Decentralized vs Centralized: The Clash of App-roaches

Apps are an integral part of most people’s lives. Whether you use them to track your fitness goals, entertain yourself, check the weather, or order another bucket of wings at KFC, they’ve undoubtedly changed our lives and allowed us to, if anything, be more efficient and get almost-instant access to information or services.
Yet not all apps are created equal. Some are built on a decentralized architecture, while others – the more prominent ones – are centralized. These different approaches to app development have critical implications for app security, functionality, and use cases. That said, let’s explore the difference between standard web apps and decentralized ones – or dApps, as we call them.

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Apps vs dApps

Illustration: Milica M.

Apps vs dApps: The Fundamental Differences

Centralized or web apps – or just apps – are owned by a single company. These are the ones we use on a daily basis – some were pre-configured into your phone, and some found their way to your phone through App Store or Google Play. What’s important to know about these apps is that their software resides on company servers; hence the term centralized – the control of the software and data transmission is in the hands of one, perhaps a few, parties.

If you want to use a centralized app, you’ll download its copy, and the data you generate through app usage will travel back and forth from your phone to the company servers until you deinstall it.

On the other hand, a decentralized app resides and operates on a blockchain, a distributed, interactive public ledger permanently maintaining a list of all records within a specific ecosystem.

A decentralized app

Photo illustration: Freepik

At first glance, a decentralized application may feel like a regular, centralized app to the users.

However, there is no way to differentiate a dApp from a regular app just by looking at the front end only. Their backend architecture, on the other hand, is very different from a standard app’s backend. So, the fundamental difference between apps and dApps is the approach to development – traditional apps are centralized, and their source code is controlled and managed by one authority. At the same time, dApps’s backend is distributed on a public ledger, and it’s open-source as well.

Yes, decentralized applications must be open source, meaning their source code is available to the public, allowing users to not only view but also manipulate and alter the code.

But that doesn’t mean anyone can just jump in and wreak havoc on the source code. True, if you take any dApps as an example, no single entity will own the majority of its assets. But, no owner, no problem – all changes to the source code are decided via the consensus of its users. So, even if you, let’s say, use the source code and try to make something better than the original application, you won’t be able to apply any changes until you get approval from other members of that community.

Source code

Photo illustration: Freepik

Oh, and one more thing. Creators of centralized apps can always delete their work, take it down from the servers, and the app will cease to exist. Apps residing on blockchain networks, however, are here to stay. Once someone publishes something on the network, they cannot remove it from the blockchain records, for it remains there permanently.

So, to sum it up, here are the significant differences between the centralized and decentralized approaches to application development:

Ownership and controlCentralized authorityCommunity-based
Open source

Why Would Developers Want to Build dApps?

Decentralized apps have been gaining a fair amount of attention lately, and more users, including business owners, are willing to give them a shot or completely go decentralized, even.

Why is that, though?

For starters, decentralized apps reside on a blockchain. Once there, they cannot be deleted or altered before the rest of the community reaches a consensus. This decentralized approach gives more power and control to the users – suddenly, apps don’t have to be controlled by one body only. Instead, users, who interact with the apps the most, can suggest and contribute to the betterment of the said product. They know the most about the bugs and inconveniences, and, as users who have the power to implement changes, they’re doing just that.


Photo illustration: Freepik

Besides preventing a singular authority from making changes that aren’t always good for the users, they offer extra protection for user privacy. For example, let’s say you want to send someone money, and you open your banking app to initiate the transaction. Once completed, the app records all the details of your transaction – who sent the money, how much, and where did that money go. Of course, the bank, or a middleman, if you will, keeps track of your transaction.

Decentralized applications don’t store user information, at least not in the same way the regular apps do. That is because dApps use smart contracts to initiate and complete transactions between two parties without needing to dabble into their identity details or store such information for future purposes.

Furthermore, this approach to user privacy could result in a social media dApp that is free from censorship and similar restraints imposed by centralized authorities. Whether we need that now or not could be a debate for the next night out with your buddies, though.

What About Businesses?

Businesses recognize that more and more users see decentralized environments as trustworthy. Decentralized applications could also erase the need for a middleman and therefore save businesses lots of money. And since a business won’t need to store and collect user data, the efficiency would also improve.

Web3 world

Photo illustration: Freepik

Besides, launching a decentralized app is an excellent way to strengthen your community, especially if your target audience is already crypto-oriented. With dApps, businesses can launch tokens, create cool blockchain projects for the community, and motivate people to contribute to developing a specific project.

Challenges of Decentralized Application Development

Decentralized application development is an ever-growing field. Still, just like blockchain technologies, dApps are relatively new. Conversely, we have spent almost three decades learning how to master centralized app development, so it’s not surprising that they still dominate the market and will continue to do so for years to come.

That said, here are some challenges developers must overcome before encouraging a mass dApp adoption:

  • Smart contract issues: Smart contracts themselves are one of the biggest concerns in the dApp development community. They can still be unreliable due to bugs and vulnerabilities that could be exploited. In general, they’re still more secure than standard, centralized software applications. In some cases, however, such mistakes on a decentralized platform could be catastrophic.
  • User-friendliness: One of the main challenges in blockchain and web 3.0, in general, is how to make them more approachable and user-friendly. People are deterred from Web 3.0 simply because it isn’t always convenient. The same rule applies to dApps. They could be suitable, of course, but creating and introducing such systems in an already complicated and inscrutable-ish ecosystem is challenging.
  • No guarantee for businesses: Switching to a decentralized app might allow a company to dabble in crypto and other digital asset trade. But not all people use dApps to swap coins and tokens. So, think of dApps as a niche subject that doesn’t get a lot of attention in the group chat. That said, building dApps is not always a lucrative career choice.

So, what’s the final verdict?

 While decentralized applications have the potential to revolutionize the app maker-user dynamics, help businesses mitigate costs, and give full autonomy to the users, we can’t expect that to happen overnight. Centralized apps will remain the more prominent and convenient choice, but with mass blockchain adoption and the discovery of new dApp use cases, it won’t take long to notice the tables slowly turning.   

Jelena is a content writer dedicated to learning about all things crypto. Her hobbies are playing chess, drawing, baking, and going on long walks. During winter, she usually spends her leisure time reading books.