What is Netlify? A Comprehensive Overview of Its Features and Benefits
Founded in 2014, Netlify is a well-established player in the web hosting space. Back in the day, it quickly gained popularity for its innovative approach to website deployment. Now, more than 500k sites are hosted within Netlify’s infrastructure. This is because the platform provides a complete solution for businesses looking to build, deploy, and host websites — and all of it with ease.
As for website scale and purpose, Netlify is a good option for hosting eCommerce shops of any size, portfolios, blogs, and business sites with loads of landing pages. The platform is fast, secure, cost-effective, and easily integrates with many tools.
All in all, Netlify provides everything your business needs. But if you want to know the details, read on: we’ll cover Netlify’s core features and extra benefits.
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Netlify under the microscope
Netlify continuously deploys static sites based on the Jamstack approach and generated with static site generators.
Are you wondering what is Jamstack? Basically, Jamstack is an approach to web development that implies rendering HTML files at the build time. This way, there’s no need for live server-side code or runtime data retrieval from a database. This is why Jamstack sites are fast and secure. But coupled with Netlify, they are even faster and more secure! And here’s why.
Firstly, Netlify features a content delivery network (CDN). The platform automatically deploys your site across multiple locations all over the world. So the HTML is served from the places geographically close to the users’ locations. Thus, the serving process is inherently faster than from one central server.
Wait, but why is Edge a network? The answer is simple: it locates the processing capacities within a server network close to user locations. Same as a CDN, but for computing.
With Netlify, you can decide to trigger new deploys upon some events. For instance, when the content team changes the data in a headless CMS. But usually, regular builds are scheduled. The reason is they take a lot of time, so rebuilding a website on any minor content change may result in server overload.
How does a site hosted on Netlify looks?
Typically, a site hosted on Netlify looks like this under the hood:
Headless CMS or/and a database: Netlify does not provide database services directly, which means you can use any database you want, such as Fauna or StepZen. But in case your data management can be fulfilled with a headless CMS, you should go for it instead.
CDN: The front-end is deployed to the Global CDN – a network of servers located worldwide–to ensure your content is stored close to users’ locations.
Serverless backend: Generally, Jamstack sites don’t need a backend. But some complex cases may require backend processing. In this case, you can use Netlify’s serverless functions. They are deployed on AWS Lambda and represented as API endpoints. All the credentials required for the front-end to connect with the backend services are stored securely.
Netlify’s core features
Netlify is rich with features it offers out of the box. Let’s look at them closely.
Continuous deployment (CD)
CD means automated deployment to a web server or a CDN every time the website is built, eliminating manual involvement. With Netlify, enjoy seamless integration with GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket, – no need for additional third-party software. Netlify connects to a Git repository, syncs the code and builds the HTML. Authentication is done via OAuth2.0. This way, you can be sure that your website is always up-to-date and ready to go.
Netlify captures and preserves every deployment artifact, giving developers total visibility into their web development progress. With the ‘Deploys’ tab in the dashboard, developers can easily explore previous releases via unique preview URLs for each version deployed.
Custom domains and HTTPs
Netlify provides secure HTTPs for any website, with no payment necessary. Its certificates are powered by the modern TLS protocol and are automatically renewed to ensure your site remains secured against malicious activity.
Generally, you can integrate any service into your website’s pipeline with some APIs and some magic. But with Netlify, you’re already covered on many fronts. The platform provides a native authentication service to limit access to sensitive parts of your website to only people you choose. Then, with split testing, you can easily check any marketing hypothesis you have in mind. Also, you can set up Netlify to receive form submissions and forward them to the CMS of your choice. And the platform can be set up to send notifications upon build events.
Plug-ins and easy integration with other tools
Your website will probably need more features than we just listed. For your luck, there's an entire ecosystem of modern web services ready to plug in. Netlify seamlessly integrates with a ton of tools: from performance monitoring, to CMS integration, to security and testing, to payment gateways. In case you don’t find the right preset, you can use webhooks and Zapier.
Netlify’s easy integration with other tools makes it a convenient solution for businesses.
Netlify’s custom perks
Now it’s time to show off some of the Netlify’s exclusive features. The platform may be the right choice for you solely because your use case requires one of the following functionalities.
