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There is a bit of an irony with Jamstack.

The concept is simple: you put pre-rendered, static files on web hosting (a CDN) designed to do that well. That’s it. If you need to do more, anything you do from there is done with client-side JavaScript, which is likely talking to serverless functions because that’s the spiritual partner to Jamstack on the back end. I heard Guillermo Rauch say at Smashing Conf the other day that it isn’t exactly a “stack” in that it’s almost entirely non-prescriptive in what you do. While I like the word Jamstack, that also feels fair.

The irony is that while the concept is simple, that simplicity can be the cause of complexity.

Netlify, the company largely behind Jamstack, knows this. They know that without a back-end server with back-end languages, something like a basic contact form gets complicated. Instead of being in no-brainer solved-problem territory, we have to figure out another way to process that form. So, they solve that problem for you (among others, like auth and serverless functions). But there are tons of other companies that want to be that cog in your machine.

That’s just one potential complication. What do you use for a CMS or other data storage? What is your build process like? How do you see previews of content changes? How do you do auth? What if you need some fancy calendar widget? What if you want to sell something? Anything a website can do, Jamstack has an answer for — it’s just that combining all those answers can feel disjointed and potentially confusing.

Dave recently played with Eleventy + Tailwind + Netlify CMS (which is Jamstack-y) and said it felt like cattle herding:

So my little mashup, which was supposed to be just 3 technologies ended up exposing me to ~20 different technologies and had me digging into nth-level dependency source code after midnight. If there’s an allegory for what I don’t like about modern-day web development, this is it. You want to use three tools, but you have to know how to use twenty tools instead. If modules and components are like LEGO, then this is dumping out the entire bin on the floor just to find one tiny piece you need.

“The tangled webs we weave,” indeed.

In a conversation between Richard MacManus and Matt Mullenweg¹, Richard quotes Matt:

You can patch together a dozen services, each with its own account and billing, for hundreds of dollars a month, to get a similar result you’d have for a few dollars a month using WordPress on shared hosting,” he said. “And it would be more fragile, because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You are chaining together different toolsets, logins, billing, hosting… any part of it going down can break the entire flow.

If I was considering Jamstack for a particular project, and the grand total really was twelve services, I probably would reconsider, particularly if I could reach for a tool like WordPress and bring it down to one. There are plenty of other fair criticisms of Jamstack, particularly since it is early-days. The story of “CMS with Preview” isn’t particularly great, for example, which is a feature you don’t even think about with WordPress because, duh, obviously it has that.

And Jamstack can do some things that are very ahead of the game that I cherish. Git-based deployment? All websites should have that. Previews of my pull requests? Hot damn. Sub -100-millisecond first requests? Yes please. Not having to diddle with cache? Sweet. Catch up, other stacks.

I’m saying there are baby bear choices to be made here. You get there by doing what you’re probably already doing anyway: putting your adult pants on, thinking about what your project needs, and choosing the best option.

I have production WordPress sites. Like this one! It’s great!

I have production Jamstack sites. Like this one! It’s not a complicated web of services. It’s a static site generator with content in the GitHub repo deployed with Netlify. While CSS-Tricks can do about 100 things that this site can’t, it has a few tricks up its sleeve that CSS-Tricks can’t do, like accept pull requests on content.

I feel like I’ve chosen pretty well in all my cases.

  1. While Matt is clearly incentivized to defend the WordPress approach, it feels to me the opinions here are genuine; in part because Automattic invests in alternative stack approaches, and that WordPress and Jamstack are not mutually exclusive. I enjoyed responses to this, like Ohad Eder-Pressman’s open letter, which is also full of incentivized-but-genuine thoughts.