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Static and dynamic websites – what’s the difference?

Static vs Dynamic Websites

Understanding the differences between static and dynamic websites can become complicated, especially with a trend towards more progressive, often hybrid websites and web apps, and a growing desire for personalization.

Below, we break down the differences between static and dynamic websites, and share useful insights on when to choose one or the other for your latest project.

What is a static website?

Static websites consist of a fixed number of pre-rendered web pages containing hardcoded, fixed content and structure. As a result, users see the same content regardless of who they are, where they’re from, and which browser they’re using.

Web programmers typically build static website pages using HTML to set up the structure and CSS to add color and other visual elements. Static web pages are usually built independently, without connecting to a database.

Once a static website gets published, it stays the same and doesn’t reflect changes in user actions. If you want to see something different, you must manually edit the HTML source code on every page that’s part of the website. This can be very time-consuming, especially if you’re updating a large website.

Advantages of static websites

  • Static websites take less time to build and deploy than dynamic websites.
  • You can duplicate the basic code of your static web pages to keep elements consistent while making slight changes to differentiate.
  • Static websites tend to be more secure.
  • It’s easier for search engines to rank static websites because they usually load faster.
  • Building static websites doesn’t require complex software.
  • Static websites cost less to build.
  • You can change the layout and design of every page on a static website.
  • It’s easier to restore a static website after a crash or DDoS attack by redeploying the codebase.

Disadvantages of static websites

  • Making updates to static websites can be challenging and time-consuming, especially if they’re large.
  • Once you’ve built the basic structure, it can be hard to scale a website to add new content.
  • Because of the effort needed to update static websites, yours may end up with stagnant content that makes your company or brand feel outdated.
  • You can’t interact with or create unique experiences for visitors.
Static websites take less time to build and deploy than dynamic websites.
Static websites take less time to build and deploy than dynamic websites.

What is a dynamic website?

Dynamic websites generate pages in real-time. The flexibility of the content and structure makes it possible to customize what a user experiences based on their request or the browser they use. Creating a dynamic website usually requires knowledge of a server-side programming language like PHP, C#, or Python. Dynamic websites process requests and typically pull in content from an external database or a content management system (CMS).

The server-side code used to build a dynamic website can generate real-time HTML pages constructed to fulfill individual user requests. While static websites tend to be informational, dynamic websites contain interactive, continually changing elements. As a result, web developers typically use a combination of client-side and server-side programming to create a truly interactive website experience for visitors.

Dynamic websites generate and display content based on the actions taken by a user. The level of change that takes place depends on the developer’s skill and how intricate they make the interactive elements of a dynamic website.  

Think about a user profile you may have set up on a website like Amazon or Walmart. Every time you visit the page, you see recommendations chosen for you based on past purchases. You can also pull up information about your account or past orders. The site generates a unique experience for you based on your past actions.

Advantages of dynamic websites

  • They provide more website functionality and enable user interaction.
  • Dynamic sites let you request and store information in an organized way.
  • They display content based on the user’s needs.
  • These type of websites enable additional website flexibility by allowing connection to a CMS.
  • They allow multiple users to adjust the content.
  • It is less costly to make adjustments and changes versus a static website.
  • Dynamic sites are more likely to attract recurring customers and visitors.

Disadvantages of dynamic websites

  • Functions like building the site foundation, creating database connections, and adding other features can make a dynamic website more expensive than a static website.
  • There can be design and layout limitations when it comes to displaying content on your dynamic website.
They provide more website functionality and enable user interaction.
Dynamic websites provide more website functionality and enable user interaction.

How has website content evolved?

Most sites built in the early days of the internet were static websites. That limited them to doing little more than displaying content for informative and entertainment purposes. Because the sites learned nothing about visitors, web developers couldn’t create customized experiences.

As time passed and we became more reliant on the internet, users started wanting more from websites. As a result, developers looked for ways to make websites more interactive to enable functions like shopping, trading, and real-time user interactions. They found ways to make this happen by leveraging client and server-side programming languages and databases to enable pulling real-time content into a website.  