Experimenting with new technologies can be exciting, but the setup process can take a lot of time. Netlify starter templates provide a great solution to this problem. You just click the “Deploy to Netlify” button — and your project is cloned and customized to your liking. By the way, you can also create and share your own templates.
In coding, mistakes are inevitable. Luckily, there are tools available to help developers get out of a bind. Instant Rollbacks, Netlify's digital eraser, is a great example. Atomic deployments allow you to roll back to any previous version without having to rebuild your site.
Branch deploys are a game changer when it comes to setting up new testing, staging, QA, and production environments. Many developers face the problem that requesting a new infrastructure is extremely time-consuming and tedious. Thankfully, Netlify has made it easy to set up a new hosting environment with Branch Deploys. All you have to do is create a new branch in your Git repository and choose whether you want to build all branches or add individual branches on the Netlify admin. Additionally, all deployments are served from the same infrastructure, guaranteeing that all of your environments have the same characteristics and CI/CD workflow.
In just a few moments, you can have unlimited environments!
Deploy previews allow developers to quickly check the changes made in a pull request. This is especially helpful when reviewing code, as it allows seeing the changes without building the site locally, and ensures that there have been no unexpected regressions. It also provides an easy way for clients to do visual regression testing with tools like Applitools, ensuring that dev and production are error-free.
The Redirects API
It's clear that the Netlify Redirects API offers a great deal of flexibility in how you serve your sites. With its support for redirects, rewrites, and other logic, you can easily control how your URLs are handled, and prevent broken links when your site evolves over time. What's more, you can use the redirect API to re-define some of your backend services by a simple redirect and without affecting the user interface. Finally, the API also supports shadowing, meaning that you can use a rule in your redirects file to handle generic requests.
Role Based Access Control
Role-Based Redirects is an incredibly useful pro-feature available with the Business plan. It enables adding role-based permissions to your pages in your redirects file. This way, you can ensure that only the correct users are able to access sensitive information.
Netlify vs other Jamstack platforms
Netlify is definitely a great option for hosting a static site. But why is it better than Vercel, Cloudflare Pages, or GitHub Pages? Here’s a quick summary.
|Netlify to Vercel||Netlify to GitHub Pages||Netlify to Cloudflare Pages|
|Netlify offers a lot more native services in its pipeline than Vercel. For instance, Authentication, Form submissions, and build notifications are all great services that Vercel lacks. While Vercel works better with Next.js, Netlify is tailored for Gatsby – the company recently acquired the framework. We’ve written a detailed article on the Netlify to Vercel comparison, so feel free to consult it if you want to know more.||To be honest, GitHub Pages is for small blogs only. It offers only three builds per hour, while Netlify can perform three builds per minute. And GitHub Pages doesn’t have asset optimization, redirects, serverless functions, or split testing — all the features offered withing Netlify free tier. On its side, however, GitHub Pages doesn’t require authentication to access the repository and handle the code. And it’s completely free.||Cloudflare Pages is a potent Jamstack hosting provider. It offers HTTP3, unlimited members and bandwidth, supports QUIC, and has a native database (KV Workers) – the features Netlify lacks. Netlify, however, can handle forms and send notifications upon successful and failed builds, has instant rollbacks and a lot of extensions. So, each platform has pros and cons. But Cloudflare clearly wins at Time To First Byte (TTFB) SEO metric. For a test application deployed on Cloudflare, it took 57ms to load the first byte, and it was 227ms for Netlify.|
Netlify offers a lot more native services in its pipeline than Vercel. For instance, Authentication, Form submissions (Netlify Forms), and build notifications are all great services that Vercel lacks.
While Vercel works better with Next.js, Netlify is tailored for Gatsby – the company recently acquired the framework. We’ve written a detailed article on the Netlify to Vercel comparison, so feel free to consult it if you want to know more.
To be honest, GitHub Pages is for small blogs only. It offers only three builds per hour, while Netlify can perform three builds per minute. And GitHub Pages doesn’t have asset optimization, redirects, serverless functions, or split testing — all the features offered within Netlify's free tier. On its side, however, GitHub Pages doesn’t require authentication to access the repository and handle the code.
