If you’ve never created a web application before, this is a guide to help you understand how to get started and overcome potential barriers that might hold you back. Using a no-code web app builder like Bubble, you can go from idea to fully fledged digital product in less time than it would take to find a technical co-founder and for a fraction of the cost of outsourcing your development.

What is a web app?

How is a web application different from a website? The basic distinction is that a website is a collection of pages that typically display static content, while a web app is a piece of software that runs in your browser. You can access both websites and web apps through a web browser like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. However, a web app is more dynamic and can complete more complex user interactions. In a web app, you can leverage APIs or trigger actions from other software services. 

Examples of web applications: Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and Amazon are all examples of web applications.

Examples of websites: Landing pages for corporate brands, local businesses, or traditional blogs. 

How do I start building a web app?

Step 1: Decide how you want to build your app.

Option 1: No-code web app builders

No-code tools like Bubble are a great way to learn how to create a web app. Simplifying the design, development, and deployment of a web app makes it easier and faster to get your idea off the ground. Bubble lets you build and develop your app for free — you won’t be charged until you’re ready to go live.

Pros of using no-code tools:

  • Faster development: Reports show that no-code tools help people build apps 2.5x faster.
  • Visual: There’s no need to learn how to code, or waste time coding the same “CRUD” repeatedly.
  • Hosting and infrastructure included: No-code tools like Bubble take care of the hosting of your app so you don’t need to additionally purchase hosting from AWS or other services.
  • DIY: You can customize your web app easily and iterate after launch without needing engineers or a technical team.

Cons of using no-code tools:

  • Platform commitment: You’ll need to decide which platform is best for your needs. If you change your mind later, it may require extra work to transfer.
  • Feature limitations: Certain highly-customized features, like code injections, don’t come ready out-of-the-box. However, APIs make your app more customizable. Bubble has a number of official plugins and integrations with popular platforms like Microsoft Azure and Zapier.

Option 2: Traditional coding frameworks

You can build web apps in a number of programming languages, including JavaScript, Python, and Java.

Pros of traditional coding:

  • Open-ended customization: If you know how to code it, you can pretty much build anything.
  • Platform agnostic: You’re not bound to any particular platform with code. However, you'll still need to pick one to host your app.

Cons of traditional coding:

  • Slower development than no-code: Building from the ground up means longer lead times.
  • Expensive: Learning to code, or hiring a team of developers to code for you, can end up being costly.

Ultimately, learning to code takes time, and choosing the right languages for your product can be daunting for beginners. If you don’t know how to code or you want to save time while learning how to create an app, a no-code web app development platform might be better suited to your needs

Once you’ve decided what direction is right for you, you’re ready to move on to step two — ‌ building your product.

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Step 2: Have an idea (that makes sense). Not every idea needs “an app for that.” Do your research first! Ask yourself, “What is theproblem I want to solve?” Look into why this problem exists and think about what technology can do to address it. Interview people who might experience that problem, and get their feedback on possible solutions. If you find the answer is obvious and a web application makes everyone’s lives easier, great! You’re now ready to move on to the next phase.

Step 3: Brainstorm your app’s key features. In order to address the problem in step one, you now need to come up with a list of features that your app will have that address this problem. For example, an app to collect charity donations might include the ability to create charity profiles or causes that can receive donations, the ability to link a user’s credit card to donate money, and the ability to see how much money has been donated.

Step 4: Draft your MVP (minimum viable product). If you try to imagine your app in its complete form first, you might get caught up in all the bells and whistles your platform could have and never get your idea completed. That’s why when you’re learning how to develop an app, it’s best to leverage the idea of an MVP: a basic but complete version of your app that showcases your app’s core features from step two. You can even draw this out on paper with basic workflows ("when my user clicks this button, they'll go here") attached to your design. In the case of our charity platform example, you may eventually want ways to share the fact that people donated, have users update people on the results of the charity, or create even more complex features like those of Kickstarter or GoFundMe. But by starting with your core features, you increase the chance for success and can prove your platform works before investing time into more complexities.

Step 5: Take some time to get familiar with your no-code platform. After you register your free account on Bubble, you’ll probably need some time to learn f the basics of the platform. If you have a background in design tools, Bubble's UI builder should look pretty familiar to you. Developers will probably catch on to Bubble's workflow and data logic pretty quickly, as Bubble is built as a true visual programming language. But for someone who might have only encountered basic website builders, it’s important to realize that Bubble is much more powerful than Squarespace or Wix and will require you to do a little more thinking to make the thing you want.

