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Decentralized Apps (dApps) vs. Web Apps: What’s the difference?

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Published:May 11, 2022
Last Modified:July 22, 2022

This article will answer popular questions about decentralized applications, how they are different from regular web apps, and which dApps are most popular right now. 



At ETHDenver, a February 2022 event for enthusiasts of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and Ethereum in the rocky mountains, the Colorado governor glorified the potential of blockchain technology and deemed it as a critical part of Colorado’s overall innovation ecosystem. While this was a profound statement coming from a government official, there’s been countless discussions about the opportunities presented with blockchain. As more and more discussions arise about its innovative capabilities, blockchain technology has started yet another conversation, that of Decentralized Apps (dApps). Decentralized applications, or known as dApps, are next-generation applications built on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks that eliminate the need for third-party moderators.

Unlike Meta and Web 3, decentralized applications already exist and have transformed the future of applications. This article will answer popular questions about decentralized applications, like what they are, how dApps are different from regular apps, and which dApps are most popular right now. 

What is a web application? 

Web applications, or web apps, are computer programs that run on centralized web servers controlled by the cloud and perform tasks over the internet, like Chrome, Safari, Firefox. Web applications do not need to be downloaded and do not operate offline.

What is a decentralized application (dApp)? 

Decentralized apps, or dApps, are applications built on blockchain infrastructure. Though dApps may feel like regular apps from the user's perspective, their backends are very different from most apps you’re used to because they’re open-source. As open-source software, dApps give users the freedom to add, change, and manipulate the code. This also means that once someone publishes on a dApp, it’s there permanently and cannot be deleted by any single authority. Instead of a single entity, like a company or government, controlling the platform, dApps have backends that run on community-governed peer-to-peer (P2P) networks which give users and creatives more control.

How do dApps work? 

dApps look and feel like regular applications, but the backend is much different. Instead of running on a centralized server, the data from dApps must be stored on a decentralized network or blockchain. There are three core components to understanding how dApps work: 


Ethereum is the most common platform to build and deploy decentralized applications with close to 3,800 dApps currently running on its blockchain. Ethereum eliminates chances of downtime, fraud, control, or interference from a third party through the blockchain and smart contracts because it is completely distributed. This means that no single entity or authority can control the platform, making the platform community governed. 


Smart Contracts 

Smart contracts are balances of code and data that send transactions over the network after meeting specific criteria. The functionality of smart contracts is often compared to vending machines because they are self-executed and do not require a middle man or a third-party system between the customer and the product. Similarly, users don’t control smart contracts. Instead, smart contracts deploy when particular validations are satisfied. 


dApps are possible because of blockchain technology. Mathematician and tech entrepreneur Charles Hoskin defined blockchain technology as ‘a persistent, distributed, tamper-resistant, cryptographically secure database” used to store information indefinitely. In other words, the blockchain isn’t a single database but an architectural principle around shared data. Once data enters the blockchain, it’s there permanently and will not be censored, removed, or edited. Blockchain security is reinforced with encryption, smart contracts, and distributed computing, making the blockchain a highly secure place to store and transfer information. 

How are dApps different than regular apps? 

Even though they may appear similar, there are a few primary differences between dApps and web apps. One differentiation is that web applications use the central HTTP protocol to communicate on a centralized server. In contrast, dApps exist on decentralized blockchain technology hosted on a virtual machine. Another difference is that web applications are run and operated by the creator that built them, like Twitter or Facebook, while dApps are open-source and can have their code built upon or changed by anyone. A final consideration between regular applications and dApps is that regular apps go through an iteration process to work out bugs, whereas dApps cannot afford the same flexibility. Once they’re on the blockchain, they are there permanently, so dApps must be close to perfect before they’re released. 

What are popular dApps? 


Bitcoin is an open-source cryptocurrency platform that allows peers to transfer money without the need for a third-party payment processor. The cost and transfer time to receive funds are significantly reduced through peer-to-peer transactions. 


BitTorrent is a file-sharing system that turns downloaders into sources, making downloading easier and faster. Instead of downloading a file from a single source, BitTorrent uses peer-to-peer sharing that allows users to download pieces of a file from others. 


Tor is an internet browser that keeps all users on the web anonymous. By hiding users' locations, Tor is a “traffic analysis resistance tool” that keeps everyone’s identity unknown to government officials, law enforcement, and companies that can use your information to push agendas or make sales.

Popcorn Time

The once-popular BitTorrent client with integrated media, Popcorn Time, was a dApp but is no longer available. Technically, users weren’t streaming media from Popcorn Time but instead were sharing pirated movies hosted on their computers. Law enforcement believed watching media on Popcorn Time constituted copyright infringement and shut the platform down despite the technicality. 

If you’re interested in keeping up with decentralized applications available today, check out State of the Dapps to learn more. 

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