Single Page Application: advantages and disadvantages [closed]
I’ve read about SPA and it advantages. I find most of them unconvincing. There are 3 advantages that arouse my doubts.
Let’s look at one of the most popular SPA sites, GMail.
1. SPA is extremely good for very responsive sites:
Server-side rendering is not as hard as it used to be with simple techniques like keeping a #hash in the URL, or more recently HTML5
pushState. With this approach the exact state of the web app is embedded in the page URL. As in GMail every time you open a mail a special hash tag is added to the URL. If copied and pasted to other browser window can open the exact same mail (provided they can authenticate). This approach maps directly to a more traditional query string, the difference is merely in the execution. With HTML5 pushState() you can eliminate the
#hash and use completely classic URLs which can resolve on the server on the first request and then load via ajax on subsequent requests.
2. With SPA we don’t need to use extra queries to the server to download pages.
The number of pages user downloads during visit to my web site?? really how many mails some reads when he/she opens his/her mail account. I read >50 at one go. now the structure of the mails is almost the same. if you will use a server side rendering scheme the server would then render it on every request(typical case).
– security concern – you should/ should not keep separate pages for the admins/login that entirely depends upon the structure of you site take paytm.com for example also making a web site SPA does not mean that you open all the endpoints for all the users I mean I use forms auth with my spa web site.
– in the probably most used SPA framework Angular JS the dev can load the entire html temple from the web site so that can be done depending on the users authentication level. pre loading html for all the auth types isn’t SPA.
3. May be any other advantages? Don’t hear about any else..
- only one entry point of the site. As I mentioned earlier maintenance of state is possible you can have any number of entry points as you want but you should have one for sure.
Advantages that I can think of are:
- rendering html obviously takes some resources now every user visiting you site is doing this. also not only rendering major logics are now done client side instead of server side.
- to me state is more nicely maintained in an SPA because once you have set a variable you know it will be there. this gives a feel of developing an app rather than a web page. this helps a lot typically in making sites like foodpanda, flipkart, amazon. because if you are not using client side state you are using expensive sessions.
- websites surely are extremely responsive – I’ll take an extreme example for this try making a calculator in a non SPA website(I know its weird).
Updates from Comments
It doesn’t seem like anyone mentioned about sockets and long-polling.
If you log out from another client say mobile app, then your browser
should also log out. If you don’t use SPA, you have to re-create the
socket connection every time there is a redirect. This should also
work with any updates in data like notifications, profile update etc
An alternate perspective: Aside from your website, will your project
involve a native mobile app? If yes, you are most likely going to be
feeding raw data to that native app from a server (ie JSON) and doing
client-side processing to render it, correct? So with this assertion,
you’re ALREADY doing a client-side rendering model. Now the question
becomes, why shouldn’t you use the same model for the website-version
of your project? Kind of a no-brainer. Then the question becomes
whether you want to render server-side pages only for SEO benefits and
convenience of shareable/bookmarkable URLs
I am a pragmatist, so I will try to look at this in terms of costs and benefits.
Note that for any disadvantage I give, I recognize that they are solvable. That’s why I don’t look at anything as black and white, but rather, costs and benefits.
- Boiler plate content that is on every page (header, footer, logo, copyright banner, etc.) only loads once per typical browser session.
- No overhead latency on switching “pages”.
- Performance monitoring – hands tied: Most browser-level performance monitoring solutions I have seen focus exclusively on page load time only, like time to first byte, time to build DOM, network round trip for the HTML, onload event, etc. Updating the page post-load via AJAX would not be measured. There are solutions which let you instrument your code to record explicit measures, like when clicking a link, start a timer, then end a timer after rendering the AJAX results, and send that feedback. New Relic, for example, supports this functionality. By using a SPA, you have tied yourself to only a few possible tools.
- Security / penetration testing – hands tied: Automated security scans can have difficulty discovering links when your entire page is built dynamically by a SPA framework. There are probably solutions to this, but again, you’ve limited yourself.
