Cars, mobile phones, and thousands of other consumer goods require regular maintenance for optimal performance. User-facing web applications and software products are no exception.
Thoughtful web application maintenance relies on gold standards and other prudent practices that can accelerate business growth while contributing to your agency’s bottom line. To detect issues faster and stay ahead of the curve, it’s essential to understand maintenance fundamentals — and periodically review if your maintenance plan is still the right one for your business needs.
This article outlines the principles of web application maintenance and explores how your agency can develop a rigorous plan of action for better routine care.
What Is Web Application Maintenance?
Web application maintenance refers to a set of proactive engineering activities that are performed after a web application has been launched. It is the process of changing, modifying, and updating a web application to fix errors, meet customer needs, or respond to an external threat.
Maintenance is an integral feature of the web application development cycle. It’s also an ongoing process that should continue throughout the lifecycle of a web application.
WhatsApp Web is a well-known example of a web application that undergoes regular maintenance to ensure it’s meeting customer needs. Those familiar with this web app may have noticed that it sometimes requests a reload to update to its most recent version.
Why Web Application Maintenance Matters
Bugs, also known as defects, can cause an application to fail or expose it to security exploits. Only product testing and code inspection can mitigate bugs.
Some bugs escape detection during the development process and are present when an application has been released to the public. The resulting malfunction requires emergency maintenance to resolve, and is a common scenario in the technology world.
The NASA Mars Climate Orbiter incident reveals how expensive a bug can be. Costing an estimated loss of $173 million, it remains one of the most expensive bug incidents in history.
Given how susceptible web applications are to bug-related incidents, businesses should create a system to identify and fix them before they can spiral out of control. Here are some of the best bug-fixing practices that can help your business.
Develop a Bug Reporting Channel Where Anyone Can Report Bugs
Create a channel, as well as a standard bug-report format, that makes it easy for any user to report an issue.
You can use email, web chats, and social media direct messaging as channels for collecting end-user bug reports. The more channel types available, the better.
Help your maintenance team by developing a bug report format or template that’s easy to fill out. At a minimum, it should answer questions about what, how, when, and where a bug occurred.
The maintenance team uses these necessary details to understand the problem and replicate it in order to develop a solution. You can learn more about creating great bug reports here.
Reward customers and external developers who find and report bugs. Google, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, and others have “bug bounty” programs that reward developers and users for identifying bugs in company products. Bug bounty programs increase the vulnerability detection rate, which reduces the potential for app crashes and exploitation by cybercriminals.
Store Bug Reports in a Central Place
Collecting and storing bug reports in a central repository can simplify how your team tracks and fixes bugs. It also reduces the likelihood that key information and details go missing.
Consider adopting a project management or issue-tracking tool that streamlines the process. Your IT and dev teams should not only have access to the project folder, they should also receive an automatic update whenever a bug is fixed — something the aforementioned tools can facilitate.
Some companies develop in-house tools to organize their bug management system, but product management tools like Jira come with built-in features for tracking issues. Dedicated bug-tracking applications like BugHerd — a visual feedback tool with automation enhancements — are another excellent choice for collecting, filing, and managing bug reports.
The tech world is dynamic and security standards are quick to shift, thanks in part to evolving consumer needs, business standards, or threats. Your business may need to review the security of its web applications to rally its defenses in the face of sophisticated cybersecurity attacks, as well as to ensure compliance with new and ever-changing cybersecurity laws.
Recently, the European Union's general data protection rules and cybersecurity laws forced European companies to revisit their approaches to consumer data management and cybersecurity. These regulations require European businesses to adopt relevant security and organizational measures to better protect consumer data and prevent cyberattacks.
As it turns out, the GDPR infringement fines are enormous, making compliance a smart business choice. Not to mention that cyberattacks come with an alarming business continuity cost.
A loss of public confidence, a time-expensive investigation, and a system audit usually accompany cyberattacks. Keep your security system up to date to prevent these problems.
A regular system security check and update may be all that’s necessary for a secure web application. Research your region's data protection and cybersecurity regulations, and assess your security infrastructure, to ascertain if you're compliant.
Third-Party API Updates
Most web applications serve customers by relying on third-party APIs from partner companies.
For example, an e-commerce web app needs a third-party payment provider to collect customer payments and fulfill customer orders. The third-party provider could be anything from Stripe or PayPal to one of the lesser-known online payment systems.
API integrations offset some of the costs involved in setting up a web app. However, those same integrations can expose businesses to the risk of an attack or exploitation if the third-party APIs have less-than-ironclad security. Hackers exploit APIs because they provide an easy way to access company data and bypass security measures undetected.
When a third-party API provider updates its security standards to meet growing threats or new regulations, its partners must update their API to obtain the latest security enhancements. That makes updating third-party APIs a web application maintenance best practice.
Different API security risks require different solutions. Here are a few of the most common API security risks and their potential solutions.
a. Unsecure Pagination
Most APIs provide access to specific business resources, including user and widget lists. The API will filter and paginate this list for browser-based clients to limit the number of items returned.
If an API has PII or other information, a hacker can scrape the endpoint and receive a list of all entities in the database. This is risky if the entities contain sensitive data.
