There are two types of Shopify apps: Embedded and Standalone. The key difference between them is where their user interface is located. Embedded apps are integrated into the Shopify admin dashboard, while Standalone apps run on an external website outside of Shopify admin. In this article, we will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each type and how to choose between them.
To learn more about creating Shopify apps, refer to How to Build a Shopify App: An In-Depth Guide.
Benefits of Embedded Apps
- Appear in the admin dashboard. Merchants can use an app without opening an external website.
- Can implement any functionality because Embedded is a default Shopify application type. Additionally, certain application types must be created as Embedded, such as Payments apps, Post-purchase apps, and more.
- Improved performance and user experience. Embedded apps are optimized by Shopify, making them load much faster. They also have reduced content layout shifts, which makes merchants perceive an app as more responsive.
- Faster development and publishing. Embedded apps must be created with App Bridge, a tool that provides standard Shopify UI components, such as Button, Menu, and Navigation, making the development process faster. These components also comply with the Shopify App Design Guidelines, making it easier to pass the app review process.
- Out-of-the-box mobile optimization. Embedded apps are optimized for the Shopify Mobile app, which greatly improves the mobile experience for merchants.
- Enhanced security. In Embedded apps, requests from the user interface to the server are automatically protected with a unique token generated by the app. The server uses this token to verify that the request came from the intended store, providing protection against unauthorized access.
- Enhanced security. In Embedded apps, requests from the user interface to the server are automatically protected against unauthorized access.
- Can be used in Shopify POS. Embedded apps can be installed on Shopify POS (point-of-sale), an official Shopify app used to sell products in person in stores, markets, and pop-up shops.
- Can get a Built for Shopify status. Embedded apps that meet specific app quality standards can receive a Built for Shopify status, the highest level of recognition and achievement that an app can attain. Apps with this status receive additional promotion in the Shopify App Store, as they appear higher in search rankings, are eligible for the first collection on the App Store homepage, and can be recommended to merchants in the Shopify admin.
Disadvantages of Embedded Apps
- Must comply with Shopify Add Design Guidelines. All embedded apps must adhere to App Design Guidelines to ensure predictability for merchants and ease of use. However, these strict guidelines can be limiting for those who want their app's appearance to be more customizable.
- Requires knowledge of App Bridge technology. App Bridge is a library required for creating Embedded apps. To avoid unexpected issues, we recommend working with developers who have experience with App Bridge.
Embedded Apps Examples
- Judge.me Product Reviews allows customers to leave product reviews on the merchant's store.
- Hextom: Bulk Product Edit provides bulk editing for products, collections, customers, and Metafields.
- Subscription App by Recurpay allows customers to subscribe to recurring payments.
- SEO Manager provides merchants with tools to optimize their stores for search engines.
- LoyaltyLion helps merchants create a loyalty program for their customers, with features such as point-based rewards, referral programs, VIP tiers, and more.
Standalone apps run on external websites, outside of the Shopify admin dashboard.
Benefits of Standalone Apps
- No design restrictions. Standalone apps do not have to follow the same design guidelines as Embedded apps. For example, it’s possible to change the size of the icons, their colors, and tags.
- Launching on an External Website. Depending on the business case, some apps may need to appear outside of Shopify admin. These apps are separate products with their own functionality and tools that integrate with Shopify, such as Outfy, PageFly, and others.
Disadvantages of Standalone Apps
- No access to App Bridge instruments. Standalone apps have to be built from scratch like Embedded apps but they don’t have access to the same App Bridge instruments, which can make the development process longer.
- Certain functionalities cannot be implemented in Standalone apps, including App Extensions, Post-purchase apps, Payments apps, and others.
Standalone Apps Examples
- Privy - Pop Ups, Email, & SMS automates email marketing, lets merchants send money-making text messages, and improves conversion rates.
- Tidio - Live Chat & Chatbots provides chatbots, live chats, and multichannel communication for merchants' stores.
- Outfy - Automate Social Media allows for the creation of videos, collages, animated GIFs, and other types of promotional content, which can be posted automatically or manually.
- Refersion - Affiliate Marketing accelerates revenue growth for e-commerce brands' influencer and affiliate marketing programs.
- PageFly - Landing Page Builder helps create pages for a store without any coding.
How to choose between Embedded and Standalone
When choosing between Embedded and Standalone application types, consider the app's business needs and desired functionality.
When to choose Embedded?
Embedded is the default application type and should be used unless there are clear requirements for creating a Standalone app. Embedded apps can implement any functionality and have a list of advantages compared to non-embedded apps. They can also achieve the "Built for Shopify" status, which helps promote the app in the Shopify App Store.
Moreover, certain application types must be created as Embedded:
- Apps that embed into the Shopify POS (point-of-sale).
- Mobile app builders that let merchants create a mobile app based on their store.
- Sales Channels with cart permalinks.
- Shopify Payments Apps that provide additional payment methods, perform specific operations on payment methods, and more.
- Shopify Post-purchase apps.
- App Extensions.
When to choose Standalone?
Standalone is still a good option when:
- The app development needs more flexibility. With a standalone app, there is more freedom in technology choice without the need to use App Bridge. In some cases, this can make standalone apps faster to develop.
- The app requires using custom branding. Standalone apps can be easily customized. If the design requirements of Embedded apps do not suit the business needs for some reason, a Standalone app can be changed to meet these needs.
- The app needs to mention other Shopify apps. If there is a need to create a couple of apps that will reference each other and promote the business, it is possible to create multiple Standalone apps and place them on a single platform for users to discover.
Things to remember
App type can’t be changed
Switching an app's type from Embedded to Standalone, or vice versa, is not an easy task and requires changing the app's functionality. Embedded apps require App Bridge, while Standalone apps do not. Thus, the client (front-end) parts in Embedded and Standalone apps differ significantly. To migrate to or from App Bridge, the user interface must be rewritten from the ground up, and the way it communicates with the app's logic must also be changed.
App Bridge for Embedded apps
To pass the Shopify app review for publishing the app, it is essential that Embedded apps be created with the App Bridge. On the other hand, Standalone apps must not use it.
Use Shopify Polaris to access standard UI components
One of the ways to ensure that the app adheres to Shopify’s design guidelines is to use Polaris. It can be used both for Embedded and Standalone app types. It is a design system for the Shopify Admin that provides access to standard UI components like Button, Navigation, various layouts, checkboxes, etc. These components are compliant with Shopify App Design Guidelines by default, and it makes it easier to pass the app review. However, its use is optional.
Embedded and Standalone apps may appear similar, yet they have distinct implementations. Embedded apps are integrated into the Shopify admin dashboard, resulting in a better user experience, faster development, out-of-the-box mobile optimization, and enhanced security. They can also receive a "Built for Shopify" status, making them easier to promote. Standalone apps are located on an external website and provide more freedom to customize the user interface. Ultimately, the decision between the two depends on the business needs and the required functionality.