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Discussion on: What is a static website?

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khalyomede profile image
Khalyomede • Edited on

This post arrives at the perfect moment, when we are submerged by single pages applications, static website generators, and others alternative to "monolithic" server rendered web pages, so thank you to spend some time demystifying this subject for us!

One of the mutations I noticed in these kind of tools is prerendered websites, which is different from static websites: prerendered websites can be generated either from a static website or a server rendered website, or even from a single page application. Prerendered means it has gone through the expected work flow of the given page until the result is satisfying enough to produce an end result: an HTML web page trimmed of all the dynamic content (e.g. the Javascript).

Prerendering can be a great option to help bots parse a "dynamic free" web page while providing the regular page to your users. It is possible to do this because you can set rules via Apache or Nginx to filter on the User-Agent header and redirect bots to the prerendered version of your web page.

Anyway I thought I would add this piece of information because I found it relevant since you spoke of static websites, as they have once misleaded me to thinking static website are not dynamic.

And as always, keep up the great articles Graham!

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gtanyware profile image
Graham Trott Author

We're probably oversimplifying things by dividing websites into static and dynamic without considering other techniques such as the one you highlight.

If we look at things from the point of view of the server we can ask whether or not it allows mutation. Even a non-mutable server - one where all the internal files are read-only - can still run local scripts to deliver responses. Pages can be constructed by PHP scripts or stored pre-rendered to achieve a quicker response at the cost of more storage. In principle, such a site could run off a CD-ROM.

Another distinction is around whether a site permits interactivity between its users - an important feature of many dynamic sites. A static, non-mutable site, though it may deliver an interactive experience, can't let one user talk to another as this requires mutation of the server state (the database, usually).

You can get around this by using a third party, allowing the core functionality of your site to be kept static (non-mutable). For example, when hosting services offer database access they usually provide it on separate computers, so the pattern is well established.

In your comment you say that some sites do dynamic pre-rendering to provide pages that are stripped of all interactive features other than traditional hyperlinks. This amounts to a dynamic website voluntarily restricting itself to providing static, immutable content (albeit for good reasons).

So after struggling with this answer for well over an hour I have now reached the conclusion that to just say "static" and "dynamic" is over-simplistic. Most of the options are a lot more complex than that. I often find that as soon as we try to label and classify things they tend to sprout a host of exceptions, and that seems to be the case here.