State of the Serverless WordPress

“Serverless” is a word you are probably hearing/reading around more and more times. Between the various definitions, I find this one from Wikipedia the clearest and most concise: “Serverless computing is a cloud-computing execution model in which the cloud provider runs the server, and dynamically manages the allocation of machine resources” (NDR: so resources are not your problem anymore). WordPress + Serverless is a “yet problematic” combination, but with a great potential for some specific types of websites.

What is WordPress Serverless?

WordPress serverless is not a true serverless hosting method. You will still need the servers for your website contents and files. But the way the contents interact with your website changes here. What exactly happens in serverless WordPress is your dynamic WordPress website with PHP, Javascript, and several other dynamic codes is converted to a static HTML website and served to all the users. Yes, this sounds like we are using a stone age method but we are actually using only the good characters from the past.

Since your entire website is a static content now, it loads faster. Almost 3x to 4x times faster than your actual (uncached) website load time. Since it is a static website, no actual files are included in this process, which gives you an extra layer of security to your WordPress website.

By using WordPress serverless method, the user can see only your static contents. In which there is nothing to breach and nothing to steal.

Sounds Like a Deja-Vu

The way WordPress serverless concept work is almost similar to the CDN concept. We clone the entire site and present it in a static form to the users. So it might sound like you have heard or done it before, but there is a difference.

Deja vu

In CDN, your website is first shown as static content, but when the user interacts or click a new page, it is fetched from the server. In this whole CDN process, WordPress remains active. To know more about CDN, check my Why you should use a CDN with WordPress post.

In the WordPress serverless method, after converting your site to static content, you can turn off WordPress completely. And can turn on WordPress back to add the changes you want like adding new pages, post, or even themes. Afterward, you can again convert it into static content. Which actually makes WordPress as a website builder and not as a website engine. As WordPress is turned off, the files in it cannot be accessed and altered. If you are a website owner, who sets up a website and completely forget about it, this is a boon to you and your data security.

Pros and Cons Of WordPress Serverless

By now, you might have understood that the biggest pros of serverless WordPress are:

Pros

  • Speed – Since there are no data files to fetch, request to process, and PHP files to load, your website loads faster than usual WordPress website load. Plus, the modern web designs and page builder blocks sometimes makes your website heavy in the normal WordPress state. In the WordPress Serverless form, you get the same eye-catching design that loads faster.
  • Security – Since WordPress is an open platform, we have to deal with lots of third party plugins and themes. Hackers mostly use vulnerable plugins to sneak into your website. In the WordPress serverless form, your site is static and the core WordPress is switched off. Theoretically, your website is at basic HTML and CSS form which shows only the information you want it to show.
  • Set it and Forget it – Not all website owners log in to their WordPress admin panel and check their website regularly. In today’s internet world business people need an identity on the net for their business, so they need a website. Asking them to continuously monitor their site and update it regularly is a bit too much for them in their busy business life. WordPress serverless method gives security, expected performance, and the peace of mind to your clients.

Nothing is perfect, the serverless WordPress method has its own disadvantages.

Cons

  • Need to rethink Dynamic Functions A website without any interaction is almost like talking to the wall. In the static state, your comment forms, search fields, and data inputs need to work in Javascript to work properly.
  • eCommerce Store Owners Should Deeply Think About This – Unless you are using Shopify platform which carries on all the store activity outside your main website server, you can’t think about making your WordPress website serverless. Since all the functions on the eCommerce store are dynamic, the core WordPress should be in the active state. Both WooCommerce and Easy Digital Download owners can’t think of making your online store a static website.
  • Forum And Membership Sites Won’t Work “as is” – If you are maintaining your own forum and membership areas, then you can’t use WordPress serverless option. If you are using a third-party service like Zendesk, Helpscout or Freshdesk, to manage your forum and user request, making your site static won’t affect the experience.

Who Should Consider About Serverless WordPress

Before seeing the best Serverless WordPress service providers, let us see whether you should invest in the Serverless WordPress or not. Cost wise, the serverless WordPress service providers should be less than the “traditional” hosting providers.

Best serverless WordPress service providers are Shiter and HardyPress. In Shifter, you get a free plan for starters, of course, there are lots of restrictions and the premium plan starts from $20/month for three sites. On the other hand, the HardyPress starter plan is $4 per month, which again has lots of restrictions and a proper useful plan starts from $20/month for three sites. Plus, you have to rely on third-party services for comment and forum supports.

