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Desktop Applications Versus Web Applications

Up until the advent of the internet programmers really only developed one type of application used by end-users.  This type of application was called a desktop application. As the name implies, these applications ran strictly from a desktop computer, and were limited by the resources available to the computer. Initially, this type of applications did not need resources outside of the scope of the computer in which they installed. The problem with this type of application is that if multiple end-users need to access the same desktop application, then the application must be installed on the end-user’s computer.

In this age of software development security was not as big of a concern as it is today with other types of applications. This is primarily due to the fact that an end-user must have access to the computer where the software is installed in order for them to access the application. In addition, developers could also password protect the application just in case an authorized end-user was able to gain access to the computer.

With the birth of the internet a second form of application emerged because developers were trying to solve inherent issues with the preexisting desktop application. One of the solutions to overcome some of the short comings of desktop applications is the web application. Web applications are hosted on a centralized server and clients only need to have network access and a web browser in order to access the application. Because a web application can be installed on a remote server it removes the need for individual installations of the same application on each end-user’s computer.  The main benefits to an application being hosted on a server is increased accessibility to the application due to the fact that nothing has to be installed on a desktop computer for an end-user to be able to access the application. In addition, web applications are much easier to maintain because any change to the application is applied on the server and is inherently applied to any end-user trying to use the application. This removes the time needed to install and maintain individual installations of a desktop application. However with the increased accessibility there are additional costs that are incurred compared to a desktop application because of the additional cost and maintenance of a server hosting the application. Typically, after a desktop application is purchased there are no additional reoccurring fees associated with the application. 

When developing a web based application there are additional considerations that must be addressed compared to a desktop application. The added benefit of increased accessibility also now adds a new failure point when trying to gain access to an application. An end-user now must have network connectivity in order to access the application. This issue is not a concern for desktop applications because there resources are typically bound to the computer in which they run.

Since the availability of an application is increased with the use of the client-server model in a web based application, additional security concerns now come in to play. As stated before a, desktop application is bound to the accessibility of the end-user to the computer that the application is installed. This is not the case with web based applications because they potentially could have access from anywhere with the proper internet/network connection. Additional security steps are required to insure the integrity of the application and its data. Examples of these steps include and are not limited to the following:

  • Restricted/Password Areas
    • This form of security is used when specific information can only be accessed by end-users based on a set of accessibility rules.
  • IP Restrictions
    • This form of security is used when only specific locations need to access an application. This form of security is applied from within the web server or a firewall.
  • Network Restrictions (Firewalls)
    • This form of security is used to contain access to an application within a specific sub set of a network.
  • Data Encryption
    • This form of security is used transform personally identifiable information in to something unreadable so that it can be stored for future use.
  • Encrypted Protocols (HTTPS)
    • This form of security is used to prevent others from reading messages being sent between applications over a network.
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