What is a static site?

Static sites have been around for as long as the Web, in fact, the very first website was (and still is) a static site. Back then websites were mostly text based and dedicated to research projects, information about universities, as well as a few enthusiast sites (IMDb started in 1993).

Superficially static sites have come a long way since the early ‘90s. Technologies such as CSS and JavaScript are now well established, and have enabled developers to create the rich user experiences we see today.

Although static sites have changed on the surface, under the hood, they’re still simple collections of HTML files and their associated resources. Things like images, fonts, styling, and scripts.

Static vs. dynamic

Each person who visits a static site experiences the exact same content. Regardless of their geographical location, how many times they’ve visited previously, or how they were directed to the site. Every person is served the same content and resources, every time.

By contrast, dynamic sites have the ability to tailor content to individual users - think of sites like Facebook and TradeMe. The content you experience is dynamically generated each time you visit.

Choosing the right solution

When starting new projects, dynamic sites tend to be the default option. Popular choices are blogging platforms like WordPress, or frameworks like SilverStripe for more complex projects. However it’s worth considering the alternatives. A static site could be a less complex, lower maintenance solution, which delivers your business requirements just as effectively.

Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of choosing a static site.

Pros

Simplicity

Static sites have fewer moving parts than dynamic sites. You don’t need to worry about choosing a database, server-side language, or managing and monitoring servers. This is great if you have a small team with limited resources.

Cost

Due to the simplicity of static sites, hosting costs are greatly reduced. Small sites can cost as little as $2.00 per month to host on Amazon S3.

Performance and Reliability

Because static sites are a simple collection of files, they can be distributed via a Content Delivery Network (CDN) such as Amazon CloudFront. CDNs serve files from the nearest geographical location to each user, meaning super fast load times.

CDNs distribute files across a global network of data centers. If one data center becomes unavailable, your files are automatically served from a neighbouring data center - this means you never have to worry about your site going down.

Cons

Content management

Solutions such as WordPress and SilverStripe are great for content authors. They offer intuitive user interfaces for creating and managing content, as well as supporting multi-user editing. Because static sites are simple collections of files, it means content authors have to edit them manually. This works well for small teams of one or two editors, who are happy to resize and crop their own images. But it isn’t well suited for large or distributed teams.

Advanced functionality

Static sites are best suited for marketing sites and blogs, where content is information based. It is possible to integrate contact forms and search functionality using Serverless technologies. But if you need user accounts and shopping carts, a dynamic site may be a better solution.

Conclusion

Static sites are a great option if you want full control over your content and don’t want to worry about managing servers and infrastructure. They require a bit of getting your hands dirty with editing files and images, but don’t require much (if any) developer support once you’re set up. If you’re looking to put together a marketing site for a new product or service, a static site is ideal.

If you need more advanced functionality or don’t like the sound of writing markdown and uploading files, a content management solution like SilverStripe might be a better option.

Further reading

If you think a static site might be right for you, here are some resources that could be useful.

Static site generators

Static site generators help automate the process of building a maintaining static sites. They require some developer support to setup, but simplify the process overall.