Do You Know The Difference Between Static and Dynamic Websites ?

image:man sits at desk using laptop

If you are someone who is just diving into the world of websites and thinking about making one yourself or having one built for you, you may have come across terms like “dynamic” or “static website” or “responsive websites” and “content management systems”. You may even be starting to grasp the differences between them.  However, you may not yet realize the implications and differences when it comes to what happens after the website is built.

First let’s just brush up on what each term means.

Static Websites

A static website, or more accurately a static web page, is built from the ground up to not be adjusted or controlled by anyone besides the person who actually built the site.  This is generally a programmer or web designer who has used a programming language called “html” and various applications to construct the website, and only this person can go in and control what changes occur to the behavior and appearance of the website.

So in this type of scenario, a visitor always sees the exact same content no matter how they arrive at the site or their physical location or what type of device they are viewing it on. The content, and how it appears on the web page, stays the same until the webmaster goes in and makes the changes.  The visitor has little to no impact on how the site looks or performs.

So a static website stays the same – or static- no matter what, and is generally only adjusted by the person who built the site. So if you hire a person to build a site for you, generally it is only this person that can go back and make changes to the site.

This is the original – some would say “old school” way to build a website. Each web page within the website is a separate file and all the information or “coding” needed to produce that page in your browser is contained within that one file. Seven pages in your website means 7 .html files make up that website.

Dynamic Websites

When you view a page on a dynamic website, what you are actually viewing is a number of different files arranged according to certain conditions – not just one .html file.  The arrangement of these files is handled by yet another file like .php file.  They are “dynamically” generated when a person calls a certain address on the internet.  Because of this, a dynamic website moves and changes and adapts on the fly depending on the situation. It is dynamic, adaptable, able to change color or shape or content and sometimes can be interactive and without any direct input from the original site designer.

graphic: drawing of man sitting at computer creating code
Navigating the world of website code can be a daunting task.

Nowadays websites are built to live and breathe and interact with visitors in different ways depending on a lot of factors. A dynamic website can change it’s appearance automatically based on a viewers location, viewing device, previous visits history, local time and a host of other variables. They can also change based on direct input from a visitor such as filling out a form or checking a box or commenting on an article.  They also allow for deeper interaction with visitors such as comment sections and content delivered to individuals based on a user name for instance.  Facebook would be an example of the ultimate dynamic website since it serves completely different information to each of it’s millions of users based on their user name and hundreds of other factors.  Static sites don’t usually offer this type of functionality.

Advantages and disadvantages of static websites

Advantages of static

One of the big advantages is they are initially less expensive to set up. Since the coding needed to generate static pages is so much simpler than dynamically served content they are easier and quicker to produce. Also, because the coding is simpler, there is less that can go wrong with a static site. There is no real databases to mess with so you can eliminate that complication as well.

Another advantage is they load faster, providing a more pleasant user experience. Dynamic sites have much more back end coding to make everything work and because of this the pages take longer to generate, so they take longer to load in your browser.  Static web pages generally load more quickly all other things being equal, providing a better user experience.

If you want to “set it and forget it” and to pay less up front, go with a static design.

Finally, because of certain inherent properties of the way a static site is built vrs a dynamic site, static sites are generally safer from hacker attacks and other misfortunes. Another way to look at this is, in a static site the communication is generally one way – as in the server to the browser, but in dynamic sites information can travel two ways – from server to browser and from browser to server.  This two way interactivity opens the door to malicious activities. With a static site there is no door.

Disadvantages of static

As mentioned, a static website can not adapt itself to different situations. So it might work great on a large monitor but be nearly unusable on a mobile device and visa versa. It’s lack of “adaptability” may prevent certain visitors from using the site to it’s full potential, or not at all.

Lack of interactivity. Static sites do not have comments sections, voting systems, advanced shopping systems or other types of visitor interactivity. They are basically a digital version of a brochure. They are unable to keep track of users or databases and statistics.

Another disadvantage happens when it comes time to update the site. Since every page of a static website is made from a separate file, in order to  change the content across your entire site you wold have to go into each page or file and change the content in each one individually. You have to have a decent amount of knowledge about html and/or css to update these files. This can be time consuming (ie more costly). Whereas in a dynamic site it is easier to set it up so that a user can sign in and make changes to the site themselves with little to no coding experience.

Advantages and disadvantages of Dynamic websites

Advantages

One of the main advantages of a dynamic website is that it can adapt itself to whatever the situation calls for.  If the visitor is viewing the site on a small mobile device, it can rearrange the content on the site to fit nicely onto that smaller screen. If a visitor is viewing the site on a large desktop monitor, it can deliver the content in a way that best suits that large screen and all it’s viewing “real estate”. This is known as responsive site because it responds differently to different viewing devices and/or browsers.

Another advantage would be ease of upkeep. Since dynamic pages are built from a group of other files, it is easy to go in a change one of these files and have every page in the website that contains that file be updated automatically. So to change a menu for instance, instead of going to each page and changing the menu on each one, you go to the file marked “menu” and change it there. Now each page in your site that needs to use this menu uses the updated version of the menu. There is only one menu file and it is shared between pages, whereas in a static site each page has it’s own menu.

