What is a Static Site
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:
- It is easy to create and maintain, as it only requires editing the text files that make up the site.
- It loads quickly since there is no need to wait for the server to generate the web page each time it is requested.
- It is secure, as there is no risk of malicious code injection or brute-force attacks on the server.
- It is cost-effective, as it does not consume server resources and can be hosted on free or low-cost services.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- They do not require a server to generate the web page every time it is requested, but rather do so only once during site construction. This reduces load time, resource consumption, cost savings, and potential errors.
- Load Speed: Being static files, static sites tend to load faster compared to dynamic sites. There is no server-side processing during client requests.
- Smaller Attack Surface: Without a dynamic database and without running server-side code, static sites may have fewer security vulnerabilities.
- Simple Scalability: They are easier to scale since static files can be served by any web server without the need for complex infrastructure.
- Hosting Costs: They can be less expensive to host as they do not require dynamic server resources (databases, server-side processing).
Advantages of using a Static Site Generator:
- Improved Loading Speed and Overall Performance: By not having to wait for the server to generate the web page each time it is requested, response time is reduced, and user experience is enhanced. Additionally, using a CDN distributes content across various servers worldwide, reducing latency and increasing availability.
- Increased Security: Without a server or database that can be attacked or compromised, the risk of vulnerabilities or security breaches is reduced. Moreover, using a CDN delivers content through HTTPS, ensuring data privacy and integrity.
- Traffic Scalability: Without depending on server resources or database capacity, the website can grow in traffic seamlessly without affecting performance. Additionally, using a CDN adapts content to demand and balances the load between servers, preventing bottlenecks or service outages.
- Ease of Deployment and Hosting: Without requiring specific server or database configurations, the website can be hosted and deployed on any service that supports static files, such as GitHub Pages, Netlify, Vercel, Cloudflare Pages, Azure Static, etc. Moreover, using a CDN automatically syncs and updates content on all servers, facilitating site management and maintenance.
- Cost Reduction Compared to Dynamic Approaches: By not consuming server or database resources, the website can be hosted and deployed on free or low-cost services, resulting in economic savings. Additionally, using a CDN optimizes and compresses content, reducing bandwidth consumption and environmental impact.
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.
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
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:
- Personal blog posts that don't change frequently.
- Documentation pages.
- Landing and destination pages.
- Portfolio pages.
- Pages showcasing services.
- Simple e-commerce sites.
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:
- Astro build is a modern static site generator allowing you to create fast and lightweight websites using components from any framework. It follows the concept of the Islands Architecture, rendering static content on the server and adding interactivity on the client side only where needed. Astro has its syntax called .astro, similar to HTML but allows using components from React, Vue, Svelte, and other frameworks. Astro also has a plugin ecosystem, templates, and themes that ease the development and deployment of your website.
- Gatsby js is one of the most popular and powerful static site generators on the market, enabling you to create amazing websites using React and GraphQL. Gatsby integrates with hundreds of data sources like WordPress, Contentful, Shopify, and others, allowing you to access them through GraphQL queries. It optimizes the performance, security, and accessibility of your website by applying modern web best practices. Gatsby boasts a large community and an ecosystem of plugins, starters, and themes helping you create any type of website imaginable.
- Next js is a React framework that enables you to create static websites, server-rendered websites, and single-page web applications with a simple and flexible development experience. Next.js has many standout features, including hybrid rendering, allowing you to choose the most suitable rendering method for each page, the Image Component, automatically optimizing image size and quality, and Incremental Static Regeneration, enabling updates to static content without rebuilding the entire site. Next.js also offers an ecosystem of examples, tutorials, and plugins showcasing how to use the framework with different technologies and use cases.
- Gridsome is a Vue-based static site generator enabling you to create ultra-fast websites using data from any source. Gridsome uses GraphQL to fetch data from various sources such as local files, CMS, APIs, and databases, storing them in a centralized data store. It also generates optimized code for SEO, performance, and user experience, utilizing techniques like code splitting, prefetching, and lazy loading. Gridsome has a collection of plugins, starters, and themes allowing you to integrate the framework with different tools and create diverse types of websites.
