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A blog about software development best practices, how-tos, and tips from practitioners.

Key considerations while developing a real-time web application

Globally, there are over 3.26 billion internet users – that’s more than 40% of the entire world’s population! Clearly, the Internet has taken over as our preferred mode of communication and has emerged as an invaluable and irreplaceable source of information. The Internet has also impacted information exchange - making it simpler, faster and real-time. The Internet effect has had such a transformative impact on communication that traditional web applications are gradually getting replaced by real-time web applications. These applications function within specific time frames where the application communicates on a real-time basis with the server and helps the user perform some kind of transactional activity. So be it communicating on social media forums, looking for housing listings on real estate sites, shopping online, etc. Real-time applications are gradually dominating the Internet as they provide the perfect balance of information, functionality, content and interactivity which in the end, increases user engagement with the application. Needless to say, real-time applications see high traffic volumes and hence demand an efficient use of the hardware assets at their disposal. These applications have to be light-weight, allow iterative development and provide content in an organized and structured manner.

Real Time Web Application

In this blog, we take a look at some key considerations while developing real-time web applications. 

Focus on UI and UX:

Real-time web applications demand intuitive UI and UX interfaces that anticipate customer journey’s to provide intelligent product and service options. Given the level of engagement these applications demand, the information architecture has to be well laid out and has to complement the product and screen layouts. The application developers need to identify and understand their target audience and identify how they want to use the application to make it more usable. Most real-time web applications need to pay a close focus on page layouts and navigation patterns as well. To make the information exchange easier and seamless, it is also important to establish right visual and information hierarchies, select the appropriate colors and typography, ensure correct button placements and URL’s, etc. for higher user engagement.

Navigation Structure:

Navigation structure for real-time web applications assumes great importance as the trend says that these applications are vertically much longer. Considering that the users have no patience for page loading, opting for scrolling over pagination reaps better rewards in the long run. With continuous scrolling, users do not have to wait for a page to load and that makes better usability sense.

Clear Search Focus:

The real-time web applications like eCommerce sites, which display a high volume of products, need to have a clearly defined search feature. A clearly displayed search bar which adopts the auto-complete functionality makes the search option more efficient and streamlined and positively impacts the applications performance.

Speed and Performance Focus:

Real-time applications have to be fast and high on the performance angle. Research suggest that every second counts when it comes to these web applications as “40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load”.  Kissmetrics estimates that for an eCommerce website that generates approximately “$100,000 per day, a 1 second page delay could potentially cost you $2.5 million in lost sales every year.” In order to ascertain express computing speeds, site developers need to play attention to the technology that they use to develop the applications. They have to adopt technologies that allow ad-hoc data manipulations and fast iterations and allow distributed computing. The technology choice has to allow real-time manipulations of large data sets so that the application can perform logically when demand exceeds hundreds of queries per second. Along with this, the applications also should be able to delegate traffic to the different servers intelligently so that the main application server can serve the dynamic contents of the main application page. Using Proxy Web Server or having a comprehensive content delivery or content distribution network or using third party storage services are a few ways to maximize bandwidth.

For the high performance of the applications, developers also need to ensure that the programming language that they choose supports functional programming which supports scalability.

Scalability:

Since real-time applications have high traffic, it is essential that they use a high-capacity server. This can be done by either adding more hardware resources such as increasing memory, or increasing the number of processors to cope with the increasing traffic or by adding extra server machines to the server pool. Taking this clustered approach ensures the high availability and proper load balancing which distributes the load uniformly across the servers. This approach makes sure that at least one server is available for use at all the times and thus provides a seamless user experience.

Security Deliberations:

As applications are getting larger, faster and increasingly complex, ensuring the security of these applications is also becoming increasingly important. Considering the volume of data exchange that takes place on real-time applications, developers need to provide a robust security layer to the application by utilizing assessment/vulnerability detection technologies. These technologies, such as static and dynamic application security testing, software composition analysis, etc. identify the weaknesses and vulnerabilities present in the application, provide insights into the application logic flows, database accesses, data configurations, etc. and help in the creation of applications that have zero latency. Since the level of collaboration in real-time applications is also high, it becomes essential to have well defined Service Access Points that allow only the legitimate parties to access the application.

With real-time applications climbing the popularity charts, an increasing number of businesses are adopting these to bolster engagement with their users. However, in order to be successful in their endeavors managing the performance, speed and scalability challenge becomes imperative. Thus, when building real-time applications, businesses need to ensure that they not only prepare themselves to meet and manage the average expected traffic but take the right steps to meet the challenge of sudden traffic spikes and make sure that their application functions smoothly at all time.

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