Nowadays, these terms go hand in hand. But, do they get misused? Let’s see how software development and web development have evolved over time, so that we can understand what’s what.
There was a time when there was no World Wide Web (www) (Internet) as such. Computers existed, and they were, of course, running software. Software was executed exclusively on the end-user’s machines (we won’t touch mainframes this time, as this is another topic). You bought your software on floppy disks or a CD-ROM/DVD-ROM, installed it on your machines and then launched it. Then, the software got loaded into the memory of the computer, executed and you were able to use it. Typical examples of locally executed software, aka. “desktop software applications” are such well known goodies as “Microsoft Paint” and the 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 software is developed, is called “Software Development”, no matter whether the outcome of the process is a machine code or byte code (used in virtualization), or a script that has been created by a programmer.
Networking technologies evolved, the Internet was derived from the ARPA Network and the World Wide Web (WWW) was brought into being 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 completely static. The content was prepared exclusively by developers, who mastered the HTML scripting language and created simple HTML text files. At the very beginning there was no option to load dynamic content, i.e coming from a database, or process it before serving to the user, as we have now, for example, when using WordPress or any other web software application. So, the only job the web-servers did in those times was 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.
At those times, there was no software running on the web-servers that would process the information being output to the user, except the 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 by which a website was 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 a correct HTML markup skeleton), but, as 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. We can place the birth of “Dynamic Web” when Common Gateway Interface (CGI) was first introduced in 1993. This was a way that websites (web-servers, to be precise) were taught to execute programming codes or scripts (usually Perl scripts) and generate dynamic response content.
Of course, 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 that used to be desktop only, to the web. Together with the evolution of server-side scripting, client-side scripting started be used as well, taking both parties to a higher level. So, now we have, for example, Office software online, we also have online games and other goodies, and these are decentralized software applications executed partly on web-servers, and partly on the client machines (using browsers).
So, as you can see, with the gradual evolution of World Wide Web technologies, “Web development” has slowly but steady has transformed into “web software development“.
To put it simply, our understanding of “software development” hasn’t changed much since the beginning, however, the understanding of “web development“, has changed, and today it can be combined with “software development” which leads us to the term to “web software development”.