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March 3, 2014, 2:13 p.m.
LINK: noahveltman.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Caroline O'Donovan   |   March 3, 2014

One major topic of discussion across all four days of last weekend’s NICAR (or five days, depending how hardcore you are) was the advantages of static news apps versus dynamic news apps. The conversation ultimately resulted in a staged debate on Saturday evening.

But I had a problem:

Enter Noah Veltman, with a blog post for dummies explaining exactly what the difference really is.

A static website is a vending machine.

A dynamic website is a restaurant.

How so?

When people talk about a static server, they are talking about a server set up like a vending machine. When you ask for a URL, like http://www.nytimes.com/cheetos.html, there is an actual file already on that computer called cheetos.html, and all it has to do is send you a copy of that file. Talking about “flat files” refers to the same thing: having actual files that match the URLs people might request.

You punch E6, you get the Cheetos that are already in the machine, packaged, ready to eat.

Versus:

When people talk about a dynamic server, they are talking about a server set up like a restaurant. The food is made-to-order. The kitchen has ingredients, and the cooks assemble those ingredients into the finished product only AFTER someone orders that dish.

In this version, if you ask for a URL, like http://www.nytimes.com/crabcakes.html, crabcakes.html doesn’t exist yet. There is no such file. It’s just a menu item. The server waits for your request, and when the request comes in, it uses ingredients (e.g. templates, a database, the Twitter API) and a “recipe” to create that page on the spot, just for you.

When people talk about the “back end” or “server side,” they are talking about the kitchen: the stuff that a server does when it gets a new request.

The post goes into further detail about how those core differences effect content delivery and newsroom developer workflow.

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