Is There any Difference between a “Program” and an “Application“?

By Elena, Customer Support Specialist at Flat Rock

Being part of the high-tech world people became familiar with words like “program” and “application”. Almost every day you could hear someone passionately recommending a new “app” that was just installed on their smartphone. We are used to the terminology and it became an essential element of our everyday life, but do we know the difference between a program and an application?

The definition of both terms varies and there are many articles confirming that these are one and the same thing. However, according to some IT specialists, the definitions of program and application slightly differ.

Before we have a look at the description of a program and an application, we need to clarify that both are considered computer software. Software could be roughly separated to application software and system software.

System software

These are all the programs, which are responsible for managing the computer itself. A good example is the operation system.

Application software

The application software we simply call applications. Application software consists of all the end user programs, which are created to help users perform a particular task. Some of them are quite simple such as the calculator application, while others are a bit more complex like word processing applications. (A good example is the well-known MS Word application).

Considering the above clarifications, we could now understand the difference between a program and an application, but let’s review their short definitions as well.

What is a program?

A program is basically a set of coded instructions, which a computer can recognize in order to solve a problem or generate the desired result. All these instructions are written in a program language by a programmer and they aim to help the computer operate smoothly. Programs are frequently used to refer to a complete operational unit which is not intended for public use such as a test program.

What is an application?

“Application” or “app” is an abbreviation for application program. An application program is a program created to perform a specific functionality that will serve the end user.

Another characteristic is that an application is often a combination or a collection of coordinating programs applied to a particular problem or need. Application is basically a piece of software that could be used on a personal computer, smartphone or other electronic device. It is a complete element that may contain more than one module in more than one language on more than one computer, all working together. Suitable examples are the collections in Google Apps for work, App Store, Google Play.

Many people believe that the word “application” and especially “app” became popular during the last few years and it was set as a fashion term by some of the leading smartphone manufacturers. As a result, an app is mostly used when talking about mobile devices, - tablets and smartphones.

Comparing the definitions, we could conclude that there is a slight, technical difference and the terms are not quite identical. Each application is a program, however a program is not necessarily an application. A good example is the fact, that a lot of programs are running on the background of an operating system but since they are not developed for the end user, they are not applications. A program with a user interface is more likely to be considered an application.

Although they might be sometimes used interchangeably, we should associate an end user when we are talking about an application and relate a program to a set of instructions that could be executed on a computer.

We live in an extremely dynamic environment, a world completely influenced by the rapid technology progress. Every day something changes and that is why the terms should be adjusted as well. We could look at it from another prospective – “Programs are classic and vintage, while Apps are the new kids on the block. “

Need a program or an app? Get in touch with us and we will find the right solution (and terminology) for you.

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