Static Versus Dynamic Page Width

There's a lot of talk these days about responsive web design, and whether to have a dynamic or static page width is one of the most basic ways a website can respond to a user's browser.

In case you're not sure what these terms mean, a static, or fixed, page width is one which is set to a definite number of pixels (or centimetres), and doesn't change, regardless of whether it's being viewed on a small monitor or a large one. A dynamic (or as I like to call them - stretchy) page width is one that stretches to fit the available space.

Advantages of a fixed page width

The main advanatge of a fixed page width is that you have more control over the layout of the page, and can be sure how it will look across different browser and resolutions. It means that you don't end up with unexpected dead whitespace and you can be sure which elements will line up with each other.

Disadvantages of fixed page width

The biggest problem is choosing the optimum width. This is about balancing the needs of users with small screens with those who have huge monitors. If you choose a width that is too big, then users on smaller screens will only be able to view some of the site and will have to use the extremely annoying horizontal scroll in order to see the sides. However, if you choose a width that is too narrow, then users on big screens will have large areas of empty space on either side, and the website will look silly perched in the middle.

Advantages of dynamic or stretchy width

By keeping your width dynamic each user will have most of the available space used up, without losing anything off the edges.

Disadvantages of dynamic or stretchy width

If the width is constantly changing, then it means that the page elements will be moving around and you have little control over the balance of the page and how the elements relate to each other. Also, if the main text is in a stretchy area, then it may end up being very wide - which is known to be more difficult to read than columns. It is possible to do lots of clever things to ensure different parts of the page stretch in proportion to each other - but this is a lot more effort.

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