- Hugo is a fast and flexible static site generator allowing you to create websites of any size and complexity using the Go templating language. Hugo is known for its rapid build speed, capable of generating thousands of pages in seconds. It features various capabilities facilitating website development, such as multilingual support, image processing, taxonomy system, and a shortcode engine. Hugo has extensive documentation and an ecosystem of themes, modules, and components offering solutions for different needs.
- Eleventy is a simple and elegant static site generator allowing you to create websites using various template languages like Nunjucks, Liquid, Handlebars, and others. Eleventy stands out for its flexibility and ease of use, enabling you to configure the framework according to your preferences and use data in the way you prefer. Eleventy also has good documentation and an active community contributing plugins, starters, and tutorials to enhance the framework and assist developers.
- Svelte Kit is the successor to Sapper, a Svelte framework enabling you to create static websites, server-rendered websites, and single-page web applications using the Svelte component language. Svelte Kit offers advantages like adaptive rendering, choosing the best rendering method for each page, TypeScript support, allowing optional use of static typing, and flexible deployment, enabling you to export your website to different platforms like Vercel, Netlify, Cloudflare, and others. Svelte Kit is still in development but has detailed documentation and an enthusiastic community supporting it.
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:
- Type of Website: Depending on the type of website you want to create, you may opt for a more or less specialized static site generator. For example, if you want to create a blog, you can use a content-focused static site generator like Jekyll, Hugo, or Eleventy, allowing you to write content in Markdown and use simple templates. For a more interactive or complex website, you might choose a React-based static site generator like Gatsby, Gridsome, or Scully, enabling you to use components, GraphQL, and plugins to create dynamic and customized user interfaces.
- Target Audience and Technical Skills: Depending on the target audience and the technical skills of users who will create or consume the website, you may choose a more or less user-friendly static site generator. For instance, if the website will be created or edited by non-programmers, you can use a static site generator with a graphical interface or one that integrates with a headless CMS, such as Bridgetown, Nuxt, or Next, making it easy to manage content visually. If developers or individuals with programming knowledge will create or edit the website, you might choose a static site generator with a command-line interface or code-based approach, such as Gatsby, Eleventy, or Hugo, providing greater control and flexibility over the build and deployment process.
- Community and Support Behind Static Site Generators: Depending on the popularity, activity, and quality of the community and support behind static site generators, you may choose a more or less reliable and updated static site generator. For instance, if you want to use a static site generator with a large community and good support, you can choose one that is widely used, has many contributors, is frequently updated, and has good documentation and learning resources, such as Gatsby, Hugo, or Eleventy, ensuring a satisfactory user experience and efficient problem-solving. If you want to use a static site generator with a smaller or less active community and support, you can choose one that is less used, has fewer contributors, is updated less frequently, or has scanty or incomplete documentation and learning resources, such as Scully, Bridgetown, or Pelican, which may provide a more challenging user experience and more difficult problem-solving.
- Performance of Static Site Generators and Measurement Tools: Depending on the performance of static site generators and the measurement tools they use or that can be used with them, you may choose a faster and more efficient static site generator. For example, if you want to use a static site generator with good performance and that uses or can be used with measurement tools, you can choose one with good code optimization, using performance-enhancing techniques like incremental generation, caching, or code splitting. It should also support or be compatible with measurement tools like Lighthouse, WebPageTest, or Google Analytics, allowing you to assess and improve the speed, accessibility, and usability of the website. If you want to use a static site generator with lower performance or that does not use or can be used with measurement tools, you can choose one with less code optimization, using fewer or no performance-enhancing techniques, and not supporting or being compatible with measurement tools, such as Jekyll, Pelican, or Bridgetown, which may offer lower speed, accessibility, and usability or be more challenging to evaluate and improve.
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.