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The Difference Between Static and Dynamic Websites in PHP

The mention of static websites will catapult many of us to the bygone era of CDs and dial-up modems. It's as if such pages belong to a stone age we have outgrown long ago. Dynamic websites rule the land of the internet. But is it really so?
Daniel Zacharias

Code Power Team

October 30, 2023

The mention of static websites will catapult many of us to the bygone era of CDs and dial-up modems. It’s as if such pages belong to a stone age we have outgrown long ago. Dynamic websites rule the land of the internet. But is it really so?

The truth is that static architecture is alive and well. You may not always notice it, but it exists in single-page websites and portfolios. What is more, the advent of static site generators has given it a new lease on life.

Depending on your goals, you may wish to explore the possibilities of both static and dynamic websites in PHP. Let’s figure out the differences in architecture, weigh the pros and cons, and see which option will work best for you.

The environment

The websites we are to discuss belong to the realm of PHP. This is a general-purpose, server-side scripting language that works as a hypertext preprocessor. Its basic mechanism is a simple one.

The user makes a request. The web server processes the code. Said server generates the result in HTML or binary image data. This is what the user will recognize as a web page. These can be static or dynamic. We’ll now discuss their properties and differences.

The very straightforward static websites

Static may sound a bit rigid but, in reality, these websites do respond to user actions quite well. You get all the basic stuff like clickable buttons, images, videos, animations, and the like. So why are they called static? Only because of the way they interact with databases.

A static website consists of a fixed number of pre-built files sorted on a server. You type in the URL and the server returns an existing HTML file, including all the CSS or JavaScript code. That’s about it. It won’t be able to display search results on customize much on the go. Instead, it shows the requested page as coded, no alterations included. Examples include portfolios, brochures, and one-off landing pages.

The pros to prep for

When comparing static and dynamic websites, the latter stand out with their simplicity. You can build one with a very basic grasp of PHP. They’re also easy to maintain and don’t require frequent updates. Implementing design critiques is also less of a hassle. Not surprisingly this brings development costs down quite a bit.

Static pages are also faster on the user end as they require less time to load due to minimal back-end processing. Improved performance means a positive user experience.

The cons to consider

Of course, there are a few drawbacks you might want to be aware of. Static websites in PHP are not very scalable. Site-wide content updates are manual and altering each page can be a laborious process.

Furthermore, it won’t be possible to tailor content to fit users’ needs. This lack of personalization can be detrimental in today’s world of the web. Don’t expect to build an effective e-commerce website using a static-only approach. A search function or a list of recommended items will only be possible with the help of third-party tools.

The data-intensive dynamic websites

On the other end of the spectrum sits something altogether different. The dynamic approach is all about presenting different content to different visitors. For example, a user from the French-speaking bit of Canada is looking for a pair of sneakers on your website. The results displayed to them will be vastly different from those shown to a German visitor who’s after formal shoes. The language will be different, and the shipping costs too.

Such a tailored and interactive experience is possible through the greater complexity of the back end innate to dynamic architecture. Instead of each page already existing as HTML, here, we have pages built “on the go” in PHP. The server-side scripting language works in conjunction with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It’s very data-intensive, pulling information from multiple databases to construct a page which then appears on the user’s screen.

The bountiful benefits

Dynamic architecture offers the option to personalize the website content and create a more engaging user experience. It works for building pages, web apps, or SaaS. What is more, it makes it easier to implement site-wide updates and bring about sweeping changes to your online presence.

It also offers improved scalability which, in turn, promises virtually infinite growth. Adding new products or content becomes a breeze. Of course, dynamic websites are not only a good e-commerce solution but also work with social media, blogs, news, and membership-based sites.

The obstacles to overcome

Unlike their static counterparts, dynamic sites in PHP are not exactly easy to create from scratch. Most will require a team with solid technical expertise to complete the project. In addition, such websites need more horsepower, otherwise, you’ll see a marked drop in performance (and user satisfaction).

Of course, one way to avoid this is through the use of website builders and content management systems (CMS). WordPress is the most obvious example. A custom-made solution, however, will require more effort.

Comparing static and dynamic websites

Now, a quick summary of the differences between the two approaches is in order. This could make your decision-making process much easier. Consider the following factors:

The language. Static websites largely rely on HTML and CSS while dynamic pages work with PHP, ASP, and JavaScript.

The price. The more dynamic your website is, the pricier it will be. This goes for development, maintenance, and hosting.

Interactivity. This one’s a no-brainer. Static just sits there while dynamic content will be more engaging for the end user.

Modifying content. Static does this through direct HTML (and PHP) while, in the case of dynamic, this happens as per user input.

Security. A widespread difference. The more modular and scalable the approach is, the less secure it will be. If you opt for dynamic architecture in PHP, expect to spend more on keeping it safe.

Time. The more engaging content is, the more time and effort it is likely to require.

Business size. Static PHP websites are perfectly suitable for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Large enterprises and corporations, on the other hand, will benefit more from a dynamic approach.

Which one should you opt for?

If the above list wasn’t enough to help you decide, there’s another alternative to pick between static and dynamic websites. Ask yourself these two questions:

  1. What is it that you wish to achieve? This can include the level of interactivity, complexity, business aspirations, and the end goal of your project.
  2. What are the resources at your disposal? We’re talking about human resources, time, and, most obviously, money.

Why not go hybrid?

Maybe you’re still torn between static and dynamic websites. So why not go for both? Professionals don’t discuss this idea often enough but a larger website could greatly benefit from a mixed model. Certain parts can be static, others dynamic. PHP is, after all, an excellent tool for this. As long as you know when and where to implement each, your web development process could be vastly improved by it.

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