From a site maintenance standpoint it is much easier (and cheaper) to go in and modify just one file instead of modifying each page on your site individually, and as mentioned earlier, it is much easier for a site owner or employee to go in a make changes to that site without the direct assistance of the person who built the site.

Disadvantages

Cost is the main factor.  Because of the increased complexity of a dynamic site, they generally cost more to set up than a static site.

The extra complexity of a dynamic site means there are more things that can go wrong. Since a dynamic site is database driven, one mistake in the database can effect your whole site. Finding where the glitch occurred is also much more difficult on a database than in simple individual site page files. Troubleshooting a dynamic site is much more complicated and involved.

A website that looks great on all devices from mobile phones to tablets to larger monitors is known as a responsive site because it “responds” to these different devices by delivering content specifically for that device.

As alluded to earlier, dynamic sites are generally more open to malicious activities due to all the various ways a person can interact with the site. With complexity comes vulnerability.

What About After the Site is Built?

This is perhaps the most important thing to consider when it comes to these two types of websites. Each require a different level of upkeep once they are built.

Static Sites

A static site is generally meant to be built and then kind of left on it’s own except for the occasional update to a picture or perhaps a price. This is common and even quite acceptable for smaller businesses. Often, a smaller business does not have the time or resources to actively update a website every other day, and in most cases they don’t have to. So a static site works just fine.

When a change does have to be made however, you have to call your webmaster or whoever built the site and have them make the necessary updates. This can get costly depending on just how many updates you want to make or how regularly you want to make them. Bottom line is – unless  you plan on making frequent updates to your sites contents, a static website may serve you just fine, and with very little upkeep.

Dynamic Sites

These sites are designed to be updated frequently, usually by the site owner and not the site builder (although sometimes by both).  This is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s nice to have all that swanky functionality but in order to take advantage of it you have to maintain and nurture the site, either by doing it yourself or by hiring someone to do it.  This of course takes time and money.  If you want to pay the extra up front costs of building a dynamic site with content management features (this allows any user to sign in and make changes right in their web browser – more on this below) you better be prepared to utilize it or else you are throwing money away.

Dynamic sites demand more active participation from site owners and their visitors. If you have the time and resources to regularly update and improve the content of the site, and the time and know how to connect it all with the various social media platforms and actively maintain those assets as well, then this type of website would be a better choice for you.

Bottom line here is, if you have an active social media site and think you want to make frequent updates to your website and have it all tie in together – and you have very little coding knowledge – then you absolutely need a dynamic site and a content management system or CMS.

graphic: wordpress logo
WordPress is a common content management system.

Content Management Systems (or CMS)

Speaking of content management. Normally, the web designer or webmaster or whoever built and maintains the site would be responsible for managing the content of a website and updating it.  “Content” refers to any images, video, graphics, html files, css files, text files and all the various elements that make up the content of the page. You send your webmaster your content, they organize and identify the content according to their own methods and/or a mixture of common web design “rules” and uploads this content to a server where it is “served” up to you in the form of a web page.

…dynamic sites are generally more open to malicious activities due to all the various ways a person can interact with the site.

Content Management Systems are applications that let you interact with and control various design and functionality features of your website, without having to call your webmaster, and without having to get into the hard coding of the site. This makes it possible for even novice users to go in and make updates to the site as long as they know how to use the CMS.

Most dynamically created websites have CMS functionality. A typical CMS would be WordPress which many people have heard of, although there are a lot of different CMS such as Joomla, Drupal and others. These can be a great option for clients who wish to have control over their own content and have the ability to make changes to their website themselves without having to call their webmaster every time.

Responsive Websites

Not to be confused with dynamic sites, (although a dynamic site can certainly be responsive) a responsive site means a site can change it’s appearance based on the device that accesses the site. It really only refers to the look of the site, rather than the functionality and interactivity of the site. A website that looks great on all devices from mobile phones to tablets to larger monitors is known as a responsive site because it “responds” to these different devices by delivering content specifically for that device.

Conclusion

Static sites offer very little in the way of interaction and user control and are generally considered to be like a digital brochure. They are less expensive to set up but could be more expensive to maintain.  They load faster and are less susceptible to malicious actions.

Dynamic sites offer far greater options for content management, user interactivity and custom user functionality, but they cost more to set up and are more susceptible to technical problems and malicious threats.  However because you can update and make changes to the site yourself, may cost less over time.

Bottom line.. If you want to “set it and forget it” and to pay less up front, go with a static design. If you have more money to spend and want to make frequent updates to the site yourself go with the dynamic design.


I build both static and dynamic sites and in some cases implement both styles in one site. I can build you a site in WordPress, teach you how to use it, and then hand it over to you to update and manage.  Or, I can build you a more traditional static website and do the updates for you as and when you need them. If you are not sure which approach would be better for your needs, drop me a line and I would be glad to help you figure it out.

Images in this article provided courtesy of Pixabay. They are simply an awesome image resource.

Author: T.W.

Videographer and photographer living in Newfoundland and Labrador Canada.

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