I got this question from a listener the other day. Fair question, I’d say. The word “Static” in “Static Site Generator” is at-odds with the word “Dynamic.” It seems to imply that the website created with a Static Site Generator (SSG) is locked in stone, only to be changed when it is run again some future date. That’s a somewhat unfortunate implication, if entirely understandable.
Part of the trick to understanding this Jamstack world (aka Static Sites that do Dynamic Things) is just looking at what Netlify offers. Netlify literally only offers static hosting. No server-side languages (think Ruby, PHP, or Python) serving up individual pages on Netlify. So SSGs and Netlify go hand in hand. But let’s go through it as a list:
- Netlify runs your build process for you. Which very likely includes a SSG. The point of which is largely that you keep your built site files out of your version control system, which would otherwise be a wasteful mess.
- Netlify processes your forms. No need to run an always-on server just for this dynamic feature.
- Netlify offers authentication. That’s right reader, auth is a first-class citzen of the platform.
- Netlify runs your server side code in the form of cloud functions. Static hosting doesn’t mean you can’t do server side things. It means you do server side things with modern, cheap, secure, focused, fast, powerful cloud functions.
- Netlify can build pages on-demand. Meaning you don’t have to pre-build all your pages if you don’t want to.
That’s just some of the feature set. Here’s a fun blog post from a little while ago with some of the staff’s favorite features, many of which aren’t in the list above. Jamstack is starting to literally mean that indeed dynamic things are happening to a static site.
I hope that answers the question for this particular reader and anyone else with the same confusion. SSGs can produce entirely static websites with zero dynamic data and that offer no special logged-in experience. But they can also be every bit as dynamic as any other site, just built from a more solid, static foundation.