And it’s completely free.
Cloudflare Pages is a potent Jamstack hosting provider. It offers HTTP3, unlimited members and bandwidth, supports QUIC, and has a native database (KV Workers) – the features Netlify lacks. Netlify, however, can handle forms and send notifications upon successful and failed builds, has instant rollbacks and a lot of extensions. So, each platform has pros and cons. But Cloudflare clearly wins at Time To First Byte (TTFB) SEO metric. For a test application deployed on Cloudflare, it took 57ms to load the first byte, and it was 227ms for Netlify.
All in all, Netlify offers competitive benefits for businesses requiring a complex website, as well as a very generous free tier for simple blogs. In addition, it has pay-as-you-go pricing, meaning that you can buy extra build minutes or Lambda function executions if you face the limit.
For further information, consult the official website, or explore how Netlify compares to Vercel.
Business benefits of Netlify
According to the Jamstack Community Survey 2022, the serverless technology is rapidly gaining popularity: the number of people who have used it jumped to 70% in the last year. And Netlify perfectly complies with the definition of serverless, as it manages the infrastructure for you. So, and you don’t have to think about servers, traffic loads, updates, or scaling.
Netlify's scalability and cost-effectiveness make it an affordable solution for businesses of all sizes. But what makes Netlify and its serverless architecture the best alternative to traditional platforms and deployment technologies?
Cost-effective: First and foremost, modern Jamstack hosting platforms save you effort – and, therefore, time. You don’t need DevOps engineers, and your developers don’t need to explore the set-up procedures. As a result, you get a maximum website performance with minimal effort. And Netlify pricing model allows businesses to only pay for the resources they require, eliminating the need for costly infrastructure upgrades.
Future-proof: Netlify promotes composable architectures made up of microservices rather. Relying on a monstrous monolith web application is left in the past. You can use any technology and services you like — most of them are available via starters and plugins.
Scalable: Netlify's globally distributed CDN and Edge networks ensure fast delivery of websites and assets, even as traffic grows. You simply can’t DDoS a Jamstack site living on a CDN.
Good for collaboration: Netlify allows teams to set up access controls, granting different levels of permission to different team members, ensuring that everyone can collaborate effectively. It provides a tool for managing teams which allows administrators to invite and manage members, delegate tasks, and monitor project progress.
Netlify Use Cases
Netlify is great for creating blogs, but so is GitHub pages. Netlify is also great for portfolios, but so is Cloudflare. So, what are the use cases that Netlify is tailored to serve the best?
Netlify’s pro plan is good for high-load websites heavy on integrations. Here are a few use cases, but be sure there are many more, but we can only cover some of them.
Netlify’s E-commerce Stack allows your team to quickly check business hypotheses, as site updates are made instantly. No more inconvenient deploy windows and slow catalog updates – get scheduled site updates for catalog and content. Get faster shipping and rendering, shortened development cycles and improved web vitals for more conversions.
A global brand recently migrated their store to Netlify and saw a 126.7% increase in conversion and 74.8% increase in add-to-cart, while spending 60% less time in QA.
Examples: Victoria Beckham Beauty, Paul Valentine, Butcher Box
With Netlify, you can deliver impactful, localized company websites with personalized pages and interactive elements tailored to each visitor’s journey, while reducing cost-per-click. The performance is fast, secure, and reliable, and there’s no need for infrastructure management.
Examples: DocuSign, TripActions
If you’re low on budget, you can profit from Netlify’s free tier, which is extremely powerful. Check out what it can offer on the pricing page.
All in all, Netlify streamlines the deployment and hosting process, allowing developers to focus on other aspects of website creation. The platform provides teams with everything they need to take modern web projects from the first preview to full production without thinking once about servers or DevOps.
It offers a true serverless experience: with Netlify’s serverless hosting, you can forget about managing web servers – just concentrate on development.
Some of the most prominent Netlify features are its native-to-pipeline services, starter templates, and pre-configured integrations. That said, you don’t have to think much about the website’s setup. Think about your business instead!
Building a Jamstack website is a wise choice, but choosing the right hosting provider is even wiser, so taking a look at Netlify is definitely worth it if you want a fast, future-proof website.
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