Ever wish web apps behaved more like real apps? Progressive Web Apps are a new technology that’s aiming to make that happen.
The Short Version: What Are Progressive Web Apps?
Here’s the quick summary: Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and other companies are working on a new, modern web application standard. Even Apple is following along and implementing support for it. These applications are web apps, but they behave more like native apps. Like existing web apps, they’ll be hosted directly on their associated website. Developers can update them directly on their web server without submitting those updates to several different app stores, and the same app will run on all browsers and platforms.
When you install a progressive web app, you’ll get a home screen, taskbar, or desktop shortcut that launches the app (depending on your platform). The app will load quickly and will include offline support, push notifications, background syncing support, and other modern goodies.
These apps can also use existing web technologies to access location services, your webcam, and other such features we’d normally associate with native apps. Of course, apps have to ask you and get your permission before accessing these things.
The Technical Version: How Do They Work?
Progressive Web Apps are traditional web applications that are enhanced with modern web technologies, allowing them to provide a more app-like experience. The “progressive” part means they’re “progressively enhanced” with modern web features, which means they’ll also work in older browsers that don’t support the new features, but will work better and with more features in modern browsers.
These apps will get their own window and shortcut on your taskbar (on Windows 10 and anything running Chrome) or an icon on your home screen (on Android devices and other smartphones). When you open them, they’ll load quickly thanks to the Cache API and IndexedDB, which stores the app’s resources and data on your device, allowing them to work even when they’re offline. Technologies like Service Workers and push notifications will allow the app to perform background tasks like syncing and sending you notifications even when they’re not running, like a native app. The Fetch API makes it faster and simpler for the app to request data. They have a Web App Manifest file, which provides a name, icon, author, and description that’s used when installing the app to your home screen or desktop. They’re always served via encrypted HTTPS, which means they’re secure and data can’t be tampered with in transit.
Progressive Web Apps are not like Google’s Chrome Packaged Apps or Microsoft’s Hosted Web Apps. Those required the app to be “packaged” as a file and submitted to an app store. The entire app lived in a little offline bundle, and users had to install it from either the Chrome Web Store or Windows Store. These were also platform-specific, and would only work on Chrome…
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