Are static sites the new static site?

Last week Brian Holt tweeted this:

I feel like we as front end developers should be doing more static websites and server-side templating. Front end frameworks are marvels of engineering but shouldn’t be the solution to every problem.

As someone who has been working in web development for half my life, this seems self-evident to me. It feels like we’ve gone full-circle.

I was a web developer when the only option was static web pages. I learned a bit of Perl when cgi-bin kick-started server-side logic. I learned Coldfusion, PHP and used server-side includes. It’s only recently that client-side frameworks have taken on so much responsibility.

I say this not to brag, but to point out that I’ve seen the pros and cons of each approach because I’ve used them on real projects.

It’s the replies to this tweet and the resultant conversation that I find interesting, because it reveals a whole range of viewpoints, misconceptions and misunderstandings of the technology options available to us.

My website is published using a static-site generator. For many years now, these tools have been popular for ‘brochureware’ sites and blogs. But more recently tools like Gatbsy and platforms like Netlify, Zeit’s Now and even Glitch provide a whole range of options that start to blur the lines between ‘dynamic’ and ‘static’ sites.

I think the ‘dynamic’ vs ‘static’ distinction isn’t that useful any more, because it no longer correlates the technology with the purpose of the application for users.

Instead, it’s more useful to think of dimensions like public vs private, personalised vs generic, localised vs global or task-focused vs information-focused. (These are just off the top of my head.)

Those are the characteristics that will more usefully inform an ideal rendering and content architecture. After all, we have to include caching, CDNs and other intermediaries as very much part of the whole system.

It’s great to have a much wider choice of these systems than we used to and like Brian Holt, I’d like to see ‘traditional’ approaches kept in the discussion.

Newer tech does not mean more appropriate tech.

All the best,

– Jim

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