Monday, August 23, 2010

Understanding Website Technologies - Dynamic vs Static

by Daniel Beck

As an end user you most likely don't care about the difference between dynamic and static sites but as a small business owner, corporation, or creative individual, understanding the difference is the first critical step in establishing your web presence. To save you the time of reading this article, I'll just give you the answer straight-up...don't bother with a static website. Whether you are building your own website or having one built for you be certain you are getting a dynamic website.

Okay, now for the more inquisitively minded, I'll explain the fundamental differences between the two. First, let me indulge my geek tendencies and present the more technological explanation for ultimate clarity on the topic.

Static pages and websites consist of fixed specific documents that are made up of text and code in the form of markup. A request for a web-page invokes the server to send the file being requested, most likely an HTML file to the browser where it is displayed exactly as the creator of that file intended it to be displayed. The servers only role in this instance is to provide the specific file without modifying it in any way.

A dynamic web page or website requires more effort on the server's part. In the early days of my website endeavours I recall using server side includes to involve the server in not only providing a specific file such as an HTML file but to also embed into the files it was serving additional content which the server would dynamically create. This was a limited and early use of dynamic content for a website. Modern dynamic pages and websites don't contain static pages for every page you visit on the site. Rather, the server interprets the content you seek and assembles a specific document, just for you and then sends it to your computer's browser for display. In essence, with a dynamic website, the server creates every file or web page it transmits.

If you let those last two paragraphs roll around inside your mind for a minute or two and explore the possibilities of dynamic content, you'll begin to see why most sites are dynamic and how boring the web would be without dynamic content. If the web were made up of a bunch of static pages it would best be compared to nothing more than a book or other print material. Obviously there would be no interaction, you just read and look at pictures and the words and images only change if the author tells them to. Luckily, many geeks that have gone before and tech titans decided to have a more interactive approach to web browsing. Now, by letting the server and user interact with each other the possibilities are limitless. Shopping sites such as eBay, Amazon and iTunes are all possible because of dynamic web pages. Forums, blogs, and social networks all rely on vast amounts of code and server involvement to display every page you visit.

For example, when you visit a static website and click on a link, you will see the exact same page that everyone who visits the site sees. With a dynamic website, when you click on a link or a button, you see unique content intended specifically for you. Let's say you are on buying that electric powered butter churn you've always wanted. You visit the product page and then you add the item to the shopping cart. You now click on the shopping cart button as you get ready to checkout but when you click that link, you are not seeing the same thing that everyone who clicks on the shopping cart button sees. The server creates a specific file showing your shopping cart and the items that you have added to it. This is the most obvious form of a dynamic site.

Great! Now for what really matters. The reason 90% of all sites should be dynamic website is for versatility and ease of use. Content and pages can be managed much easier especially for larger sites. Also, if you want any interactive feature such as a form, survey, shopping system, news feed, comments, forum and many other common features, there is no way you can have any of these with limited static websites. Here are a few of the pros and cons to both types:

Advantages of static websites

* Quick to develop
* Cheap to develop

Disadvantages of static websites

* Requires web development expertise to update site
* Site not as useful for the user
* Content can get stagnant
* Not very search engine friendly

Advantages of dynamic websites

* Much easier to update
* New content brings people back to the site and helps in the search engines
* Can work as a system to allow staff or users to collaborate
* Provides greater functionality
* Permits user interaction - forums, comments, blogs, etc.

Disadvantages of dynamic websites

* More involved and marginally more expensive to develop

In summary, the additional effort required to create a dynamic website is certainly worth it. Also, with the growing number of very successful and powerful Content Management System (CMS) platforms, building and maintaining a dynamic website is much easier than you likely imagine.

If you would like more information on using a CMS platform for your website you may want to consider the following open source software: Joomla, Word-Press or Drupal. There are certainly many more but these are the undisputed top 3 CMS solutions which are at the core of many dynamic websites.

About the Author

Daniel is an entrepreneur that has started many tech oriented businesses. GigaVerointernet.

Daniel Beck and his company can be found at