There are various definitions for web applications and native applications, so instead of creating a vague definition that covers all of them this article gives a few specific definitions with examples.
A mobile device app that does and doesn’t use the Internet
You may download and install an app that uses information from the Internet in order to function. This may be considered a web application. On the other hand, you may download an app that does the job of website/tool you would usually find on the Internet, and this may be considered a native app.
Web app example – A satellite navigation app uses the mobile device’s software and hardware, and uses information from the Internet.
Native app example – A website may have a spelling and grammar checker. You may download an app that has the same tool but that doesn’t need Internet access to function.
A mobile device app that connects to a website and takes the place of a website
There are web applications that you install on your mobile device so that you may access a website without going through your web browser. Usually, they are some form of eCommerce website. A native app may be downloaded and installed so that you do not need an Internet connection to use/view the information on the website.
Web app example – Instead of connecting to an eCommerce website via your web browser, you may connect via a web app that takes the place of the website whilst using information from it.
Native app example – A website that teaches a foreign language with the lessons on its web pages may have the same lessons embedded into an app that doesn’t need to connect to the website or Internet to function.
A desktop tool you use on the Internet and a tool you may download and use
There are tools you may use on the Internet via a web browser. Sometimes they are free and sometimes you have to pay or sign up to use them. There are some tools you may use on the Internet and offline if you download and install them, and there are some you may only use if you download them.
Web application example – A video downloader may ask for a website URL and then give a download link that a user presses to initiate a download without the need for pre-installed software. Such web apps are common because things such as fibre internet allow for such fast downloads.
Native application example – Many screen casting programs need to be downloaded if you want to use them with a sound capture device.
The broad definition
A web application is a mobile or desktop application that requires the Internet to function either partially, fully or at all. A native application is an app or piece of software that does not require any form of Internet connection. Some native apps may use the Internet to update and such, but will not need the Internet for everyday use.