Single Page Applications: Everything You Need to Know
Traditionally, whenever a user clicked on a link within a web page, the browser would send a request to the server for a new page. When the server received the request, it would send the new page to the user’s browser. This is a slow and tedious process, often placing a heavy load on the servers for popular sites because the data for an entire webpage is sent on every click.
Single Page Applications (SPAs), however, are changing the game. Many of today’s high-traffic sites and social media platforms are adopting SPAs, which allow all information to be loaded on a single page, rather than being loaded as separate pages.
What are Single Page Applications?
A single page application (SPA) is a web-based app that pre-loads within the browser. In doing so, the SPA removes the need for constant reloading of the full webpage, and it only dynamically reloads the relevant content for each user interaction. This results in a user experience that is faster when transitioning between different navigational sections.
Many of the top websites function as SPAs including several of Google’s tools like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Drive. And social media giants, including Facebook and Twitter, are also built as SPAs. Since the functionality of SPAs is handled within the browser, this type of application is always made using frontend frameworks like React, Angular, Vue, Ember.js, Meteor.js, or Knockout.js.
Benefits of Single Page Applications
As the brains behind many of the world’s top web sites can attest, SPAs have numerous benefits for both users and developers. Some of these advantages include:
Faster User Experience: Since users no longer have to wait for responses from the server every time they click a navigational link, users can get the information they want much faster. As all of the necessary client-side structure for the site is already in place, once the SPA loads the server responses only need to include the data to fill in the gaps.
Fewer Server Resources: The SPA loads within the browser one time. When a user makes a request, the server returns the data requested in a format like JSON, rather than the entire page's HTML markup each time. This means that SPAs save on bandwidth and server resources, which is one of the reasons why sites that get millions of views a day rely on SPAs for efficiency and reliability.
Easier Transition to Other Apps: Developers can use much of the same code to transition from an SPA to a mobile app. Since all the content gets delivered at once, SPAs are highly suited for scrolling, which makes them the ideal starting point for mobile apps. SPAs are also often used to create progressive web apps, which offer users functions such as push notifications, offline access, and local caching.
Limitations of Single Page Applications
While both developers and users enjoy the numerous advantages of SPAs over traditional multi-page applications, SPAs are not without their drawbacks. Some of these disadvantages include:
SEO Difficulties: The structure of SPAs means that each “page” from the site comes from a single URL. This structure can limit the capabilities SPAs can use to take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, such as landing pages, inbound links, and site authority. Although Google and other search engines have adjusted their indexing routines to take SPAs into account, developers can still encounter issues with achieving higher search engine results page (SERP) rankings.
When to Use Single Page Applications (And When Not To)
For sites that aim to provide fast, seamless user experiences, SPAs can be a great fit. Social networks, as exhibited by sites such as Facebook and Twitter, are powerful examples of how SPAs can attract users. Developers can also use SPAs as the backbone for mobile apps, giving users a consistent experience across multiple devices. With cross-platform frameworks like React Native, SPAs can be ported to mobile quickly and easily.
If your application primarily displays static content such as blog or standard websites, then a single page application may not be the most cost effective solution. For highly dynamic experiences, however, SPAs can move a lot of the heavy lifting from your servers to client browsers.
Choose the Right CMS for Single Page Applications
If you’re convinced that a SPA is right for your organization, you need to make sure you choose a CMS that can get the job done. Ideally the CMS is API-first and can integrate smoothly with frontend frameworks without complex backend development. You may also want hybrid capabilities to ensure marketers can still use content authoring features.
Magnolia is a CMS that integrates seamlessly with AngularJS, a leading frontend framework used to develop SPAs, to help developers and content authors craft content rich websites. It’s API-first and has a rich set of personalization features that will fit well with a single page app to provide users with a dynamic digital experience. So if you want to take inspiration from the many web personalization examples, Magnolia can help you to execute.
What’s best, we’re working on bringing full-fledged visual editing and preview capabilities of single page apps, while also enabling devs to directly integrate their SPAs without the need to write Magnolia-specific templates at all. Stay tuned!