Trying to decide between a static website vs a dynamic website for your next project? Or are you not even sure what a static website is in the first place?
Either way, this article is here to help. It has everything that you need to know about static websites, including what they are, how they work, how they’re different from dynamic websites, and some of the pros and cons of static websites vs dynamic websites.
By the end, you should have a good idea of which approach might be the best fit for your project, as well as how you can get started.
What Is a Static Website?
A static website has no backend server-side processing and no database. Any “dynamic” functionality associated with the static site is performed on the client side, which means the code is executed in visitors’ browsers rather than on the server.
In non-technical terms, this means that your hosting delivers the website files to visitors’ browsers exactly as those files appear on the server.
What’s more, every single visitor gets the same static file delivered to their browsers, which means largely having the exact same experiences and seeing the exact same content.
What Is a Dynamic Website?
A dynamic website is a website that’s controlled on the server side and relies on some type of scripting language (e.g. PHP). Every time someone visits the site*, the server processes its code and/or query the database to generate the finished page.
This allows the server to display different content for each visit. For example, someone who’s logged in to the site might see one version of the page, while someone who’s not logged in might see completely different content when they visit the page.
It also means that any changes you make in your site management dashboard is visible right away because the content management system automatically starts delivering the page with the latest content/changes.
How Do Static Websites Work?
Let’s go over how to make a static website in more depth later on, but the basic approach that most static sites use is as follows:
- Set up your site – build your site using your chosen tool. Unlike WordPress, you won’t control your site from a live production server.
- Deploy your site – this means that you move your site’s static files onto live hosting so that users can access them.
Examples of Static Websites and Tools
When looking at a website, there’s no hard and fast rule to tell whether it’s static or dynamic. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at examples of tools that help you build and manage static websites.
Here are some of the most popular static website examples when it comes to software for creating static websites:
All of these tools let you create static websites, but they go about it in very different ways. For example, Publii gives you a code-free desktop interface, while some other tools require you to use the command line.
Examples of Dynamic Websites and Tools
To help you compare and contrast with the static website examples above, let’s also take a look at some dynamic website examples.
While you can use WordPress for static websites by installing a static site generator plugin, WordPress functions as a dynamic website builder by default.
Here are some other well-known examples of dynamic websites that use similar approaches:
Static vs Dynamic Websites: Pros and Cons
Now that you have a solid understanding of what a static website is and how it compares to a dynamic website, let’s run through some of the pros and cons of static vs dynamic websites.
Static Website Pros
- Easier to optimize for performance – because static websites have fewer “moving parts”, so to speak, they’re a lot easier to optimize for performance. Static websites are generally very lean and quick to load, especially if you build them well.
- Requires fewer server resources – because static websites don’t require any server-side processing, the server needs to do a lot less work for each visit. This improves performance and helps your website perform better under scale. You can even deploy your static website straight to a CDN and skip using a web server altogether (which means, in part, that your site has no static IP address).
- It’s very cheap to host static websites – for simple hobby projects/portfolios, you could host them on our Static Site Hosting for free or use other free hosting services such as GitHub Pages or Cloudflare Pages.
- Easier to secure – because static sites don’t rely on server-side processing or databases, there are fewer attack surfaces for malicious actors. It is still possible for a static website to be hacked – but it’s a lot less likely to happen.
- Very easy to launch simple websites – you can launch static websites very quickly because you don’t need to worry about setting up technical details such as databases.
Static Website Cons
- Can be more complex to apply content/design updates – with a static site, you need to redeploy your website every time you make a change or apply updates – even for something very small like changing an item in your navigation menu. This can add some extra complexity, especially if you’re regularly changing your website. However, when you deploy through your Git repository via a Static Site Hosting like Kinsta, you can turn on Automatic deployment to automatically trigger deployment from your Git repository when there is any change.
- Can be more technical to add features – with dynamic website tools like WordPress, you can install a new plugin when you want to add functionality to your site. With static sites, it’s usually, but not always, more complex.
