7 Reasons to Use a Static Site Generator: Flexibility, Better Performance, Fewer Server-side Dependencies, Improved Reliability, Superior Security, Client Control Considerations, Version Control and Testing
Is a CMS overkill for your next app? Could a static site generator improve performance, management and security? Learn about the benefits of using an SSG.
Static site generators (SSGs) have become increasingly popular over the past decade. This article discusses how your site could benefit from the developer-friendly build processes, easier deployments, improved performance, and better security offered by a static site.
First, let’s establish what we mean by the term “static site generator” …
Difficulties arise as your site becomes larger and more complex. Consider navigation: it may be similar in every file, but adding a new page requires updates to every other. Even references to CSS and images can become awkward as folder structures evolve. You may have considered options such as server-side includes or PHP, but an easier option can be a content management system (CMS) …
A CMS typically provides administrative control panels. These allow authors to write content that’s stored in a back-end database. When a visitor requests a URL, the CMS:
This occurs almost instantly. The template can include code to generate menus according to the navigation hierarchy. Life is sweet, and more than four in ten people choose the PHP/MySQL-powered, open-source WordPress CMS to manage their website.
Unfortunately, a CMS raises a different set of issues:
An SSG is a compromise between using a hand-coded static site and a full CMS, while retaining the benefits of both. In essence, you generate a static HTML page-based website using CMS-like concepts such as templates. The content can be extracted from a database, Markdown files, an API, or any practical storage location.
The site generation can occur on your development machine, staging server, or using a service to build when changes are pushed to the code repository. The resulting HTML files and other assets are then deployed to a live web server.
The term “static” doesn’t mean “unchanging”. An SSG builds a page once, while a CMS builds it on each request. The end result is identical and users will never know the difference.
A related concept is a “Headless” or “Decoupled” CMS. These use an interface such as WordPress to handle content administration but allow other systems to access the data via a REST API, or a GraphQL API. Therefore, an SSG such as Eleventy can build a static website using WordPress page content extracted from an internal server. The resulting HTML files can be uploaded to a web server, but the WordPress installation need never be publicly accessible from outside the organization.
Popular static site generators include Jekyll, Eleventy, Gatsby, Hugo, and Metalsmith. SSGs are available for most languages (see StaticGen for many more). Frameworks such as Next.js statically render pages where possible, but also allow the developer to run server-side code when necessary.
Let’s examine the benefits of using an SSG …
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