The Move Towards Static Websites

There’s some discussion on new podcast “The Back to Front Show” on why of late we’re seeing so many static websites cropping up. It seem like now more than ever, we’re seeing both developers and designers jump ship to this way of working, having long been using database backed solutions (such as WordPress/Drupal) to manage their publishing.

When I talk about a static site, I think of it of raw HTML sat on a server and nothing else. However, it seems as if the industry has adopted the term to refer to sites created from tools which are capable of creating/emulating this HTML, whether it be a local, dropbox or a hosted/self-hosted solution. Typically both types of tool are powered through conversion of flat files into the markup which is served publicly. Through using them you can achieve something akin to a typical blog, without the need for a database (or possibly even a server-side language to power it).

Pro’s

Simplicity – Most of the draw toward toward such setups seems to be on the simplicity over flexibility. I can power a site with a minimal setup, but still regularly and simply update and maintain it, using a partial based environment. With a dropbox based solution, I just need to drop my flat files into a folder and everything is updated transparently. Mark Boulton has previously written about his requirements for writing on the web and why he went with Statamic:

“I wanted a way of simply publishing words, rather than getting all wrapped up in php, theming files and database problems.”

Simplicity it seems, rules.

I previously wrote an article on how you could publish using Octopress and Amazon’s S3 service. For anyone who has a relatively low traffic site, such a setup could also work out cheaper than a monthly hosting package.

Development Time – If you’re one for creating custom themes, a static site is also a much simpler solution than wrestling with styling the innerds of a full fledged cms. Typically posts are stored in markdown and can be styled along with assets using a partial templating system (eg. based on YAML or Liquid). Having recently developed a wordpress theme I can testify to the complexity of having to dig through documentation on function usage and to determine which template file should be modified to achieve what I want within a page.

Source Control – As Rick quite rightly points out below in the comments, having all your posts available in flat files makes them perfect for managing/backing up through your revision control tools of choice.

Cons

Customisation – For me, the big loss is the lack of flexibility. I hear everyone cry, “Well, duh – it’s static”. Without a server side language handling requests, I’m unable to schedule posts, handle comments, create forms or trigger email. If I intend on continuing to offer them, I have to find third party services to deal with each of these aspects. I’m well aware there’s services like disqus and wufoo that may solve some of these problems, but it seems like a major hassle to integrate each time something like this is required. It may be that this is just me, you may be perfectly happy using these solutions, or may not require them.

Remote publishing – When using a local based solution (e.g. Jekyll), you don’t have the option of blogging remotely, due to the lack of tools to create and push out your content. Gone are the days of being able to log into a site from your phone and add a small update. For me, this is less of an issue as I can’t recall if I’ve ever written a post in this way and try to be more methodical, less spontaneous about what I’m writing from the comfort of my desktop.

Example Systems

If you’re interested in running a static site, then I’ve listed a few that seem pretty popular at the time of writing, along with a brief list of their features.

Jekyll – Locally run, File based, Open source, Powers Github pages.
Octopress – Locally run, Jekyll/File based, but with preconfigured HTML templates, CSS, Javascript, Open Source
Statamic – Self Hosted, File Based, License Required
Kirby – Self Hosted, File based, jQuery inspired API, License Required
Stacey – Self hosted, File based, Open source
Scriptogram – Dropbox/File based

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