Easy ways to get started for new Bubblers:

  1. If you’re brand new, the Getting Started course is a comprehensive beginner’s tutorial.
  2. If you’re ready to try building, follow along with our interactive lessons to practice building core features in the editor,

You don’t need to be an expert to start building, so don’t be afraid to learn as you go. You can always ask for help on the forum to get help from professional Bubblers.

Step 6: Think like a programmer The most important differences between building a web app from scratch and building a simple website are the logic for the database that stores your app's information and the workflow rules that determine how users interact with your app. Database engineering isn't the most glamorous, but there are ways to think like a programmer would about your database while learning how to develop an app without code.

Even before you start playing around with your web app's design, you should navigate to Bubble's Data tab, and answer these questions:

  1. What are the major categories of "things" my app idea needs to function? These are your Data Types. For example, if you're building an app for people to review restaurants, you'll need Restaurants, Reviews, and Users (the User data type always comes pre-built in your Bubble app).
  2. What subcategories of things fall under my major categories? These are the fields within your data types. Your Restaurant's Data Type could include fields for the name, address, phone number, logo image, and cuisine type for each restaurant.
  3. Do any things relate to each other? When two types of data need to connect to one another, you can add them as fields in the data type. For instance, your Restaurant will have a "list" of Reviews, so that a restaurant can have reviews showing on its page.

If you forget something or want to add a new thing to your database, it's easy to add a new field or data type after the fact. (For instance, you can later include a field for images to your Restaurant tab so that users can upload photos).

Note: Be careful when modifying your data types after you've built workflows! This might mess with the existing logic in your app.

Step 7: Design your app. Now it’s time to start building the basic pages and reusable elements you'll need. Most web apps will need:

  1. A homepage where most users will land whether logged in or out.
  2. Pages your different users might see like portals, logins, and profile pages.
  3. Admin pages or pages/pop-ups with inputs tto add data to your app without needing to go directly to your database.

Pro tip: For any app that makes use of multiple repeating components (lists of movies, marketplace store items, comment threads, etc.), use Bubble's Repeating Group element to generate dynamic content on your pages.

Step 8: Activate your elements with workflows. Workflows are where the magic happens with no-code web app builders like Bubble. In Bubble's Workflow tab, you create the logic to:

  1. Make your buttons clickable and specify what they do (e.g. sign a user up, log them in, log out, go to a page, etc.).
  2. Navigate internal pages or change how elements appear on your page (e.g. hiding, showing, changing colors).
  3. Send users actions like emails, change states, create new entries in your database.
  4. Generate data based on inputs.
  5. Activate any APIs or integrations you've set up to run specific actions.

Workflows are pretty powerful and open-ended. The Bubble UI builder doesn't assume anything about what you want to do, so building workflows will help connect your data to your design and make your app fully functional! With traditional coding, this step may be the most time consuming to specify and deploy, but Bubble's editor allows you to point-and-click through building your workflows and will have your app up and running in a fraction of the time.

Step 9: Set up your privacy settings. Web apps need custom permissions, because (again) it's not assumed that anyone but you understands what you want your users to see or not see. Go to the Data tab and click Privacy and learn how to set privacy settings in your app.

Step 10: Test and troubleshoot. Test mode allows you to preview your app before you publish it. Try out your app in run mode and see if it behaves as you expect. If you notice something wrong, Bubble comes with a handy debug mode and issue checker in the editor. You should also go back to the editor to see if your elements, workflows, and privacy rules are working as intended. If you need help, visit our Support Center or ask for advice on the forum

Step 11: Go live! When you are ready to launch your app or connect your own custom domain to Bubble, you can do that by upgrading to a Paid plan. Plans also unlock improved analytics and other feature perks like custom domains and recurring workflows.

Bonus Step: Iterate on your app after you go live. Adjusting to user feedback after launch is easy on Bubble. Redeploying your app is as simple as clicking a button, and with version control, you can always roll back to a previous update if needed.

Bubble is designed to help you build web apps faster and more affordably, without relying on expensive engineering resources. Getting your idea out into the world with no-code is no problem.