- Content management functionality usually isn’t as strong – static website tools generally aren’t as strong at managing content, which can be cumbersome if you have a large website with thousands of pieces of content and lots of taxonomies for organization. Some static site generators are doing a lot to reduce this issue, though.
- Reliant on third-party services for even basic functionality like web forms – for example, most static websites use form endpoint APIs such as FormBold or Getform. Or, you could embed third-party form services such as Google Forms (or one of these Google Forms alternatives). With a dynamic content management system like WordPress, you could just install a form plugin and store everything in your site’s database.
Dynamic Website Pros
- Can create personalized visitor experiences – you’re able to dynamically adjust the content of a page based on the person who’s viewing it. For example, you could create a membership site where paying members are able to see the full content of a page while anonymous visitors are only able to see a small preview.
- Easy to update your site (content and design) – it’s very easy to apply content and design updates on a dynamic site. As soon as you apply the update in your site management dashboard, you should instantly see that change reflected on your live site. There’s no need to redeploy your entire site like you might need to do with a static site.
- Easier to add new features via plugins/apps – for example, you can just install new plugins to add features if you’re using WordPress as your dynamic website content management system.
- Stronger content management features at scale – dynamic website tools are generally better for managing lots of content. For example, if you’re building a directory of thousands of local businesses, a dynamic website tool is usually a better option.
Dynamic Website Cons
- Can be more expensive to host – all things equal, a dynamic website is usually more expensive to host because it requires more server resources for server-side processing.
- Harder to secure – dynamic websites have more attack surfaces than static websites, which makes them a little more complex to secure. For example, you need to worry about SQL injection attacks, which isn’t something that can affect static sites (because static sites don’t have a database).
- Requires more effort for performance optimization – optimizing a dynamic website is more complex because you need to worry about both frontend and backend performance. For example, dynamic websites might need to spend time optimizing database queries and performance, which isn’t an issue for static sites.
- Slightly more complex setup process – for example, if you want to make a WordPress website, you need to set up your database and make sure your site has the necessary technologies (e.g. a recent version of PHP, MySQL/MariaDB, and so on). However, using managed WordPress hosting like Kinsta can greatly simplify managing your WordPress site by letting you launch WordPress sites using a simple interface.
How To Build a Static Website
If you think the advantages of building a static website might make it a good fit for your next project, here’s a quick guide on how to create a static website.
We’re intentionally keeping this guide high level so that you can adapt it to your own use case.
1. Choose a Static Site Generator or CMS
To start, choose a static site generator or a content management system that allows you to deploy a static site.
A static site generator gives you a simpler way to build your static site. It also makes it easier to update your site in the future.
Rather than needing to edit every single HTML file when you make a change (such as adding a new item to your navigation menu), the static site generator can help you deploy new versions of all your site’s files that reflect the changes.
Here are some popular static site generators that you can consider:
- Jekyll – one of the most popular open-source static website generators. Can work for a variety of sites and supports blogging. We have a whole post on how to create a static site with Jekyll.
- Hugo – another popular open-source generator that can work for all different types of sites. We also have a post on how to create a static site with Hugo.
- WordPress + a static site generator plugin – you can use WordPress to build your site but then deploy it as a static HTML site using your preferred static site generator plugin.
For more options, check out our post with the top static site generators.
2. Build Your Website
Once you’ve chosen your preferred tool, use that tool to build your website.
How that works depends on which tool you choose, so there’s no single guide that applies to all static site generators.
If you come from a WordPress background, using WordPress itself as a static site generator offers one of the simplest ways to get your toes wet and create your first static site.
Here’s an example of what it might look like to build a static website with WordPress:
- Create a local WordPress site using DevKinsta. This is not the site that your visitors actually interact with – it’s just where you manage your content and website design.
- Set up your site using your favorite design tool. You could use the native WordPress block editor, or you could use your favorite page builder plugin such as Elementor or Divi.
