Home Computers And Technology Understanding the Difference between Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

Understanding the Difference between Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

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Technology has moved on from traditional desktop PCs to smart devices which are portable, easy to use and boast a limitless scope of possibilities. The gradual transition from conventional devices to the new smart devices has meant that people are now more comfortable to use internet on their phones and other smart gadgets to do a number of things which they could not have imagined to do a decade ago. Online shopping has grown in magnitude and this is a reason why we see a number of business companies setting their online stores now. Having a good website with a responsive design now matters more than ever before to elevate the user-experience of online services.

This is why the web design and development techniques have evolved to “W3C One Web Approach,” which attributes to developing a website while keeping in view factors such as relevancy of information, compatibility across a wide variety of devices and cross-browser compatibility amongst others. The One Web Approach is further categorized into two types of web design approaches that are responsive web design and adaptive web design.

Let’s discuss both responsive web design and adaptive web design to understand the concept of One Web Approach.

Responsive Web Design

Every user wants to be able to use their websites on different devices such as mobile phones, iPads, tablets etc. Therefore, to be able to fulfil this demand of the users, the responsive web design approach can be used according to which the main goal of the web design is to make the elements of a webpage compatible with different devices and screen sizes. Responsive web design is a common web design approach used by many famous websites e.g. Microsoft, Disney, and Buffalo. Using this approach means to ensure that the users not only receive all the content and features of the website on their device, but also experience a fast and satisfactory performance. Speed is necessary for the satisfaction of the users as according to an estimate, the conversion rate of an online business drops significantly if the website takes more than 3 seconds time to load.

One of the advantages of a responsive web design is that a single template can be used by the web designers for all devices, in which case they would only have to use CSS to define what and where different features and content can be distributed on different screen sizes.

One of the disadvantages or risks of a responsive web design is that it creates a lot of challenges for online businesses because you have to be sure that the design is able to handle the images across the page and that the web design ensures mobile-friendly performance. If the web design is not applicable to a mobile phone, the website may have to be re-built from scratch to ensure its functionality on a phone.

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Adaptive Web Design

Unlike the responsive web design, an adaptive web design proposes to create multiple versions of a web page to make it suitable to be used on multiple devices. These different versions of the website are created based on the common screen sizes and resolutions to ensure that the various versions adapt to the multiple layouts of different screen sizes. This approach uses JavaScript to customize the website according to the requirement of different devices and to ensure the advanced functionality of the website on the target devices.

There are two types of approaches to the adaptive web design that are stated below in detail.

Client-side Adaptive Web Design

In a client-side adaptive web design, the adaptation occurs in the user’s browser. This means that a developer will use JavaScript to detect the user’s device to specifically optimize for that device. Another benefit of this approach is that only the required resources are loaded by the user’s device.

One of the advantages of the client-side adaptive web design is that the designers can use one set of HTML or JavaScript for multiple devices, which makes it easier to manage any changes in the layout and their testing.

Server-side Adaptive Web Design

In a server-side adaptive web design, the web server does the work of detecting the various devices being used by the user’s to ensure that the correct template is loaded. This web design approach can be achieved by server-side plug-ins or by custom user agent detection. A server-side adaptive approach for web design is suitable because it offers various templates that are designed for multiple devices. This enables the website or the web design to be customized more frequently and keeps the device-detection logic on the server. This approach, therefore, enables smaller mobile pages to load with more speed and has a number of server-side plug-ins for CMS and e-commerce systems.


The choice of a particular type of website design mainly depends on the preference of an online business based on its design budget, requirement of functionality, target audience and many other relevant factors. Both responsive and adaptive website designs have their own pros and cons, which needs to be understood before selecting one of these approaches.

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