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What is a static site generator and should you use one?

Websites can be created in a variety of different ways. Two popular types; a static website via a static site generator and a dynamic website via a CMS (Content Management System) are opposing choices.

In this blog post, we explore what a static site generator is versus a CMS dynamic website, enabling you to make a decision regarding the right technical choice for your website. There is no right or wrong answer; it’s all about your specific requirements and what each can deliver.

Understanding the difference between static and dynamic websites.

The term ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ relates to the way in which websites store and deliver web pages to the end user.

When it comes to static site generators, the pages are built as individual files, then stored on the server till such a time new content is required. A request to view a page by an end user means all the server has to do is deliver a static page to the browser.

Any new content added to the website will require a new build of all the static files and then re-uploaded to the server replacing all files. So the process of change on the website requires the whole website again to regenerate the files. Examples of static site generators are Gatsbyjs and Hugo.

Dynamic websites on the other hand, are usually built on a content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress. The admin panel of the CMS allows the website admin to build out pages via a control panel. The content is assigned to pre-built templates. All new data is stored in a database and assets such as images stored on the server. All this is done via a server side language like PHP and a database such as MySQL. The web page requested by the user is built “on the fly” dependant what page is requested by the user. This process uses a lot more memory and CPU of a server so the user will experience a slightly slower response time as the server processes the request.

The pros and cons of static generated websites and dynamic websites.

Now that you understand the basic technical main differences between the these two forms of websites; let’s take a look at the pros and cons in further details. This should help you to determine what is appropriate for your website.

A website built by a static site generator is fast; blazingly fast. There is no server side processing which a dynamic site requires to render the page. A fast website is great for SEO and end user experience. Also, as you are just serving static HTML there is no server side code running, so security risk is reduced greatly. Running a CMS website requires maintenance via a Web Developer to keep the core software and plugins up to date to reduce the risk of a security breach.

Whilst these are a couple of good reasons to have a static generated website and there are many more, your website may require complex integrations such as e-commerce and user generated content. For this type of website you may need a dynamic website as the nature of your requirement needs interactions with a database. It is still possible though to use a static site generator for this type of website.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of some of the pros and cons associated with using a static website generator or a CMS driven dynamic website. While most people do prefer to have a dynamic website created for them by an experienced freelance web developer in their local area, there is no denying that static site creators are useful in quite a few cases and you could benefit from having a site built this way.

If you’re still wondering what is the best way to get your website created, I’d be very happy to offer some impartial and experienced advice based on your exact needs. Just get in touch to start the conversation.