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My first foray on the Internet was an Angelfire website. It was an unholy mess that made the TimeCube manifesto look like an aesthetic masterpiece sculpted by none other than Jony Ive and Michelangelo themselves. Without going into much detail, I shall just say that I used an excessive amount of <blink> and <marquee> tags, and leave it at that.

Like most sites back then, it was static. That’s to say that there was no interactivity. Since then, there has been an explosion in web technologies 6 Free Sites To Learn About Programming in PHP 6 Free Sites To Learn About Programming in PHP Read More that make it possible to create dynamic, engaging websites. But is there still a need for flat websites that lack a back-end?

Riot thinks so. The British software studio has just launched Forge; A platform for hosting sites that consist of only JavaScript, CSS and HTML. But is it any good?

The Plans

While Geocites 3 Archives That Will Bring You Back Into The Days Of GeoCities 3 Archives That Will Bring You Back Into The Days Of GeoCities Today, free web hosting is a thing of the past. Major search engines like the aforementioned Yahoo! and Google weren't such monsters yet, either. You could search for popular keywords and some of the first... Read More and Angelfire cost naught back in the day, Forge has adopted a freemium pricing model. Spendthrifts can expect a single website, as well as five gigabytes of traffic each month. Free users have to make use of a subdomain, while paid users can use their own domain names.

Costs aren’t too unreasonable either. For ten dollars per month, you get five websites and a slightly paltry ten gigabytes of traffic. Doubling that gets you ten websites and forty gigs of bandwidth. Paid plans comes with custom domains.

If you go over that, you can expect to pay 20¢ per gigabyte. Whilst not entirely unreasonable, I was dismayed to see that there wasn’t a plan that accommodates for super heavy users. Anyone who has a photo rich website and finds themselves on the frontpage of Reddit could soon see traffic costs spiral out of control.

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Versioning

Forge comes with a version control system baked in, with each change displayed on a ‘tree’ that will be incredibly familiar to anyone who has ever used Git What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer As web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,... Read More or SVN.

version-forge

Each version of your website you upload is preserved, and should you make any mistake or wish to revert to an earlier stage of your website, you simply roll back to an earlier version. This is makes it easy to rectify any errors made. You are also informed as to which files have been changed in each version, including showing which files have been removed.

While the version control system in Forge is nowhere near as powerful (and by extension complex) as Git, it is a reassuring addition to the product. It’s almost impossible to damage your site beyond repair.

Deployment

Eschewing SCP and FTP FireFTP is a Powerful Firefox FTP Client You Can Use in Your Browser FireFTP is a Powerful Firefox FTP Client You Can Use in Your Browser If you've ever done any sort of web management, then you've probably used FTP at some point or another. Most web hosts will have a primitive file uploader than you can use straight from your... Read More , Forge makes it easy to deploy content. You simply bundle your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files into a ZIP file and drop it into your web browser. Once it has successfully uploaded, it will be publicly viewable.

deployment-forge

As someone who dislikes the hassle of firing up an FTP client whenever I want to upload a file to a website, I really appreciated how simple the whole process was. With that said, given the emphasis on version control found within Forge, I would have liked to have been able to deploy my website via Github. One hopes that this feature will show up in a later iteration of the product.

Speed

One of the overarching themes of Forge is speed. There is an incredible emphasis on distributing content quickly. To do that, they use Amazon’s S3 4 Great Uses for Amazon's S3 Web Services 4 Great Uses for Amazon's S3 Web Services Despite Amazon being most well known for their retail services, they actually offer a host of web services for developers and home users that take advantage of Amazons experience and scalability with massive amounts of... Read More content delivery network, as well as a curious little bit of JavaScript called turbo.js.

An example of a website hosted on The Forge
An example of a website hosted on The Forge

To the uninitiated, turbo.js is a plugin that when activated spiders your site and caches content such as JavaScript files and stylesheets in a fast CDN. All new projects on Forge have turbo.js activated by default, although you can easily turn this feature off.

I visited some websites that were hosted on the Forge, and I noticed that they were quick to load, even with my slow residential ISP. Whether that was a result of the CND, Turbo.js or static webpages being fast by their very nature remains to be seen.

Do You Need A Back End?

Okay, so Forge is fast, phenomenally simple to use and has versioning features that prevent you from accidentally corrupting your content. However, one rather large elephant in the room remains. Can you make do with a static web page?

For many people, the answer is going to be a resounding ‘yes’. Are you a small business, who just wants to show off some marketing information? Do you want to start a blog, but not bother with using WordPress and managing comments? Are you an artist who just wants to show off what you’re working on, and not much else? In that case, perhaps a static site might just be what you’re looking for.

Conclusion

Riot have made a product that is fast, easy to use and beautiful. A product that holds the hand of the user through each step of the web publishing process, without being intrusive. For that, they ought to be commended. They have made simple web pages exciting again. Whilst Forge only being in the formative stages of existence, people are already moving to it to host their personal web pages, as well as product pages for their startups. Examples of which include a Chinese technology firm, an American computer programmer and a web designer from Tennessee.

Have you got a static website? Have you replaced your web application with something altogether simpler? Let me know in the comments below!

Image Credit: James Saunders

  1. Stephen Pratley
    May 12, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    The best thing I've found about forge compared to other free hosting is that it can handle forms.

    We've used to to build a few marketing landing pages like this one:

    http://freefunnelformula.getforge.io/

    The whole thing is done with free tools, even the graphics :-)

  2. Joel L
    October 18, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Is there something like this but an actual CMS instead of just static pages? It sounds really cool - much better than Geocities and Angelfire and Tripod for sure - but I can't live without flexibility, such as plugins. I'm probably better off with a paid host and self-hosting.

    • Azhar M
      October 19, 2013 at 2:32 am

      wordpress.com ? :)

    • Matthew H
      October 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

      Well, I suppose you *could* hack something together with Jekyll. I'm not sure though! Perhaps that's a future story? :D

    • Matthew H
      October 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Azhar - The main thing about Forge is that all pages are static. WordPress is not a static platform, as it has some backend code that interacts with a database.

  3. Deirdre
    October 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    I'm more interested in how Forge compares to Wix and Weebly.

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