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Static vs. Dynamic Websites in PHP: An In-depth Guide

Have you ever found yourself scratching your head while trying to figure out how PHP works? Don't worry, you're not alone! It happened to me dozens of times when I was starting out my PHP dev career.
Daniel Zacharias

Code Power Team

August 25, 2023

PHP, as the language powers approximately 80% of the internet, becoming comfortable with it is a necessary rite of passage for developers. But the passage has two gatekeepers you must overcome — static and dynamic PHP websites.

Although they may seem intimidating at first, stay with me. This guide will show you all the tips for overcoming them and becoming a true PHP page master!

PHP’s role in creating simple static websites

Picture this: A website as unyielding as a statue with no surprises, no variations. That’s essentially what a static website is — an assembly of HTML files representing the physical pages of the site. The server presents a page in its exact form whenever you request a page.

But where does PHP fit into all this? 

Technically speaking, it doesn’t have a direct role to play. Static websites generally employ HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Nonetheless, developers integrate PHP to mechanize the generation of multiple static pages. Think of it as a baker utilizing cookie cutters to produce identical cookies at high speed. Static websites are ideal for web hosts due to their low usage of server resources. 

Some of the perks of static websites: 

  • Fast loading time
  • No need for database queries or template rendering
  • Aren’t heavy in the performance department

Despite their fancy simplicity, they have a nasty side — updating content on static sites is like shaping each cookie one by one. It’s boring and time-intensive. 

Such websites lack the interactive features modern users love and aren’t flexible enough for all purposes!

Uncovering PHP’s magic in versatile, dynamic websites

Introducing dynamic websites — the opposite of their unchanging static PHP gatekeepers. 

Instead of presenting a fixed appearance and content, dynamic sites transform themselves based on user interactions, time of day, or other factors. Rather than being an immovable HTML file, they’re built instantly each time someone requests a page. They’re like living entities in the digital world.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting: PHP is like a behind-the-scenes puppet master of dynamic sites, pulling strings from above. 

Those same PHP scripts:

  • make decisions
  • interact with databases
  • process user input 
  • craft an HTML page for each user request 

Using PHP powers, developers transform one template into countless unique pages. 

Dynamic websites are great for:

  • Personalized user experience
  • Content management systems 
  • Seamless database integration
  • Real-time content delivery
  • Scalability and versatility

Pro Tip: PHP dynamic websites are not for the faint-hearted. Running them with poor server resources only causes lagging in page load time and causes havoc with setup creation and maintenance. Only use them on servers powerful enough to follow dynamic pages’ footsteps.

Key differences between static and dynamic sites you must know

If you’re trying to decide between developing a static or dynamic PHP website, you must understand their differences. Here are some key points to guide you in your web development journey.

Static: 

  • Easy development — Developing static websites is more beginner-friendly, as you only need basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. In contrast, dynamic websites will stress-test your PHP proficiency and databases, making them more intricate to construct.
  • Cheap hosting costs — You’ll always get more bang for your buck with static websites. The reason is that dynamic sites necessitate server-side processing and database administration, resulting in increased consumption of server resources and higher expenses for hosting.
  • Faster loading time — As a rule of thumb, static websites tend to load faster than dynamic websites since they furnish pre-rendered files to the user’s browser. Dynamic websites, which produce PHP-boosted content in real-time based on user requests, might have a marginally slower loading time due to server-side processing and database queries.
  • More SEO friendly — Static websites with their PHP component in the background load faster and are more accessible to search engine bots. You can achieve the same with dynamic PHP websites, but it requires some on-page SEO tools and wizardry.
  • PHP’s role — Automating tasks like header incorporation, footers, and other routine features across multiple pages is where PHP truly shines.

Dynamic: 

  • Scalability — Assisted by PHP, dynamic websites handle significant amounts of content more effectively than static websites. Using PHP, HTML file creation is automated and effortless, making room for your website’s expansion. 
  • Security — With the right security tools, PHP dynamic websites are more secure than Fort Knox! With clever tricks, even the infamous SQL injections are harmless to your dynamic website.
  • Interactivity — PHP brings new levels of interactivity with better processing of submitted HTML data, admin panels, and .php extensions. Think of it like making dynamic websites even more dynamic with the help of PHP. 
  • Flexibility — Adding functionalities such as contact forms, comment sections, and content management systems is a breeze with PHP and dynamic websites. It’s all done with a click of a button. With static sites, that’s not the case. Adding them on static ones is oftentimes a real challenge (trust me, I know).
  • PHP’s role — Dynamic sites and PHP are like two pieces in a pie. They just feel weird without each other. With PHP, dynamic sites get more databases, better handle user sessions, and validate input forms on a whole new level. 

Real-world examples of PHP-powered static and dynamic websites

Static PHP websites 

  • Jekyll Blogs — Jekyll, a static site generator that integrates PHP in the construction process, is often used for personal blogs and portfolio websites to manage static sites. Despite being static, these websites leverage PHP scripts to establish coherence in design across various pages.
  • Documentation websites — Many software documentation sites you’ll find are constructed as static websites with PHP. It’s their go-to recipe for maintaining consistency of appearance throughout hundreds or thousands of individual pages.

Dynamic PHP websites 

  • WordPress sites — Did you know the globally most famous content management system (CMS), WordPress, is PHP-based and permits users to formulate dynamic database-driven sites? Any blog or website powered by WordPress serves as an archetypal instance of a dynamic PHP site.
  • Wikipedia — Being the world’s biggest online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is a live PHP website where each page is generated dynamically with a database, allowing for real-time updates and modifications.
  • Slack — Every Slack message, channel, and user profile relies on PHP extensively to deliver its active component and stay at the top of communication apps. Next time you chat with your colleague on Slack, know that thanks to PHP, all those incorporated emojis and gifs are possible!

The ultimate toolkit for modern web developers: PHP TL;DR

Pro Tip: Mastering the differences between static and dynamic sites is the secret to propelling your PHP developer career further. It’s the path to designing efficient, user-friendly web experiences that meet your users’ needs

Static websites, with their speed and simplicity, satisfy content that doesn’t undergo frequent modifications. On the other hand, dynamic websites are ideal for complex web-based applications and services requiring real-time updates and personalization of content. 

PHP plays a key role in both cases, and how you leverage it sets apart great web developers from merely good ones!

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