Static Site Generators: What They Are, How They Work, and Which One to Choose

In web development, static sites are efficient solutions composed of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript delivered directly to the browser.

This guide outlines the static nature, the construction process using Static Site Generators (SSG), and the differences from traditional approaches, evaluating the pros and cons.

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What is a Static Site

A static site is one that is composed of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files stored on a server or a content delivery network (CDN) and sent to the user's browser without the need for additional processing.

These files contain the code and content of the web page, which is displayed as-is to the user without changing based on interaction, time, or data.

A static site has the following characteristics:

Static assets of a static website

What is a Static Site Generator?

A Static Site Generator (SSG) is a tool that automates the process of creating HTML files from data and templates.

Essentially, a Static Site Generator takes your content, which can be written in a markup language such as Markdown or external content management systems (WordPress, Contentful, Sanity, etc.), and combines it with a design to produce a complete static website.

Building a static website with a generator:

  1. Content for the website is written in text files with a specific format, such as Markdown, YAML, or JSON or through a content management system. These files may contain metadata such as the title, description, or publication date of each page, etc.
  2. A template is created or chosen to define the look and structure of the website. To create the content structure, you can use JSX, HTML, or the predefined form of the chosen framework that allows for inserting variables and logic into HTML code.
  3. The SSG is configured to indicate where the content files, template, and output directory are located. Other aspects, such as the site name, language, theme, or plugins, can also be configured.
  4. The SSG is executed to read the content and template files, combine them, and convert them into HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files. These files are saved in the output directory, containing the generated static website.
  5. The output directory is uploaded to a server or CDN to make the website available online.

Key differences between static site generators and traditional approaches

Advantages of using a Static Site Generator:

Disadvantages of using Static Site Generators:

Despite the mentioned advantages, there are also some disadvantages or limitations to consider when using a static site generator, such as:

Difficulty in Implementing Dynamic Features:

Without a server or database that can respond to user requests or events, the website is limited to displaying statically generated content.

To add dynamic features such as forms, comments, authentication, or search, external services like Netlify Forms, Disqus, Auth0, or Algolia are required, which may incur additional costs or third-party dependencies.

Implementing dynamic functionalities in a static site.

Fortunately, nowadays JavaScript frameworks like Next.js or Astro allow combining static functions with dynamic functions by rendering some pages on the server side and generating others statically at compile time.

Build and Deployment Time:

Having to generate all the pages of the website each time there is a change in content or code can increase build and deployment time, especially for large or complex websites. To reduce this time, optimization techniques such as incremental generation, caching, or code splitting can be employed, allowing only the changed pages to be generated, storing intermediate results, or breaking the code into smaller fragments.

Learning Curve and Technical Skills:

Using specific tools and programming languages can make the website more challenging to create and maintain, especially for those lacking the necessary technical skills or experience. To simplify the process, learning resources such as tutorials, documentation, or courses can be utilized to help understand and master the concepts and tools of static site generators.

Static Sites vs Dynamic Sites

static site generators vs ssr rendering sites

Even though I'm a big fan of the "static" approach, it's not always possible to pre-generate all pages. For these cases, we can build dynamically rendered server-side sites thanks to modern tools like frameworks for server-side rendering.

How to Determine the Right Approach for a Project:

Here are some examples of sites that don't necessarily need to be dynamic:

On the other hand, for interactive sites, it's ideal to choose the dynamic approach. Dynamic sites are suitable for projects with variable or frequently changing content, such as social media, user interaction-dependent online stores, educational platforms, games, etc. Examples of dynamic sites include Facebook, Amazon, and Duolingo.

If the site doesn't rely on any dynamic functionality, the static approach provides better performance compared to other options like WordPress or Drupal.

What are the Most Used Static Site Generators Today?

As we've seen, many factors influence the choice of a static site generator, and there are numerous options available, each with its features, advantages, and disadvantages.

To help you choose the most suitable static site generator for your web project, here are some of the best ones:

How to Choose a Static Site Generator for Your Website

As we've seen, static site generators are a compelling option for creating static web pages, but not all generators are the same or suitable for all needs. Therefore, it's essential to choose the most appropriate static site generator for your web project, considering factors such as:

If you need help choosing the most suitable static site generator for your web project, you can contact me through my contact page, where I offer personalized and professional advice. We'll be delighted to assist you in creating the static website you desire.