Shopify Web Development

Shopify App Development: A General Overview for Beginners

What is a Shopify app? What types of Shopify apps exist? What technologies do developers use to create Shopify apps? Read this post for the answers to these and other questions related to Shopify app development.


Here is what beginners need to know about Shopify application development

Shopify is a great e-commerce platform with a lot of useful features out of the box. Working with product catalogs, accepting payments, conducting marketing campaigns, applying and customizing themes — all these functions are available to online merchants right after subscribing to a Shopify plan.

Even with all these features in place, though, merchants may soon discover they need more than the platform provides off the shelf. This is when Shopify app development comes into play.

Building apps has turned into a very lucrative business. According to the official Shopify site, almost 90% of online merchants use apps on their stores. Nearly 85% of apps have brought their developers money. All these numbers illustrate the increasing popularity of Shopify app development.

We Have a Secret to Share: A Shopify App Is Just a Web Application

Many people think that Shopify uses some kind of proprietary coding language in a manner similar to Apple that uses Swift for building iOS applications. The truth is, though, that there’s no single stack of technologies developers must use. This is what makes this platform so flexible.

A Shopify app is, in fact, an ordinary web application. Yes, just a web application. You can build it on your own machine with the technologies of your choice and place it on your own server. Examples include Node.js and Express.js or Node.js and React.js. However, developers are completely free to pick whatever tools of the trade they prefer.

Still, Shopify is a Ruby-based platform. If this programming language is your choice, it will give you an ability to use frequently updated libraries and tools officially supported by Shopify.

A reasonable question is, “How, then, is Shopify app development different from ordinary web app development?” The answer is that Shopify apps get connected (after Shopify authorizes the app to do so) to online stores through the official Shopify APIs and exchange data with them in the JSON format through the https protocol.

In this way, they can perform all kinds of tasks, depending on the services provided, such as:

  • Waiting for certain events to occur (e.g., clicking a button)
  • Gathering information about orders for analytical purposes
  • Running scripts
  • Hiding certain information from unregistered users

Let’s take a look at different types of Shopify apps now

Shopify App Development: Not All Applications Are Created Equal

Shopify app development: three types of Shopify apps

As we said earlier, Shopify apps can use the same Shopify REST APIs to interact with online stores. However, they are not identical when it comes to delivering them to customers. Shopify apps fall into 3 groups:

  • Custom
  • Private
  • Public

Here is what you should know about the three types.

Custom Shopify App Development

We’ll begin by discussing the most “secret” type of a Shopify app — a custom application. If an online store owner needs something truly unique, something that no other store has, they can order building this type of app.

No other merchants can use it. It’s meant for one and only one store. Period. A custom Shopify app developer should also know that they can’t distribute their application through the official Shopify site or use the Billing API to accept money from merchants. Programmers build apps of this type in their Partner Dashboard.

On the bright side, there’s no need to submit a custom app for approval by the platform. Once the merchant likes what you’ve built, you’re good to go. In addition, custom apps are displayed in the admin area thanks to Shopify App Bridge, a JavaScript library for embedding apps in the administration panel.

Shopify Private App Development

The second category of Shopify apps on our list is private apps. They are, in many ways, similar to custom apps, but do differ in certain aspects. As for the similarities, Shopify private app development doesn’t require submitting apps for validation by the vendor. Besides, developers can’t distribute private apps through the official Shopify App Store either.

Unlike custom apps, though, private apps can be used by one online store owner or a limited number of merchants. A custom Shopify app developer can display their application in the admin panel, while a private app developer can’t. A custom Shopify app developer creates an application in the Partner Dashboard, whereas a private app developer does it in the store owner’s admin panel.

Shopify Public App Development

If you want your app to be accessible to as many Shopify online store owners as possible, choose the Shopify public app development way. Public apps are placed in the App Store catalog according to their area of application. Customers can freely purchase them through this site.

The number of stores where a publicly listed Shopify app can be used is not limited and they have to receive the green light from the vendor.

Our team has vast experience creating custom Shopify themes and optimizing sites based on this e-commerce platform. Talk to us about your problems or ideas. Helping your business grow and prosper is the first item on our list of priorities!

Frequently Asked Questions About Shopify App Development

What is a Shopify app?

A Shopify app is an ordinary web application. Developers can build apps with the tech stack of their choice on their own machines and run them on their own servers. What makes Shopify application development different from building standard web apps is the use of the official Shopify APIs.

Is there a specific stack of technologies required for Shopify development?

You use any programming languages, frameworks, or libraries to create Shopify apps. Ruby, PHP, React.js, or vanilla JavaScript — take your pick. Remember, though, that Shopify is a Ruby-based platform.

What are the key benefits of custom Shopify apps?

While the official Shopify app store has public apps for any intents and purposes, you still might find yourself in a situation when none of those gives your business what it requires. That’s the first and probably the most significant benefit of having a custom app: it caters to your unique business needs. Additionally, custom apps provide these advantages:

You don’t have to share a custom app with anyone. Whatever assets they contain (images, source code, etc.), they are your exclusive property.

You can easily scale up or enhance a custom app. When your business starts growing, you might discover that a public Shopify app on your site is no longer able to keep up with your increasing demands. There’s usually only one way to handle this problem with a public app – find and install a similar, more powerful application. That means more money and time. With a custom app, you simply get in touch with the Shopify app development team and request them to scale the app up or add new features. That’s much quicker and less effort-intensive.

You can always count on immediate support by the Shopify developers who made the app.

Top quality. Since the app was made for your specific stack of technologies, you can be absolutely confident that the development team invested enough effort and time to test it properly.

Where are Shopify apps hosted?

After programmers develop an app for Shopify, they host it on a server of their choice and get it connected to an online store by means of the Shopify REST API.

See our Shopify Apps Reviews

Dmytro Mashchenko

Dmytro is the CEO of GetDevDone, an experienced web developer, and a prolific author of in-depth technology and business-related posts. He is always eager to share his years-long expertise with everyone who wants to succeed in the web development field.

For more professional insights from Dmytro, connect with him on LinkedIn.