Today, many websites contain both static and dynamic website pages. That gives website masters a lot more flexibility in the layout of their sites, the benefits they provide to users, and the ability to make changes that keep fresh content flowing and adapt to the ever-changing needs of users.

What are the main differences between static and dynamic websites?

The most significant contrast between static and dynamic websites is that the content on a static website stays the same unless the website developer changes the source code. Information on a dynamic site can shift based on different users’ desires, locations, and times of the day.

Static content typically gets uploaded along with the webpage. What a user sees gets downloaded and presented in the same format no matter what actions they take. With dynamic websites, the content changes format based on the controls set by the website administrator and the actions of a user.  

It’s easier to cache information from a static website. Doing the same for a dynamic website can be trickier. Static content can be stored or ‘cached’ on an edge servers of a content delivery network (CDN), making the information accessible at faster speeds.

Caching website content speeds up site loading for users. That’s because edge servers get distributed in different geographical locations. As a result, CDNs provide faster and more reliable responses to users that live nearby. However, doing the same for a dynamic website is less practical because of how often the content changes. There are also security risks associated with caching a user’s private information.

Another significant difference between static and dynamic websites is that the content for static sites comes directly from the server and nowhere else. On the other hand, dynamic content must pass through different application logic layers before it gets downloaded from the server.

The main difference between static and dynamic websites is that the content on a static website stays the same, while Information on a dynamic site can shift.
The main difference between static and dynamic websites is that the content on a static website stays the same, while Information on a dynamic site can shift.

Examples of static content:

  • HTML pages
  • Images
  • Audio files
  • Video files
  • Static online forms
  • Downloads (software, spreadsheets, documents)

Examples of dynamic content:

  • Database
  • User account info
  • Translated web pages
  • Text
  • Video and voice messaging apps
  • Real-time data (weather forecasts, health data, stock prices)

When to choose a static or dynamic website?

A static website may be the best option if your website will only consist of a few pages. Static websites are often used to make information available to the public. Since the information fed into dynamic websites is often proprietary, they are often used by private companies and entrepreneurs. Users typically log into a dynamic website to gain access to more restricted information.

Let’s say you’re looking to create a simple blog that looks great and complements your business. A static website would likely work best for that purpose. Another scenario where you might prefer having a static website if you need to build a landing page containing basic information about your company or the products and services you offer.

If you plan to build an eCommerce site with constantly changing inventory, you would be better off with a dynamic website. You could make recommendations to users based on past purchases from their site. If a customer leaves items behind in their shopping cart, you could enable the dynamic site to send reminders that prompt that visitor to come back and complete their purchase. You’d also want to go with a dynamic website to create a progressive web application (PWA) or other applications.

Base your decision about building a static or dynamic website on what you need it to provide. You can use static website generators to get a website up and running quickly. Creating a dynamic website can be a more complex process but can offer more possibilities for flexibility and adapting to your changing needs.

Base your decision about building a static or dynamic website on what you need it to provide.
Tip: Base your decision about building a static or dynamic website on what you need it to provide.

Bonus: how caching can improve website performance

Let’s elaborate on caching and how it positively impacts the performance of a website. Caching of static content is a common practice for content delivery networks or CDNs. It works by temporarily storing information on the CDNs edge servers placed in locations closer to the end-user so that it downloads more quickly, making a website load faster on the user’s end. Having edge servers distributed in various geographical locations allows for more reliable and speedy delivery of content. 

In short, CDNs make it possible for users to get content faster because they don’t have to sit and wait for a server to return what they need. Instead, the browser looks for the static content stored on an edge server nearby. As a result, it cuts down on website loading time and improves overall performance.

How can you boost website performance?

One option to help boost website performance is by leveraging the edge servers of a CDN. That said, traditional CDN solutions are not entirely fail proof as they do experience outages, don’t always have global coverage, etc. This is where Multi CDN solutions like the one offered by Mlytics add significant value. Mlytics Multi CDN combines the edge servers of various top-tier CDN vendors, directly tackling the global coverage issue. In addition, it helps your website further boost performance and avoid downtime by constantly routing web traffic through the best-performing CDNs. 

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