in order to run tasks in the background and make sure that content is fetched when there is network activity. This means that users can spend more time on your app, even if they don’t have a stable network connection.

When To Build A Progressive Web App?

We’ve already covered that mobile users spend most of their time using apps instead of mobile browsers. And the fact is that on average, users download zero mobile apps each month. That means even if you’ve spent time, money, and resources on building a mobile version of your web app, you are still going to have to get a user to:

  • Open up the App Store or Google Play Store
  • Search for your app
  • Find the correct app
  • Download your app
  • Install your app
  • Accept any app permissions

On the other hand, with a Progressive Web App, a user can just navigate to your webpage and then chose to add your PWA to their mobile home screen — a much more painless process. If you expect users to use your web app with a mobile device, and they will, you should consider turning your web app into a Progressive Web App.

How Does Progressive Web App Works?

Because Progressive Web Apps rely heavily on service workers, some considerations should be made when deciding how to handle storage. LocalStorage and SessionStorage do not support service workers, so you should look into using other options like the Cache API and IndexedDB API. The MDN has some great guides on using these APIs with your progressive web app.

Does Your Business Need A Progressive Web App?

Here at BitCot, we have an expert team of engineers and developers that can turn ideas into Progressive Web Apps. No matter your business’s size or business model, we can develop a custom PWA that fits your needs, improves your customers’ experiences, and contributes to the bottom line. If you are looking to get a Progressive Web App built, contact us to see how we can help.

Raj Sanghvi

Raj Sanghvi is a technologist and founder of BitCot, a full-service award-winning software development company. With over 15 years of innovative coding experience creating complex technology solutions for businesses like IBM, Sony, Nissan, Micron, Dicks Sporting Goods, HDSupply, Bombardier and more, Sanghvi helps build for both major brands and entrepreneurs to launch their own technologies platforms. Visit Raj Sanghvi on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter. View Full Bio