- Install a static site generator plugin. This is what you use to deploy your static website in the next step. Popular options include Simply Static and WP2Static, though there are also newer alternatives such as Staatic.
Another option is to pair WordPress with Gatsby using GraphQL.
3. Deploy Your Website
Once you’ve built your website, you need to deploy it to your hosting service. Essentially, this means you need a way to get the static HTML files from your computer to the internet.
There are a couple of different routes you can take here.
One approach is to utilize a Static Site Hosting service. With this hosting solution, you can effortlessly set up automatic and continuous deployment through your preferred Git provider. Kinsta offers an exceptional Static Site Hosting service that builds and serves your deployed site within seconds.
For example, pushing new files to GitHub might automatically trigger a process like this:
- When you push a change in GitHub, it automatically notifies your server, for example, Kinsta.
- Your server pulls the latest files from GitHub and runs your Static Site’s build command.
- Your server moves the files into the live site environment.
For another Git-based option, you can also use GitHub pages for static websites.
As an alternative approach, you can deploy directly to a CDN rather than using any type of web server. This approach looks something like this:
- You upload your site’s files to some type of online storage environment. Many tools can do this automatically or via the command line.
- You set up a CDN to pull from that storage.
- When you publish new files to your storage, the CDN automatically starts pulling in those new files.
If your tool doesn’t offer any special features to simplify deploying your site, you need to:
- Generate your site’s static HTML files.
- Manually upload those files to your static website hosting service.
Should You Use a Static Website As Your Next Project?
Whether or not a static website is a good fit for your next project depends on the purpose of your website and your own knowledge level.
As such, there’s no single one-size-fits-all answer here.
Instead, let’s go through some situations when it might or might not make sense to use a static website.
When a Static Website Might Make Sense
A static website works best for websites where all visitors see the same content and the content doesn’t change very often – especially for smaller websites with not a lot of content.
Here are some types of websites that can work very well with the static approach:
- Portfolio websites
- Basic business brochure websites
- Resume websites
- Simple blogs that don’t publish that often
- Documentation content/knowledge bases
- Landing pages
These types of websites are able to achieve all of the benefits of the static approach but with very few tradeoffs.
For example, you’re unlikely to need to personalize a basic business brochure website, so you’re not “losing” any functionality by using the static approach.
Similarly, these types of sites don’t change very often, so you won’t need to worry about constantly redeploying your static pages.
When a Dynamic Website Might Make Sense
To start, dynamic websites are generally always the best choice for situations where you need the ability to personalize the site experience, such as ecommerce stores, membership websites, online courses, and so on.
Basically, if you want users to be able to see different content on a page, you typically want to use a dynamic website.
While there are ways to build the aforementioned types of websites using a static website, the tradeoffs that you have to make usually aren’t worth it, which is why a dynamic website might be a better choice.
Dynamic websites can also often make more sense for content-heavy sites, especially sites with lots of taxonomies and other methods of organization
Similarly, if you’re regularly publishing new content all the time, that might be a reason to go with a dynamic website.
For example, a personal blog where you only publish 1 new post every 2 weeks might be fine as a static website, but a monetization-focused blog that’s publishing five new posts every day is probably better as a dynamic website.
To recap, a static website is a website that serves fixed HTML pages and does all of its processing on the client side. When you create a static site, every single user receives the same static HTML file/content when they visit a page.
This static website approach has been growing in popularity, thanks in large part to static website generator tools such as Hugo, Jekyll, Gatsby, and others.
However, building a static website has both pros and cons, so it won’t be the right approach for all websites.
If you want to get started with your own static website, you can choose a static site generator and launch your website for free with Kinsta’s Static Site Hosting within a few seconds.
As an alternative to Static Site Hosting, you can opt for deploying your static site with Kinsta’s Application Hosting, which provides greater hosting flexibility, a wider range of benefits, and access to more robust features. For example, scalability, customized deployment using a Dockerfile, and comprehensive analytics encompassing real-time and historical data.
What do you think about static sites? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments section below.