7 Difference Between RIA and Traditional Web Application

Since coined by Macromedia in 2002, RIA (Rich Internet Application) has become one of the hottest terms online. However, what is RIA? Not all people have a clear answer. Many times, when someone says RIA, he actually means Flash, AJAX, or Web Video. A typical example is, some companies put “X years RIA experience” in their job requirements, while they actually want someone good at HTML.

So, what is RIA any way? It is a set of characteristics rather than a specific framework. To understand this, let’s look at 7 Difference Between RIA and Traditional Web Application:

1. Rich Assets

This is the fundamental difference. A traditional website is mainly made up of Text (plus a few pictures). No matter what kind of site it is (blog, forum, or e-commerce),  No matter what technology it uses (Static HTML, Java, or .NET), it is Text-Based.

RIA has more assets to deal with, such as Audio, Graphic, Video, State, Transition, and Effect. It is Interaction-Based.

2. Rich Experience

The richness of RIA means rich user experience. It is kind of paradigm shift from what we can provide more to how we can help users get more.

Thanks to the rich assets and their interaction-based design model, a well-built RIA often creates a WOW Experience for its users.

3. Rich Functionality

Powered by the latest web technologies such as Adobe Flex/Flash, AJAX, or Microsoft SilverLight, A RIA can provide functions way beyond traditional web pages. Just look at PhotoShop Express or Google Docs, you will see they act more like a desktop application. This is unbelievable in the past.

4. Rich Client

A traditional web application often puts heavy workload on the server side. Regardless of its development platform (Java, .Net, or PHP), the server has to maintain the user session, process the request, and render the results. The client side is merely a browser to display the final page.

On the contrary, RIA leverages the growing power of client machine. It installs a runtime (such as browser plug-in) on the client side, and executes most of functions locally.

5. Rich Communication

The traditional way to operate a web application is like:

Click a button => Wait for the result page showing => Click another button

Whenever users ask for something, the browser has to send a HTTP request to the server, wait for the response back from the server, and refresh the page. This synchronous communication method inevitably creates negative impact on usability.

While RIA normally uses Asynchronous communication method. It allows the application to get the data from the server without the page reload. It makes the application faster and more user-friendly.

6. Poor Security

While we enjoy the richness of RIA, it brings more security concerns than a traditional web application. The main reason is RIA is running on the client side. It tends to have more security flaws. Fortunately, the major RIA framework, like Adobe Flex/Flash, has realized this issue for long time. It applies restricted security protocol and provides security patches as fast as possible.

7. Poor SEO

This is another big challenge faced by RIA. Today’s major search engines are still Text-Driven. They have difficulty to fully index the content inside compiled file, such as Adobe Flash File (.swf).

On the other hand, because RIA is running independently on its own  browser plug-in, it is hard for the browse to capture the application state. For example, the URL keeps the same regardless of content changes. This causes problems with Bookmark, Page History, Back Button, and Search Engine Index.

Of course, the major RIA vendors are well aware of this challenge. For example, Adobe actively cooperates with Google and Yahoo to improve the search results. It also provides Deep Link capability to support URL based navigation in the browser.


In Conclusion

Like Web 2.0, RIA provides a new way to think, design, and build the next generation Internet application. Compared to a traditional web applicaiton, RIA is richer in terms of Assets, Experience, Functionality, Client, and Communication, while it faces some challenges in the areas of Security and Search Engine Optimization.

About Bryan
Bryan Li has more than 10 years business consulting and project development experience with major corporate clients including Sony, Bank of Montreal, Bruce Power, etc. As a fan and advocate for RIA(Rich Internet Application) technologies, Bryan helps companies and developers learn, design, and build richer applications using Adobe Flex.

11 Comments on 7 Difference Between RIA and Traditional Web Application

  1. I have to agree with the poor SEO point, and so does Mark Anders of Adobe. You can read what he has to say in his interview on my blog – http://www.insidethewebb.com/2009/07/interview-with-mark-anders-primary-developer-of-rich-internet/

  2. Hi Jake,

    It’s nice to see you on Flex Tutorial. I have read your post about the interview with Mark Anders. Great insights from the source!

  3. Bid directorys will boost your seo. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  4. Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.

  5. I added your blog to bookmarks. And i’ll read your articles more often!

  6. P R Sekharan // August 4, 2009 at 6:34 am //

    Hi expert,
    I have read this tutorial , it was very nice.

  7. great tips. I enjoyed reading this

  8. These are the advantages of Flex and What are the disadvantages only SEO???

  9. wow… nice article…great job, bcos u have given these information as one article otherwise v people need to refer more things to collect these whole info.

  10. Raymond Anto // August 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm //

    A real eye opener for people who have a vague idea
    about RIA’s. Thanks

  11. I am very thankful to this topic because it really gives great information ~:”

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