When computing power was at a premium, web pages were often served as unchanging text files. This type of static content is very efficient, but it can quickly become stagnant if not updated. With the rise of low-cost computing and faster Internet speeds, developers created server-side platforms and architectures that could generate user-specific content on the fly. This form of content is known as dynamic content.
Some of the world’s largest websites are powered primarily by dynamic content. Search engines, social media networks, wikis, even some blogs, rely on dynamic content to deliver pages to users. Without dynamic content, these websites would need to pre-generate almost all of their unique content. If Wikipedia stored all of its pages as static files, that would mean having to manage almost 40 million individual HTML files.
How Dynamic Content Works
Dynamic content is mostly powered by applications and scripts that run on the server hosting the website. When a user makes a request, these applications work in tandem with the web server to parse the request, generate content based on the request, and deliver the content to the user as though it were static content.
Although the result is the same, requesting dynamic content is different from requesting static content. You still need a URL with the asset you wish to access, but the server can interpret the URL in a variety of ways. For example, consider a request for the image rainbow.jpg from the website www.example.com: http://www.example.com/images/rainbow.jpg
You might expect there to be an images/ folder in the web directory containing a file named rainbow.jpg. However, that might not be the case. After a web server receives a request, it passes it on to a scripting language such as ASP.NET, Perl, or PHP. These languages can handle a variety of functions from requesting files from a database to querying third party service providers. Ultimately, the goal of each language is to build an HTML file that the web server can deliver back to the user.
Once the resulting HTML file has been delivered to the web server, the server then forwards the content to the user. The URL of the dynamic content might look something like this: http://www.example.com/images/rainbow.jpg/ ?id=14
Benefits of Dynamic Content
- It is personalizable. Every single response can be crafted based on the user’s request or previous visits to the site.
- It is extensible. The scripting languages that power dynamic content can tap into a variety of external resources including the local file system, databases, or other servers.
- It is interactive. Dynamic websites are a two-way street: they provide content to users, and they allow users to submit information back to the server.
- It is seamless. By combining server-side scripts with scripts that run in the browser, websites can load dynamic content over an already-loaded web page without the user being aware of it.
The current generation of web technology is built around dynamic content. As the world’s largest communications platform, we expect the web to be interactive, user-driven, and constantly changing. Dynamic content isn’t just for social media either: Seventy-four percent of online consumers get frustrated when a website promotes content that isn’t tailored to their interests. For businesses marketing to web users, this could mean a 20% increase in sales.
Knowing how to integrate dynamic content effectively can transform your website from a relic of the 1990s to a modern web application. With dynamic content, developers and content creators can easily create user-driven websites, web applications, and web platforms.