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Static, dynamic, and interactive

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I’ve seen multiple components to talking about site content; here’s what that looks like for me at the moment.

Static
The HTML used by the browser is pre-rendered.
The HTML may, or may not, exist as separate files; using a form of a front-controller or other middle layer would still fall into this style so long as the pre-rendered HTML ins’t altered.
Dynamic
The HTML for the site is generated, or manipulated, based on the specific request being made.
Multi-page
A request from a browser may resolve in interacting with different files per request.
Single-page
A request from a browser will always interact with the same file with each request.
Server-side
The HTML is rendered on the server, either as static files, dynamically generated strings, or a combination.
Client-side
The HTML is rendered or manipulated in the browser.
Database-driven
The content is stored in a database (hard drive, usually somewhere else) such as MySQL or similar.
The relationships between content data are stored in a database.
Flat-file based
The content is stored on disk, usually in the form of plain-text.

As of this writing, if you go to joshbruce.com, you will be experiencing a single-page, server-side dynamic site that is flat-file based.

It’s running on an Apache server on some version of macOS. That means, I can use a .htaccess file to give instructions to the server without administering the server directly. The file basically tells the server, “No matter what URL the user requests, use this index.php file instead.”

That’s what makes it a single-page application (or site).

The file doesn’t get returned to the browser. Instead, it runs the script line-for-line (procedurally) inside the index.php file, which will instantiate objects as necessary to achieve the goal of returning the appropriate response; a controller—sometimes more specifically referred to as a “front controller.” All of this code runs on the server until it finishes, runs out of memory, or times out, whichever comes first. Once the scripts are done running, the server shuts down the application that was started specifically for that single request.

Because the app is running entirely on the server, it’s a server-side application (or site).

As of this writing, there isn’t a single line of HTML anywhere in the content or code for this site.

Static sites

Section titled Static sites

The drawback felt by having a static site was that it was so hard to change the structure of pages and look and feel of the site.

Want to update the navigation? Sure thing, go through every page of the site and copy-and-paste the HTML you want updated.

Two things came about to help overcome this (in my estimation):

  1. server-side scripting languages and
  2. CSS.

Scripting languages like PHP allowed you to create HTML snippets and templates that could be composed into a final, rendered page and sent back to the server to be forwarded to the requester. Effectively turning the site into a dynamically-generated site. CSS let you redesign the site in multiple ways without having to change the structure of the HTML.

Dynamic sites

Section titled Dynamic sites

The drawback to dynamic sites has always been speed.

It’s a lot faster for a server to find a file and send it back to the person requesting that content. Granted this only seemed to become a problem when your site hit a certain level of users all vying for the attention of the server.

The ability to serve different experiences based on different parameters was awesome though. Some designers would create different CSS to cover different times of year, or, maybe put a blurb up asking you to upgrade your browser. Keeping track of sessions made it possible for users to sign-in and customize the site. The idea of users having the ability to customize their experience was a pretty big deal for a while, however, seems to have fallen away in favor of “everyone gets the same thing,” which makes a certain degree of sense; the more customizable something is, the harder it is to support.

Multi-page sites

Section titled Multi-page sites

The drawback to multi-page sites was that it was difficult to keep the site architecture and code architecture straight; depending on the number of separate files and technologies being used.

The benefit here though was the ability to mix-and-match experiences and the server gets to be a server. I could have part of my site be static while another part was dynamic. Optimizing the experience for the content and user needs.

Which brings us back to the drawback; the wider the technology stack is in breadth, the harder it will be to find someone with the appropriate combination of skills to maintain it.

I’m pretty sure this is where joshbruce.com is headed. That is, of course, so long as I don’t get bored and it seems appropriate.

Single-page sites

Section titled Single-page sites

The drawback to the single-page site is that you’re kinda all in on an approach and technology stack. You also take on more of the responsibilities usually left to the server software of your choice.

The benefit though is that it can be, theoretically, easier to keep track of. However, with the way things are going with frameworks and the like, I’m not so sure.

Of course, if we’re talking about a single-page, static site, life just became dead simple. Some businesses did just that around 2005 as the social media platforms were starting to take off. The site was one page with links to other places where you could interact with the owners and their content.

Server-side

Section titled Server-side

I’ve been exposed to two primary arguments against a server-side application or site:

  1. full page refreshes and
  2. they’re slow.

The slow part usually doesn’t happen until your traffic outperforms the hardware you’re running on. Each network call has to go through two or three steps before even reaching the server (another computer somewhere connected to the Internet and running some type of server software). The first is resolving the domain name and the second is in the TCP, which I’m not qualified to speak much on. No matter what, these two things need to happen before the server does anything. The more requests made, the longer it will take the site to load. Each image asset, each style sheet, and so on. Basically, if it’s not text and is requesting from the server, the connection can become the bottleneck. Each request can take around 100 milliseconds to connect to the server.

Then the speed is on you.

How big are the assets? Do you compress the assets before they’re sent back? How consolidated can you make other parts of the experience?

Client-side

Section titled Client-side

The big drawback for me here is that accessibility begins to become challenging and a lot more work. The entire site essentially becomes one big aria-live region. And we lose what we had for free from the server-side.

Another drawback is you don’t know how cool the machine is running your site.

Basically, we ask the user’s hardware take on the role of a server. Further, we ask our code to do the same, as well as taking on the role of the browser in certain respects. If someone isn’t running on good hardware, they could have a bad experience. The, “It works on my machine” problem. We don’t know their connection speed; or, will need to account for it, which means more code.

Another drawback is the notion that people can turn off client-side scripting languages; though this is unusual.

Some of these drawbacks are only around if we’re building a single-page experience.

For example, having a component of the page the user can click on and perform some action, like adding an item to a shopping cart, doesn’t take on the responsibilities of the browser and server wholesale. Instead, the script takes on the message sending and receiving capability of the browser and may take on the rendering responsibility of the server. This would fall into the interactive piece.

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