How to install Web Apps for Mastodon and the Fediverse

Most people think about websites and apps as being two separate things. However, some websites are specially written to function pretty much like apps, and you can even install these sites as apps with their own icon. You don’t need to go through any app stores, you can install them directly from your web browser.

These kinds of special installable websites are called “web apps”. Web apps are so sophisticated nowadays, many of the apps you install from app stores are actually web apps.

The websites of Mastodon servers and other Fediverse server types such as Pixelfed, PeerTube, BookWyrm etc can be installed as web apps on your phone or tablet. Scroll down this page to see a list of the Fediverse server types that support web app installation.

Should I use app store apps or web apps?

In most cases it’s just a matter of taste!

For example, Mastodon has lots of official and third party app store apps, but many people prefer the Mastodon web app as it tends to get features before the app store apps. The web app has also been in development for longer than any other Mastodon app, so its features tend to be well-developed and mature.

However, some Fediverse server types (such as BookWyrm for example) don’t have app store apps at all yet, so the web apps are their only app.

How to install web apps on Android phones and tablets:

  1. Open your Android phone or tablet’s web browser and go to your server’s website
  2. Log into your account on your server’s website
  3. Open the browser’s options menu (usually ︙ in top right corner of screen)
  4. Click on Install app
  5. It will ask for confirmation of the installation, click Install
  6. An icon will appear on your home screen, click on this and log into your account

If the Install option isn’t visible, make sure you have logged into your account on your server’s website on the same browser. Android may not let you install the web app if you aren’t logged in.

How to install web apps on iPhone and iPad:

  1. Open the Safari web browser and go to your server’s website
  2. Click the Share icon at the bottom of the screen (it looks like a box with an arrow pointing upwards)
  3. Scroll down through the options and click on Add to Home Screen
  4. Give the name you want for the icon and confirm the installation by clicking on Add
  5. An icon will appear on your home screen, click on this and log into your account

Do I get notifications for web apps? How do I control the notifications?

Yes, web apps nowadays support notifications.

Once you’ve installed the web app and you’ve logged in, your phone or tablet may ask if it’s okay to show notifications for the web app, if you want notifications you should say yes to this. You can also set notifications for the web app in your phone or tablet’s notifications settings section.

Which Fediverse server types can be installed as web apps?

You can install web apps for most Fediverse server types including:

BookWyrm
Friendica
Funkwhale
Mastodon
Mobilizon
OwnCast
PeerTube
Pixelfed
WriteFreely

Isn’t this just a bookmark? What’s the point of this?

Web apps are slightly different to bookmarks.

Installation won’t work for all websites, it will only work for those specifically desgined to be web apps. If you try to install non-app websites on your home screen, either the installation option will just not be there, or they will produce an icon but that icon will just open the site in a web browser exactly like a bookmark.

Web apps work a bit differently when they are added to your home screen, they hide the browser’s interface and let you just use the web app’s own interface. At a technical level they are still working through the browser, but in practice using a web app is pretty much like using an app. As noted above, many of the apps in app stores are actually web apps.

By adding web apps to your home screen, it means you can install Fediverse platforms that aren’t on app stores yet (such as Pixelfed or BookWyrm). Even on platforms that do have separate apps, such as Mastodon, many people prefer the web interface so they use the web app.

My iPhone/iPad calls these bookmarks?

Parts of the iPhone/iPad interface do refer to web apps as bookmarks, but web apps behave differently to bookmarks. Normal websites open in the browser just like bookmarks with the browser controls visible, but installed web apps hide the browser controls and the entire screen is devoted to the web app.

What are Progressive Web Apps / PWAs? What are Web Clients?

You might hear web apps referred to as Progressive Web Apps or PWAs or Web Clients. These are all pretty much just different names for the same thing.

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