Solution: Limit the number of items of a single resource that a user or API key can access within a defined time. For instance, an API cannot access more than 10,000 items within an hour. If a user requests and accesses 10,000 items on an API within an hour, ban their API key.
b. Automatic API Key Generation
Most APIs use JWT or API keys for security. These security tools can detect anomalous activity and deny API key access, protecting your API against hackers. However, similar to hackers who use IP addresses to bypass DDoS protection, some hackers can leverage a large pool of user API keys to circumvent security tools.
Solution: Require partners to manually sign up and generate an API key to prevent API key duplication.
c. Human Error
Sometimes, API keys are handled in a careless manner. This can inadvertently expose them to bad actors.
Solution: There is no way to eliminate human error. However, implementing a dual-token authentication system can limit the chances of a rogue individual taking advantage of a slip-up. In this case, a refresh token is saved as the environment variable and can be used to generate short-term access tokens.
d. Poor Server Security
APIs and web servers have similar security standards. Misconfigured SSL certificates and non-HTTPS traffic can cause a data leak on a server.
Although modern web apps hardly allow non-HTTPS queries, clients may mistakenly send one from their web app, revealing the API key.
Solution: Use an SSL test tool to test the SSL implementation of the API.
e. Insufficient Logging
Most worldwide breach studies reveal that data breach detection can take more than 200 days. When no standard exists, hackers can exploit API logging security flaws.
Solution: Use an API logging solution to store API requests and link them to users for behavior analysis. For auditing purposes, keep API requests for at least a year.
f. Poor Access Control
Most API developers utilize OAuth or API keys for global authentication, making it hard to separate authentication from authorization.
Developers overlook authorization during web app testing because it’s logic-specific. Hackers can iterate object IDs to penetrate the system, unless they have enough entropy.
Solution: Ensure API users are authenticated and have permission to access the API resources. This may require comparing user API calls against access control lists associated with the API resources.
Customer complaints and feature requests are frequent triggers for web application maintenance.
Facebook, Google, and several other tech companies use feedback tools to collect customer requests for new features and learn about their preferences.
When there is a justifiable demand for a particular feature or service, these companies develop the feature and push an update. In this context, web application maintenance is performed to satisfy customers.
Every web application is built with an estimated number of users in mind.
When an application undergoes exponential user growth, it strains the application’s resources. The web application must be re-engineered to accommodate the new demand and support ongoing growth.
During the holiday season, e-commerce apps experience a surge in users who are trying to shop. Web application maintenance services can scale the application's capacity to accommodate the user surge.
It is important to note that web apps can only be scaled if they were designed and built for scalability in the first place. Otherwise, the application has to be re-engineered considerably to accommodate the new demand, costing businesses significant time and money.
Anyday helps clients avoid this common pitfall by designing system architecture that supports the client’s current traction and projected growth.
Monitoring Web Applications
Web application monitoring helps IT operations identify and fix mission-critical web app issues before end users start to notice.
Proper monitoring will protect your company from incurring high regulatory penalties, losing clientele, or launching a public relations campaign in response to a significant system failure.
The best way to monitor your web app is to build observability into your system from the ground up. This will give you real-time updates about your app's performance, initiate a system health check, or perform automatic fixes.
LogicMonitor provides SaaS data center monitoring of physical, virtual, and cloud IT infrastructures. The software's performance monitoring, historical tracking, reporting, and email/SMS alerts assist IT staff in spotting issues before they impact operations.
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Types of Application Maintenance Practices
Corrective Web Application Maintenance
Corrective web application maintenance refers to the process of identifying and repairing issues or defects in a deployed web application.
The goal of corrective maintenance is to get the app back on track and resume normal functions. This usually entails identifying the issue, applying a repair or patch, and then testing to ensure the remedy worked.
Corrective maintenance is another integral element of the software development life cycle that keeps web applications functional and secure.
Preventative Web Application Maintenance
Preventative web application and software maintenance is a type of maintenance performed to prevent future crises.
It can resolve minor, pesky issues that may not seem important right now, but could later escalate.
Cybersecurity auditing is an excellent example of a preventative web application maintenance practice. A cybersecurity audit compares your web app's security standard against current and emerging threats.
This activity aims to identify software elements that may require a security upgrade to shield itself from imminent danger.
Perfective Web Application Maintenance
After a successful product launch, growth-focused businesses invest in customers to discover which features they use most and what they want to see from future product updates.
This is where perfective web application maintenance comes into play. Perfective software maintenance aims to improve an app by adding new features when needed and removing features that are redundant or no longer functional or useful.
Businesses use this process to keep their web apps relevant when market and user needs change. Apple's constant optimization of the iOS mobile app software and Google's yearly modification of the Android OS are similar examples of excellent perfective maintenance.
Adaptive Web Application Maintenance
The technology and regulations governing your web app are subject to change, which means it’s vital to practice adaptive software maintenance.
The EU's GDPR and cybersecurity laws are notable events that caused adaptive web application maintenance in business. Most firms had to modify their consumer data security to meet the new standards, with some even moving their data centers to Europe to guarantee compliance.
