How to build web apps with WordPress

Beginners Guide to Building Web Apps With WordPress (With Real-World Examples!)

Written by Casey Burridge

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WordPress has come a long way since its inception as a blogging platform in 2003.

WordPress has now evolved into a powerful content management system (CMS) and framework for building all kinds of websites, blogs and applications. The fact that more than 43% of all websites on the net use WordPress is a testament to the platform’s ingenuity and flexibility.

Despite this, there are still many people who believe that WordPress isn’t powerful enough for building web apps, but that just isn’t true anymore; it is absolutely possible to build robust, scalable web applications using WordPress!  

In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to cover the “why” and “how” of building web apps with WordPress. We’ll introduce you to some indispensable “low-code” and “no-code” tools and show you some real-world examples of successful web apps running on the WordPress platform.

What Is a Web App?

As the name suggests, a “web app” or “web application” is a cross between a website and an app. A website is a collection of pages accessed through a web browser, and an app is a software platform designed to help users perform specific tasks.

Therefore, a web app is simply an app that is accessed through a web browser!

Features of a Web App

Still not sure how a web app differs from a website? Here are some common features of most web apps.

They Help Users Perform Tasks

While websites present information, web apps are focused around helping users perform specific tasks. For example, DuckDuckGo helps users find content on the internet while maintaining their privacy, and Zapier helps users create automated workflows.

They Are Interactive

Web apps usually contain plenty of interactive elements such as toolbars, text editors, image pickers, and drag and drop elements. Web apps are made possible by web templates, which allow users to interact with elements on the page without having to click.

They Have a Way to Manage Users

Apps usually have a way for users to create an account and login using their personal credentials. This allows the app to save information about the user, maintain privacy and offer a consistent experience.

Advantages of Using WordPress to Build Web Apps

The days of WordPress being a simple blogging platform are over.

WordPress is a robust CMS (Content Management System) with a flexible infrastructure. This makes it easy to use WordPress as a jumping off point for building sophisticated web apps.

Here are some reasons why you should choose WordPress as the framework for your new web app.

Plugins

Flexibility and extensibility are two major strengths of the WordPress platform. In fact, there are tens of thousands of plugins available for adding enhancements to WordPress.

If you have an idea for a web app or a specific functionality that you want to implement on your website, there’s a good chance that there’s already a plugin for that.

User and Role Management

WordPress includes a secure user management system that you can use to register backend administrators and end users without any hassle.

If your app includes different user tiers, you can set this up in WordPress as well. The robust Roles and Capabilities system in WordPress allows you to control what content users have access to and what actions they can perform.

Security

One of the most important aspects to consider when building a new web app is security. Vulnerabilities in your code could allow hackers to gain access to sensitive information, or install malware on your website.

The fact that WordPress now powers over 43% of the web is a testament to its security. Provided you install reputable plugins, choose a secure hosting provider, and keep WordPress up to date, you won’t have to worry about security breaches.

Affordability

WordPress is an open-source platform and it’s 100% free for anyone to use! WordPress runs on PHP which is free and utilizes MySQL for its database, which is also free. Most plugins available for WordPress are also free!

In other words, if you’re building a web app on WordPress the only expenses you’ll need to budget for are hosting costs, premium plugins (if you require them) and custom development work (if you require it).

Man involved in software or web development; Young freelancer programmer is working on a laptop.

When to Use WordPress for Building Custom Web Apps

There are many platforms and tech stacks out there for building web applications, and WordPress won’t always be the best choice. However, there are some situations where WordPress is the ideal solution.

Building MVPs

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product with enough features to attract early adopters and validate a product idea early on in the development process.

In the world of tech, startups build MVPs to gauge customer responses and elicit feedback from users in order to iterate on and improve the product. An MVP allows the development team to spend the least amount of effort to collect the maximum amount of insights regarding how to improve the product.

Building MVPs on WordPress makes sense because it’s affordable, flexible and already includes a lot of what most apps require out-of-the-box.

