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Dynamic Versus Static Web Content

In the early days of the web, content was almost entirely static HTML and text documents. A static document is simply any web page that is saved to disk and passed back to a requesting browser without changes. Even today, probably most web pages are static pages though the balance is certainly shifting. If you count by the number of pages that are actually viewed as opposed to the number of pages sitting on millions of web sites waiting to be seen, then I expect the clear majority of pages today are dynamic.

A dynamic web page is any web page which has content that is changed by a program or script at the time the page is requested. Common examples of trivial dynamic pages are those that display a visitor counter or the current date and time.

More useful are the results pages that are returned when a user submits a web form. The form itself may be static or dynamic but the results page should always be dynamic unless the form is someone's idea of a bad practical joke. Presumably when you enter variable data into a form and that form is processed, the results should be variable. Frequently forms are the front ends to some kind of query and directly control what data is displayed as a result of submitting the form. Even if the form is simply collecting information for an email to someone or to save data into a database, one would expect a results page that indicated the operation was successful or unsuccessful.

Other examples of dynamic pages are pages that allow a user to set preferences regarding what kind of information will be displayed. Less obvious examples of dynamic pages are those that are automatically tailored to what the site developers believe are the visitor's interests based on past pages viewed, products purchased or words searched for. Most of the large search engines now display advertising based on the content of what the user is searching for; the products being advertised in some way relate to the words the visitor is searching on.

Finally some sites are entirely dynamic because all web content is stored in a database and assembled into a web page on the fly when the page is requested. Typically these are intended to reduce site maintenance by having users who do not know HTML enter content into the databases via an easy to use proprietary front end. When the content is retrieved it is merged with a template that provides components that are common to the whole site or subsections of the site and also includes components that control the style of presentation for the user entered data.

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