Cheap Azure Hosting via Static Web Sites

Cheap Azure Hosting via Static Web Sites

Something that is pretty cool and not that well known is that you can now host your static web site in the cloud with Microsoft Azure just from your Azure storage account. The functionality is currently in preview only but its functional enough to get up and running quickly if you have an Azure account.

Why host a static site?

Whilst it does depend on your requirements many sites are quite capable of being static sites with no server side processing. The classic example is a blog site whereby the site could just serve up static html, images and JavaScript straight from disk as the content changes fairly infrequently.

The growth in JavaScript libraries and the functionality of frameworks like React.js make static sites even more viable. Using the power of JavaScript its possible to create rich powerful web applications that don’t need server side processing. There has been an explosion of static site generators over recent years that will take text or markdown files and generate a complete static site for you. Two very popular generators of note are Gatsby (React.js based) and Jekyll (Ruby) but there are literally hundreds of others as can be seen by this online directory: staticgen.com.

Hosting a static site in Azure

Of course you could always host a static site in Azure if you hosted it in a full featured web site (via a hosted VM or azure web site) but the beauty of a hosting a static only site is that you can host it straight out of storage area and so you don’t need to pay for any compute power which makes it extremely cheap (and even free). You just pay standard Azure storage rates which include a generous data transfer limit (about 5GB a month).

If you think about it hosting a static web site is just a natural extension for a cloud offering like Azure as they already host files and binary content on public URLs in Azure Storage. This new functionality though makes it more explicit and enables web site like functionality such as custom error pages. It is also possible to add your custom domain name to the site and link up SSL (although unfortunately at the moment SSL requires use of an Azure CDN which adds to the cost.)

So how do you host your site, well follow the official instructions here.

Once you have a web page being served by the default Azure storage URL you can proceed to add your own custom domain name using these steps.

Now you should have a fully working site, but to keep costs even lower we can utilise caching of our static content to encourage the client browser to cache the files thus reducing our data transfer costs. Luckily it is easy to set cache control settings on our Azure Blob storage items. This blog post by Alexandre Brisebois covers doing it in code but if you are just testing, or have a site that doesn’t change much you can do it manually via the Azure Portal. To do so enter your Azure Portal, browse to your Storage Account and then using Storage Explorer find the files you want to set caching for and go to their properties. In the Properties dialog you can set the Cache-control value in the HTTP header to something like…

 "public, max-age=86400". 

There are other alternatives to Azure for hosting static files and some offerings are very cheap or free. Some of these are more advanced than the current Azure offering and provide additional features such as integrated SSL and contact forms. One such vendor is netlify.com but there are others.

In summary, if you want to host a site cheaply and you dont really need server side processing then consider hosting a static site, and if you’re already using Azure then its a simple step to give it a go.

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