You Need a Proof of Concept

A proof of concept (POC) is usually the step before the MVP in the product development cycle. The POC helps startups verify that their idea has the potential to solve real-world problems.

A POC helps product teams answer the following two important questions:

  1. Do people need our product? 
  2. Do we have the ability to build this?

Getting a web app off the ground with WordPress makes it the ideal platform for building POCs.

You Want to Develop With Low Code or No Code

WordPress is a robust, fully-functioning content management system that allows you to create and publish high-quality content, manage users and extend functionality using plugins. This allows you to create sophisticated web apps without writing a single line of code!

If, however, you require certain functionality that plugins can’t provide, then you can tweak the code yourself or hire a developer to implement the feature for you. 

Did you know that no-code development is gaining in popularity? According to this report from Zapier, 2020 marked a steep rise in the use of no-code tools. 

You Have Time Constraints

If you’re developing under time constraints, WordPress can help speed up the process. In fact, using WordPress as a base, you can get a new web app up and running in mere hours as opposed to weeks or months.

However, to build successful web apps using WordPress, you’ll need the right tools.

A team of developers and designers building a new wordpress web app

Tools for Building Web Apps On WordPress

After deciding what kind of app you want to build, you’ll need to think about the tools you’ll need to develop it. For example, most apps allow users to work with data stored in a database. The basic database operations are: Create, Read, Update, and Delete (often abbreviated as CRUD).

While WordPress itself is a CRUD system, this only applies to the backend. If you want users to be able to execute CRUD operations from the front end, you’ll need to install certain plugins.

Plugins can also help you build more attractive layouts, automate tasks and customize WordPress without writing any code. Here are some tools that may be of help when building WordPress web apps.

Page Builders

The WordPress block editor (Gutenberg) has improved in leaps and bounds since it was released in 2018. However, it still has a way to go before it will be able to rival Elementor, Divi and other popular page builders.

Using a page builder helps you construct attractive layouts using a drag and drop, visual editor (no code required). Page builders also give you access to pre-configured modules such as accordions, contact forms, tables, sliders and more. This speeds up development and allows you to build beautiful web pages without any technical experience.

Gravity Forms

Gravity Forms is the most powerful form builder for WordPress and includes advanced functionality that is helpful for building web apps. Gravity Forms also integrates with a wide range of third party apps, allowing you to manage data across multiple platforms.

Gravity Forms is highly extensible thanks to certified developers like GravityKit who build and maintain a range of powerful add-ons.

For example, by installing GravityView, you can do CRUD operations such as displaying data in a directory, building front-end databases, allowing users to edit their submissions from the front end and much more. 

💡Pro tip: GravityView is one of the plugins that we offer as part of our essential toolkit of Gravity Forms add-ons.

Development Frameworks

There are several plugins that make it easy to customize WordPress without having extensive development experience. Plugins like Advanced Custom Fields and Pods, allow you to create custom post types, taxonomies and relational data fields.

Automation Plugins

Finally, after building out your UI, adding CRUD functionality and customizing your post types, you may want to automate certain processes to create a more streamlined experience.

Luckily, there are several ways to do this in WordPress. Three possible solutions are Zapier, the Uncanny Automator plugin by Uncanny Owl, and WP Webhooks

Zapier is a service that allows you to connect over 5,000 different apps and create automated workflows. Zapier integrates with a number of WordPress plugins, including Gravity Forms!

Uncanny Automator is a plugin built for WordPress that makes it possible to create automated workflows across dozens of plugins and apps; without writing any code, you can create “recipes” that cause certain activities on your site to trigger other activities. Uncanny Automator integrates with Gravity Forms and GravityKit!

PWA Plugins for Mobile Apps

With over half of all internet traffic coming from mobile devices, providing an amazing experience for mobile users is more important than ever. With WordPress, you can build web apps that offer a native mobile experience. These types of mobile apps are called “progressive web apps” (PWAs).

There are several plugins out there that help you transform your website or desktop app into a PWA for mobile. This includes Appresser, SuperPWA and others.