Example of Web Application Maintenance Processes
Most web application maintenance processes contain all or some of the steps listed below.
Identification and Tracing
Most application maintenance begins with identifying and tracing a bug, issue, or need.
When a bug or defect has been identified and isolated to a specific component of the application, maintenance can start. Depending on your organization, either the IT team, end-users, or a combination of the two will play a major role in identifying and reporting the bug, defect, or feature gap.
Once identified, the dev team will prototype possible solutions to begin impact analysis, which is the next step.
At this stage, proposed solutions to the identified problems undergo internal review, to help understand the full spectrum of current and potential effects on the existing application. This step typically includes cost analysis and overall bottom-line impact.
Next, the team will design a proposed solution.
If the solution involves a front-end update, a high-fidelity design will be created for the front-end development team. For a back-end modification, a system architecture drawing and feature documentation will be created for the back-end developers.
Change implementation begins once the design or system architecture has been passed to the development team. This phase is about building the prototyped solution and ensuring it works with the existing code base.
Implemented changes need rigorous testing to ensure proper functioning and compatibility with the existing code base.
Unit, functional, integration, system, regression, and acceptance tests should be performed before releasing the updated app to end users. You can learn about system testing here.
Upon successful completion of the acceptance test, the new web app can be released to production for end-users. The marketing team should share information about the update with consumers, prior to release, to highlight and bring attention to the latest features and fixes.
Provide a user demonstration and guide if the new update might involve a bit of a learning curve. Make your tech support team available, too, to help any customers who have trouble navigating the update.
System monitoring should continue after a launch. As stated earlier, monitoring is a never-ending, key process in web application maintenance.
5 Best Practices for Web App Maintenance
Hire an Experienced Team
Hiring an experienced team of programmers to oversee your web maintenance practices saves you the hassle of experimenting with your software application's security architecture — as well as regulatory fines, cyberattack, and unnecessary interruptions to your business workflow.
With an experienced team performing routine development and maintenance services, your business can build scalable products that make efficient use of resources. The team can build and ship features with zero or minimal escaped defects much faster than intermediate or inexperienced teams can.
Depending on your business's engineering needs, hiring an experienced team gives your business an overwhelming advantage that may also be cheaper than an in-house team.
Train Your In-House Team
Nevertheless, it’s wise to keep a skilled in-house dev and tech support team on hand to respond to early-stage technical problems. An in-house team can reduce the turnaround time for resolving simple glitches that need less expertise to fix.
Your in-house team can provide swift support services to address situations such as a server downtime or a critical failure of one of your business's third-party payment APIs.
Document Your System
System documentation promotes knowledge sharing. Knowledge sharing, in turn, empowers your team to quickly navigate how your system operates.
There are two types of system documentation: product and code.
Software engineers need direct access to code documentation to comprehend, maintain, and update code.
Code documentation makes it easier for new in-house team members or external ad-hoc development teams to join your development project at any point without getting lost or sitting through an extended orientation program.
Sometimes, the urgency of maintenance can limit the available time to learn about the app's code. In cases where emergency maintenance is required, the development team would have to work quickly to restore the failed services.
Centralized product documentation can guide developers, tech support, and the business team in these circumstances. It keeps everyone on the same page and reduces the risk of wasting time on non-critical project activity.
Maintain a Flexible and Adaptable Structure
Prioritize scaling early on to lower your maintenance costs, improve the user experience, and boost your web application’s agility.
A system is scalable when it can continue to function at optimal levels either during or after a sudden and dramatic rise in the user base or workload. The term “workload,” used in this context, describes anything that exceeds the web app’s initial capacity, including but not limited to concurrent users, storage capacity, or the maximum number of transactions processed.
How to Build Scalable Web Applications
These methods will help you build a scalable web application:
Independent nodes and features
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a software development approach that uses components known as “services” to build applications.
Each application component handles its own independent processes within the architecture but is well-connected to other components. The focus is on structural integrity, saving time and effort when maintaining the application.
When an error occurs in one service, it won't affect others — something that could otherwise lead to a total application crash.
Scalable web applications need load balancers to distribute requests to nodes when there’s a rise in the number of connections. Load balancers distribute loads according to predefined parameters.
Combining caches and cookies with load balancers will make frequently requested resources available, without repeated requests to the server.
Caching reduces query time by storing resources accessed during most server sessions in a specific container.
The assumption is that the query will be repeated many times. Thus, we can establish a tiny store for common query results to reduce user response time.
A cache can be used throughout a web application, although it works best under specific circumstances.
Indexes help retrieve data from a large database. This solution can be used to build e-commerce app databases that make product searches faster.
Indexing has limited capabilities. It functions best when combined with the other optimization solutions discussed in this article.
This technique is used to manage several concurrent requests. When a web app has a large user base querying the same resource, it may result in an overload.
To reduce the load, implement queuing to handle requests asynchronously. When a user makes a request, they are put in a queue and given information about the response time.
Web application maintenance is a compulsory practice and should be a major part of your product development and expansion strategy.
If you have a team that can execute the tips in this article, you’re already on your way to better web application maintenance. Otherwise, consider hiring a development partner like Anyday to build and manage your next web application.