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Random Notes from a JAMstack Roundtable

September 23rd, 2019

I hosted a JAMstack roundtable discussion at Web Unleashed this past weekend. Just a few random notes from that experience.

  • I was surprised at first that there really is confusion that the “M” in Jamstack stands for “Markdown” (the language that compiles to HTML) rather than “Markup” (the “M” in HTML, sometimes used interchangeably with HTML). It came up as legit confusion. Answer: Markdown isn’t required for JAMstack. The confusion comes from the idea that Markdown often goes hand-in-hand with static site generators which go hand-in-hand with JAMstack.
  • It occurred to me for the first time that every single site that is hosted on Netlify or GitHub Pages or an S3 bucket (“static hosting”) is JAMstack. SHAMstack, indeed! :). The static hosting (SH) part of JAMstack is, perhaps, the most important aspect.
  • A website that is a single index.html file with <div id="root"> and a bundle of JavaScript that client-site renders the rest of everything can be JAMstack. Assuming the data it needs is either baked in or coming from an API on some other server that isn’t the one that hosts that index.html file, it’s JAMstack.
  • There is a difference between technically JAMstack and spiritually JAMstack. The above is perhaps more technically and less spiritually. The latter wants you to pre-render more of the site than nothing.
  • Pre-rendering is nice because: it’s fast, it can be CDN-hosted, it’s secure, and it’s SEO-friendly. A lot of frameworks give it to you as part of what they do, so you might as well take advantage. Pre-rendering doesn’t mean static, JavaScript can still load and get fancy.
  • There is no denying that Static Site Generators and JAMstack are BFF. But JAMstack wants you to think bigger. What if you can’t render everything because you have 50,000 product pages and generation is too slow or otherwise impractical? No problem, you can prerender other pages but just a shell for the product pages and hit an API for product page data as needed. What if some pages just absolutely can’t be statically hosted? No problem, you can proxy the ones that can to a static server and leave the rest alone. Want to go all-in on the static hosting, but need servers for certain functionality? Consider serverless functions, which are sort of like the backend spiritual partner to static hosting.
  • People really want to know why. Why bother with this stuff at all? If you can build a site that does all the stuff you need with WordPress, why not just do that? I ended up defending my usage of WordPress from a feature perspective. If I had unlimited time and a fresh slate, even if I stay on WordPress as the CMS, I think I would likely head down a road of at least doing some pre-rendering if not totally de-coupling and building my own front-end and just using the data via APIs. But perhaps the most compelling answers to why come down to speed, security, and resiliency, all of which come along for the ride immediately when you go JAMstack. It provides a hell of a foundation to build on.