Development / Contributed

Back to the Future: Static Websites for High Performance

6 Oct 2020 10:23am, by

Pierre Burgy
Pierre Burgy founded, with two other classmates, the open-source headless CMS Strapi out of frustration while working as developers. He is a lover of Node.js and APIs, and when not coding, it’s likely he will be windsurfing.

We’re seeing all-too-frequent reports of websites crashing under the strain of increased volume as people go online and are unable to access information because the website’s Content Management System (CMS) can’t keep up with the traffic surges. With so many visitors suddenly seeking important information online from health departments, governments, clinics, utility services, and food deliveries, it is becoming critical to improving website performance in order to handle the increasing volume.

One-third of internet websites are still built with first-generation content management systems like WordPress and Drupal. These traditional CMS are monolithic systems that include the back-end user interface, plug-ins, front-end templates, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a web server, and a database. With every user request for a website page, a server first queries a database and combines the result with data from the page’s markup and plug-ins to generate an HTML document in the browser.

We’re seeing the emergence of the headless CMS that bootstrap APIs to enable content distribution across all types of devices and channels.

Now is the time to get back to basics and return to static website design. The first website in history, by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, is an example of a static website and contained only simple HTML that represented just text and links.

Static sites serve content without the need for a back-end database layer. They consume very little computing resources, so they load quickly because there are no database queries, no templates to render and no client-server requests to process. A popular model for website design gaining favor these days is to use API first or headless CMS (Strapi, Contentful), which can also be used by non-technical users, connected to a static site generator (Gatsby, Hugo, Jekyll) and/or a JavaScript framework (React, Next.js, Node.js). This is referred to as the JAMstack architecture.

The popularity of WordPress when it was introduced was due to its GUI interface that gave users the ability to design and display content while managing files and documents. At that time, there were no static site generators suitable for non-technical users. Now, about 20 years after the introduction of these CMS, the monolithic architecture has become difficult to maintain, often slow, and vulnerable to hackers.

We’re seeing the emergence of the headless CMS that bootstrap APIs to enable content distribution across all types of devices and channels. Headless CMS is part of the JAMstack web development architecture that is emerging as a popular solution for modern-day web developers delivering better web performance, also contributing to better SEO ranking, as well as security. JAMstack does not depend on a web server and serves static files immediately when a request is made. There is no need to query the database as the files are already compiled and get served to the browser.

So, it seems the pressing need for high-performance websites is taking us back to the future of static websites… but this time with a difference — greater flexibility and accommodation for both developers and non-technical users. It’s a welcome change and one that could prove to be very useful in the short-term due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plus we’ll see the long-term benefits of higher performance websites that are better equipped to handle increasing volumes of visitors.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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