Web development and software development

Software developmentWeb development vs Software development

These terms go hand in hand, nowadays. Do they get misused?

Let’s see how software development and web development have evolved over time themselves, to understand what is what.

Software development

There were times when there was no World Wide Web (www) (Internet) as such. The computers existed, however, and they were running a software. Software was executed exclusively on machines of the end-users only (we won’t touch mainframes this time, which is another topic). You bought a software on floppy disks or a CD-ROM/DVD-ROM, optionally installed it and launched. What happened afterward was – the software got loaded into the memory of the computer, executed and you were able to interact with it. Typical examples of a locally executed software, aka. “desktop software or application” are such well known goodies as “Microsoft Paint” and good, old “Solitaire” game. The same type of software is still heavily used nowadays, of course, although most of the time you download it over the Internet, instead of installing it from a dusty floppy disk.

The process during which a software is developed, is called “software development”, no matter if the outcome of the process is a machine code or byte code (used in virtualization), or a script that can be interpreted by an interpreter.

Web development

The networking technologies evolved, the Internet was derived from ARPA Network and so was World Wide Web (WWW) later brought to daylight on August 6, 1991.

Did you know?

The Internet is a massive network of networks, a networking infrastructure.

The World Wide Web, or simply Web, is a way of accessing information over the medium of the Internet. It is an information-sharing model that is built on top of the Internet. The Web uses the HTTP protocol, only one of the languages spoken over the Internet, to transmit data.

The first pioneers of user-friendly information providers to the end-users were static websites (web pages). Why static? Because their content was absolutely static. The content was prepared exclusively by developers, mastering HTML scripting language and put inside simple HTML text files. At the very beginning there was no option to load dynamic content which resides in the database, or process it before serving, like we have used to do it nowadays, when using WordPress or any other web software application, for example. So the only job the web-servers did in those times were reading and serving static files over HTTP protocol.

Did you know?

The first web page went live on August 6, 1991.  It was dedicated to information on the World Wide Web project and was made by Tim Berners-Lee. It ran on a NeXT computer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN.

The first web page address was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.

Respectively, at those times there was no software running on the web-servers that would process the information being output to the user, except web-server software itself. But web-server software isn’t something web developers develop when a web-site needs to be built.

Therefore, initially the process when some website was being built (and it was built by combining HTML content with some Cascaded Style Sheet (CSS) content and some image files to make the final result in the browser visually more attractive) was called web development. The contents were actually developed (put in correct HTML markup skeleton), but as I already mentioned before, there were no software applications developed and executed.

It all started to change very quickly when so called “dynamic web” started its evolution process. And we can place the birth of “dynamic web” when Common Gateway Interface (CGI) was first introduced in 1993. That was a way websites (web-servers, if we are being precise) were taught to execute programming codes or scripts (usually Perl scripts) and generate dynamic response content.

Sure, later on appeared such widely known languages as PHP, ASP, ASP.net, Java, Python, Ruby and others, which we know very well today.

With the start of dynamic web, the IT industry and software engineers slowly started to move or port the software we used to have as desktop only, to web. Together with evolution of server-side scripting, client side scripting started to spin up very quickly as well, by taking both parties to a high level, nowadays. And now we can have Office software online, we can have online games and other goodies, which is a decentralized software being executed partially on web-servers, partially on the client machines (browsers).

With this evolution of the World Wide Web technologies, “web development” slowly but steady has transformed into “web software development“.


Put it simple, understanding of “software development” hasn’t changed much since the beginning. Understanding of “web development“, however, has and today it can be aliased with “software development” while prefixed with “web” which leads to “web software development”.