WordPress Web App Examples

Perhaps you’re still hesitant about using WordPress to build your new web app. If so, it might help to see some real-world examples of successful web apps that run on the WordPress platform.

Credo 

Credo is a SaaS platform that assists companies in finding the right digital marketing agency. Credo maintains an exclusive network of vetted agency partners that they match with businesses who are looking for digital marketing services.

Credo was started by John Doherty who built the initial app using WordPress, Gravity Forms and GravityView. In fact, using this stack, Doherty scaled Credo to $400k/year! You can read all about how he did it in this blog post.

The homepage for Credo

Pressbooks

Pressbooks is a platform for creating, publishing and sharing content. The Pressbooks team create software to support new models of book publishing with an emphasis on accessibility, freedom and open-source.

Pressbooks mainly works with educational institutions, helping them to create and publish educational materials (like textbooks). Pressbooks is built on top of WordPress multisite. There’s a hosted version and a free WordPress plugin available on GitHub. 

A screenshot of the Pressbooks directory on the Pressbooks website

CXL Jobs

CXL is an online training platform that offers courses and “minidegrees” in marketing, taught by some of the world’s leading experts. According to CXL, their mission is to “democratize elite know-how”. CXL’s website is built on WordPress and they recently created their own job board using Gravity Forms and GravityView!

The CXL Job Board built using WordPress, Gravity Forms and GravityView, on cxl.com

StudyChurch

StudyChurch is a WordPress web app designed to help small church groups communicate and work through study materials together. The app allows users to write lessons, answer questions, start discussions and manage their members.

The home page of Study Church

Pieroth

Pieroth is a wine producer and direct selling company headquartered in Germany. The company has operations in multiple countries around the world and maintains a catalog of niche wines.

After recognizing the need for an easier way to manage their product portfolios, Pieroth built a custom product information management system (PIM) on WordPress, powered by Gravity Forms and GravityView!

Pieroth's product information management system (PIM)

Now let’s look at some proven methods for creating powerful and scalable WordPress web apps.

How to Create Web Apps With WordPress Using Gravity Forms and GravityKit

There are many ways to create custom web apps on WordPress. One of the most powerful ways is by using Gravity Forms and GravityKit.

With Gravity Forms you can create web forms using an intuitive drag and drop builder. GravityKit plugins allow you to take the data you collect through your forms, manipulate it and display it on the front end using a range of different layouts.

Here are some examples of web apps that you can build using Gravity Forms and GravityKit.

Directories

Using GravityView’s List layout, you can create business directories and member directories by displaying form submissions on your site. GravityView includes a drag and drop builder, robust sorting and filtering capabilities and a powerful search bar widget.

GravityView also allows entry owners to edit their details from the front end, making it perfect for displaying people or business profiles. 

A business directory built using GravityView

Job Boards

Many people use Gravity Forms and GravityView to build job boards. Gravity Forms allows you to capture all the information you need for a job listing, and GravityView allows you to display those listings on the front end.

Just take a look at this impressive job board on cxl.com!

The job board on CXL.com built using Gravity Forms and GravityView

Databases and Document Libraries

GravityView also allows you to display Gravity Forms data in a table. This is perfect for displaying numerical data or building front-end database applications

Additionally, you can create document libraries to store and categorize files uploaded through the Gravity Forms “File Upload” field.

And Much More!

Take a look at these tutorials to see what else is possible using Gravity Forms and GravityKit:

💡 Pro tip: The official GravityKit blog is one of our best resources. On our blog, we frequently publish “How To” articles, tutorials, case studies and other helpful guides.

Start Building Your New WordPress Web App

In this post, we started by discussing all the advantages of building web apps in WordPress. We also introduced you to some powerful tools (such as Gravity Forms and GravityKit) to make the process easier.

With Gravity Forms and GravityView, you can build powerful CRUD applications without writing any code. Create directories, job boards, databases and much more! If you enjoyed this post, make sure to subscribe below so we can notify you when we publish new content.

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