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Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference

All online content can be divided into two types: static and dynamic content. Let’s discuss what it is and what is different between the two types.

What is static content?

Static content refers to the unchangeable files that are stored on the server and delivered to all users in the same form.

This is the simplest data type ever. It doesn’t matter what kind of users open your website and whether it’s their first or repeated visit to your website. Absolutely all users will see the same content.

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Static content

Static content examples

Classic static content examples include pictures, videos, text files, HTML files, and other similar data. All of them were originally created by someone and posted online. These data can’t be changed.

Static content usage examples:

  • YouTube videos
  • Photos of products sold in online stores
  • Articles on news portals
  • Pages describing the services offered by a particular company

The article that you are currently reading is also an example of static content.

Static content features

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Static content features

The main feature of static content is that it is easy to deliver and cache.

  1. When a user visits a website, the browser sends a request to the server.
  2. The server finds the required file and sends it to the user.
  3. This information is displayed on the user’s screen, along with being stored in the cache.
  4. When the user visits this website again, the browser won’t send any request to the server, while loading cached data instead. The information will be displayed on the user’s screen faster.

Other features:

  • Simple sequence of actions. When responding to a request, all the server needs to do is extract the file from the disk and send it to the user.
  • Fast loading. Static content is delivered quickly and easily. Caching static content also comes easily. This also means reduced loading time. Yet the content volume is what also matters: it takes more time to send heavy videos and pictures than light-weight text.
  • Manual changes only. If the web service owners decide to change their website’s static content, they will need to delete the files from the server and upload new ones manually.

What is dynamic content?

As opposed to static content, dynamic content refers to the information that is constantly changing. The data that are displayed on the users’ screens will change depending on user behavior. Every user will have unique personalized content displayed on the screen.

Dynamic content is not stored as ready-made content. It is generated at the moment when the request is sent and depends on the request parameters.

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Dynamic content

Dynamic content examples

Classic dynamic content examples include web pages generated by PHP, Python, or JS code. Chat text messages also belong to dynamic content. Users exchange messages that are generated in the real-time mode.

Dynamic content usage examples:

  • The content published on social networks is mostly dynamic. Your Instagram feed differs a lot from that of your friend.
  • Advertising banners on websites. Usually, advertising offers seen by the users on websites or in social networks are different because they are based on the user’s unique online behavior.
  • Product selections, online store recommendations. If you open the homepage of one and the same store from your account and in the incognito mode, the recommendations will be different.
Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Product recommendations on the page of the same online store for a specific account and in the incognito mode

Dynamic content is mostly displayed on the user’s screen together with static content. Take, for example, product selections in online stores: the selection itself is generated dynamically but the product photos displayed to the user are static.

Dynamic content features

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Dynamic content features

Since dynamic content is constantly changing, the process of delivering it to the users is more complex.

  1. The browser sends a request to the server in order to display the desired content.
  2. The server sends requests to the databases, storages and, perhaps, to some third-party services in order to collect a unique response.
  3. The generated information is sent to the user.

Due to its specific features, dynamic content can hardly be cached. Some parts of the data can be stored in the cache memory for a short period of time, and they will remain relevant. But in most cases, the browser will need to send requests to the source every time.

Other features:

  • Personalization. Dynamic content web services give each user a unique experience. When forming data, various factors like geography, browser type, device type, time of the day, and various behavioral factors are taken into account. This results in the users seeing the pictures that better match their expectations.
  • Complex sequence of actions. To make it possible for the server to quickly form a response before sending it, you need to configure your work with databases and other services properly. This will require your IT team’s knowledge and efforts.
  • Increased loading time. Content generation always takes more time than sending a ready file, and caching also becomes difficult. This results in the dynamic content loading longer than static content. However, it again depends on the data size: e.g., light-weight text content loads much faster than heavy static videos.

Static and dynamics content: final comparison

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference

Static and dynamic applications

Examples of websites where static content dominates:

  • Business card websites. Simple websites featuring information about companies that doesn’t need to be personalized or changed frequently.
  • Simple blogs. Non-interactive resources with articles where users can’t leave any likes and comments. On such websites, texts and pictures don’t change and look the same for everyone.

However, the number of websites that contain static content only is gradually decreasing. Even small media and blogs implement individual article selections on their homepages, display recommendations under the text, and allow their readers to leave likes and comments.

Examples of services with a large share of dynamic content:

  • Social networks. Much of their content including posts, messages, personal information, etc. is generated by the users. The data need to be changed often and are displayed in real time.
  • Many mobile apps. For example, mobile banking apps allow the users to see the data concerning their own cards and accounts, their operations history, and individual bank offers. Everyone receives unique information.

Most often, both content types are present in the app.

1. A website has both static and dynamic pages. Take a typical online store, for example. The homepage content and the catalog search results mostly refer to dynamic content. But if a website has such sections as “About us,” “Legal documents,” or “Public offer,” these consist of 100% static content.

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
On your left, it is a dynamic web page, and on your right, it is a static one.

2. Both content types can be present on one and the same page. Take YouTube, for example. We’ve already said that video is a typical static content example. But in the right part of the video page, there will be a selection of videos based on your preferences, and at the bottom of the page you will see likes, views and comments that compose dynamic content.

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference
Static and dynamic content on a YouTube page

How to speed up loading static and dynamic web applications using CDN

CDN (content delivery network) is a set of interconnected cache servers that retrieve information from source servers, cache it and deliver it to the clients using the shortest route. CDN’s main task is speeding up web application performance.

Static vs. dynamic content: understanding the difference

CDN speeds up web resources mainly through caching. This is why it is an ideal means of delivering static content. Files are saved on cache servers and can be transferred as quickly as possible to anywhere in the world.

But most dynamic content files cannot be cached. However, this does not mean that the CDN is useless in terms of dynamic content delivery. You can read more about dynamic content delivery via CDN in our article called “How to speed up dynamic content delivery using CDN.”

Let’s sum it up

  1. Static content refers to unchangeable data that look the same for all users.
  2. Typical static content examples include photos, videos, and blog articles.
  3. Static content is very easy to deliver and cache, and it usually loads very fast. But static information can’t be personalized, and it can only be changed manually.
  4. Dynamic content involves the information that is constantly changing. The data are formed at the moment when the request is sent and are unique for every user.
  5. Typical dynamic content examples include chats, social media feeds, recommendations, and product selections in online stores, etc.
  6. As opposed to static content, dynamic content is personalized depending on the user’s actions. Yet it has a more complex delivery logic. Dynamic content is almost impossible to cache, which results in increased load times in most cases.
  7. Web applications can also be classified into static and dynamic ones, depending on the content type that dominates in them. Most often, a website and even a single web page includes both content types simultaneously.
  8. You can speed up both static and dynamic content delivery using CDN.

Gcore CDN is capable of delivering both static and dynamic content. Try our content delivery network for free.

More about Gcore CDN

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