Semi-Dynamic Data has a “Common Queries” page, which I find rather useful. I hadn’t realized its history, as described on the homepage:

Our collection of common MySQL queries outgrew Chapter 9, and is still growing, so we turned it into a PHP page driven from a MySQL table.

One day, I clicked on the page and got the dreaded “blank” PHP page.

This gets into one of the fundamental flaws I find with “semi-dynamic data” (my terminology for it) — it is not completely dynamic data, because it gets updated by humans, and it is deterministic*, so it does not need a completely dynamic page.

Part of the updating process could be a “generate the web page” script, that runs what the actual page is now, but stores the result as an HTML page. In this way, if 1000 users want the same page, there are *no* database queries done. After all, it only needs to change when content is uploaded, which isn’t very often at all.

The “generation” script could easily be a part of a web form that uploads content, or it could be a separate form/script run after a batch of changes is done, so multiple changes do not require generating pages that will just be written over after the next update in a minute or so. As well, it could write to a temporary file, and the very last script action would move the temporary file to the right place. In this way, a generation script that takes a long time to finish would not be partially overwritten by another, simultaneous generation script.

I have used this technique in content management systems — particularly with templates, as I’ve found you can separate different content items (such as menus) and “break apart” a template into pieces, and with about an hour you can support a new template into an existing system, and have a user compare templates to see which they’d rather use, given their own content.

I have also used this technique with a listing of organizations around the world. All the listings (3,000) were stored in a database. From this, I ran a weekly (but it would be easy to run it hourly or daily) script that made “browse by” pages, categorizing all of the resources by first letter of their name as well as by their area, province/state and country. The script, which took a full 10 minutes due to poor optimization, made an overall browsing page, 26 “by letter” pages, one page for each country, and a directory with one page for each state/province and area for each country. It also generated the page and compared it to the existing page, and only overwrote the page when they differed (and then put a “last updated on:” message at the end).

Folks searching could still get truly dynamic pages, but I cut down on needless direct database calls to find out which organizations were in “England”, and more needless database calls to find out which organizations were in the “Greater London” area, when those pages changes rather rarely.

This could also be useful for large sites, such as photo sharing galleries. Sites that allow comments may or may not see a performance gain — for each new comment, generating the page again may not be the best solution. However, if there’s at least one page hit for each database write, then using this method will have better performance.

* an example of a nondeterministic page is one that changes based on the time, such as “show me all activity that has happened today [up until this moment]” because it may change from second to second.

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