  • As you can see Serverless WordPress is not as simple and cost-effective like the CDN service. We have to think twice before selecting this option.
  • If you are a small business owner and want a website to just showcase your product and services, Serverless WordPress is worth the try. But if you are using the website as a part of your business strategy to get new users and use chat supports to convert them, Serverless WordPress isn’t the one for you.
  • If you are a blogger who publishes one or two articles per month, then you can go for the Serverless WordPress. Because the amount of article to be converted is less and it also takes less time. On the other hand, if you are running an active blog with at least one article per day, the conversion time itself is long and is not worth the effort.

For example, an article from The Burning Monk Blog got a higher rank in the Hacker News site and started getting thousands of traffics to the blog. In the normal WordPress state, the website became sluggish and almost impossible to use. Soon the site owner Yan Cui noticed it and used the Serverless WordPress method to make the website super fast. You can read his complete experience here.

“Overall, I’m a very happy customer so far……it’s not a problem for my workflow as I create 2-3 blog posts per month at best, so the long generation time is a fair tradeoff for the runtime performance.”

Yan Cui

If you post only a fewer number of posts on your blog, you can use serverless WordPress method.

  • WordPress Theme developers can really think of using Serverless WordPress for their demo. Because once you updated the theme, the user can enjoy it and can still use it.
  • Freelancer and Agencies who create simple websites and one-page websites for their clients. If your client’s requirement is very low and if you find them not logging into the WordPress dashboard not that very often. Serverless WordPress is a good option. Once you set the website, both of you can concentrate on what matters next.
  • When security matters a lot. Some sites government websites need to show the information for the users but at the same time, they need iron clad security. In such scenarios, serverless WordPress is a good choice. They can update the content, convert it to static, and can turn-off the core WordPress engine.

Current Serverless WordPress Options

There are two ways you can achieve Serverless WordPress. One way is to simply subscribe to the service, which most of the common users will prefer. The other is hiring a professional to set up a custom solution using AWS or Cloudflare Workers. The best Serverless WordPress service providers at present are Shifter and HardyPress. Am not going to compare both of them in this post, but will give an overview of both the services.

Shifter

Using Shifter is almost similar to setting up a WordPress website on a regular hosting server. You have to signup and login to the Shifter dashboard, as shown below.

Shifter dashboard

This where you can add your WordPress website or create a new WordPress site. After you added your website, you can click Start WordPress button to get into your regular WordPress admin panel. After that, you can do whatever thing you want to do in your WordPress site, as usual. Once, you have completed all the work, get back to the Shifter dashboard.

Shifter static converter

Here you can click the “Generate” button to start converting your changes to the static files. Depending on the size, the time varies. Once the changes are complete, you can publish it to the public by selecting the “Deploy” button. After you are satisfied with the result, you can turn off WordPress by clicking “Stop WordPress”. It is as simple as that.

Based on the plan you choose, you get corresponding space and monthly transfer volume quota. Check their pricing page to see more.

HardyPress

HardyPress is also similar to the Shifter, user-friendly and easy to set up. To get started, you have to signup first and have to wait for a few minutes to get approval. Afterward, you can log in to the dashboard and can import or create a new WordPress site from the dashboard.

Hardypress dashboard

After setting up your account and site with the HardyPress, you can get into WP-admin just like in the Shifter. After completing the process, simply jump to the HardyPress dashboard and convert the changes into static files. Once you are happy with the result, you can deploy the site to the public use. In this service also you can switch off WordPress, with the help of toggle buttons.

Hardypress compatible options

The unique feature in the HardyPress is let you use the contact form if you are using Contact form 7 plugin and gives their own search option to search on the static website. Based on the plan you choose, the features and the storage capacity varies. Check their pricing page for more details.

State of the Serverless WordPress

As you can see Serverless WordPress is a promising future, but not for everyone. If your depends on the dynamic functions on your website, it is safe to be in the usual WordPress state. But if you find yourself logging in to the WP-admin dashboard rarely and update contents once in a while, you can go for the Serverless WordPress method.

Initially, we have the restriction for contact form and search functions. But, now the developers have found a solution for it. Similarly, all the restrictions which we are facing now in the serverless will be sorted out in the future and I believe technologies will evolve this way and WordPress will become more and more “serverless”.

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