- Big bang refactoring: If you want to make a major architectural change, like say, switch from one framework to another, to minimize risk, it’s desirable to make incremental changes. That is, start using the new, migrate on some basis, like per-page, per-feature, etc., then drop the old after. With traditional multi-page app, you could switch one page from Angular to React, then switch another page in the next sprint. With a SPA, it’s all or nothing. If you want to change, you have to change the entire application in one go.
- Complexity of navigation: Tooling exists to help maintain navigational context in SPA’s, like history.js, Angular 2, most of which rely on either the URL framework (#) or the newer history API. If every page was a separate page, you don’t need any of that.
- Complexity of figuring out code: We naturally think of web sites as pages. A multi-page app usually partitions code by page, which aids maintainability.
Again, I recognize that every one of these problems is solvable, at some cost.
But there comes a point where you are spending all your time solving problems which you could have just avoided in the first place. It comes back to the benefits and how important they are to you.
A major architectural advantage of a SPA (that rarely gets mentioned) in many cases is the huge reduction in the “chattiness” of your app. If you design it properly to handle most processing on the client (the whole point, after all), then the number of requests to the server (read “possibilities for 503 errors that wreck your user experience”) is dramatically reduced. In fact, a SPA makes it possible to do entirely offline processing, which is huge in some situations.
Performance is certainly better with client-side rendering if you do it right, but this is not the most compelling reason to build a SPA. (Network speeds are improving, after all.) Don’t make the case for SPA on this basis alone.
While developing SPA, you will be forced to handle SEO issues, probably by post-rendering all your site and creating static html snapshots for crawler’s use. This will require a solid investment in a proper infrastructures.
Since writing this answer a while ago, I gain much more experience with Single Page Apps (namely, AngularJS 1.x) – so I have more info to share.
In my opinion, the main disadvantage of SPA applications is SEO, making them limited to kind of “dashboard” apps only. In addition, you are going to have a much harder times with caching, compared to classic solutions. For example, in ASP.NET caching is extreamly easy – just turn on OutputCaching and you are good: the whole HTML page will be cached according to URL (or any other parameters). However, in SPA you will need to handle caching yourself (by using some solutions like second level cache, template caching, etc..).
I would like to make the case for SPA being best for Data Driven Applications. gmail, of course is all about data and thus a good candidate for a SPA.
But if your page is mostly for display, for example, a terms of service page, then a SPA is completely overkill.
I think the sweet spot is having a site with a mixture of both SPA and static/MVC style pages, depending on the particular page.
For example, on one site I am building, the user lands on a standard MVC index page. But then when they go to the actual application, then it calls up the SPA. Another advantage to this is that the load-time of the SPA is not on the home page, but on the app page. The load time being on the home page could be a distraction to first time site users.
This scenario is a little bit like using Flash. After a few years of experience, the number of Flash only sites dropped to near zero due to the load factor. But as a page component, it is still in use.
For such companies as google, amazon etc, whose servers are running at max capacity in 24/7-mode, reducing traffic means real money – less hardware, less energy, less maintenance. Shifting CPU-usage from server to client pays off, and SPAs shine. The advantages overweight disadvantages by far.
So, SPA or not SPA depends much on the use case.
Just for mentioning another, probably not so obvious (for Web-developers) use case for SPAs:
I’m currently looking for a way to implement GUIs in embedded systems and browser-based architecture seems appealing to me. Traditionally there were not many possibilities for UIs in embedded systems – Java, Qt, wx, etc or propriety commercial frameworks. Some years ago Adobe tried to enter the market with flash but seems to be not so successful.
Nowadays, as “embedded systems” are as powerful as mainframes some years ago, a browser-based UI connected to the control unit via REST is a possible solution. The advantage is, the huge palette of tools for UI for no cost. (e.g. Qt require 20-30$ per sold unit on royalty fees plus 3000-4000$ per developer)
For such architecture SPA offers many advantages – e.g. more familiar development-approach for desktop-app developers, reduced server access (often in car-industry the UI and system muddles are separate hardware, where the system-part has an RT OS).
As the only client is the built-in browser, the mentioned disadvantages like JS-availability, server-side logging, security don’t count any more.