Every Website Will Break (Eventually)

I know – the headline sounds dire. And, to some degree, it is. But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and I feel like we, as designers and developers, should have an open dialogue.

Recently, after a spate of websites I maintain faced a variety of problems, I came to a stark realization: Every website I’ve ever worked on is probably going to break at some point.

We’ll get into the reasons why in a second. But, let that last statement just sink in for a moment. Now, do you get that sinking feeling in your stomach, too?

Is it true? How can this happen?

Sadly, I do believe it’s true. And I actually wonder why it took me so long to figure it out. Maybe you were a bit more on-the-ball and realized it long before I did.

Every website will turn to rubble, eventually.

As to why a website is going to break – there are a number of reasons for that. Just a few of the possibilities include:

CMS Core/Plugin/Theme Conflicts

Any website that is built on a content management system like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla! are bound to run into a mischievous software update sooner or later. Different parts could then conflict with each other – resulting in anything from a small display issue to an inaccessible site.

Legacy Code

As programming languages like PHP evolve, some methods for coding become deprecated and (eventually) unsupported. When that happens, older code can break as web hosts routinely upgrade their software versions.

Security Holes

Nefarious bots are constantly in search of poorly coded and outdated sites. They scan for security holes, both known and unknown, and can do all sorts of damage when they find the proper victim.

Hosting Woes

Sometimes, a website goes down simply because a web hosting service is failing. It could be that a cheap account is overloaded with sites and slows to a crawl. Or, any number of hardware and software issues can occur. And, in some cases, data loss is a possibility (I’ve seen this one firsthand – it’s not pretty).

Not to sound paranoid, but there are a number of forces conspiring against us in our quest to create a website that works in perpetuity.

What can we do about it?

On the bright side, there are plenty of things we can do to make websites stronger. Using best practices in your code, only using trusted plugins and third party services, and putting security measures in place can all make a positive impact.

Those things will make both us and our clients feel good – and we should. Doing the best job you possibly can is something to be proud of. And it may, in fact, lessen the chances of something breaking.

Still, sometimes we’re all subject to factors that we can’t possibly control or even predict. While we can take many steps towards stability – there’s still no guarantee. This is especially so for freelancers and small agencies.

Larger entities most often have more resources and redundancy in place. This helps to keep things running – even when there is a problem. But, even then, problems can still strike. Anyone who tried to buy a NES Classic Edition during the holidays saw it firsthand as the crunch of sales crashed many a site (including Amazon).

A New Approach

Since the bulk of my career has been spent freelancing, that’s the lens I see things through. Without the resources to build up a ton of redundancy or pay hefty prices for regular code audits, the odds seem especially stacked against us small-timers a bit.

There are other, less expensive ways to keep on top of things, though. Following the latest software and developer news can give you a hint about possible problems coming down the road. Using an uptime service will at least let you know when a problem does occur. And being judicious about applying updates can save some unwanted headaches.

Constantly watch your websites.

Perhaps the biggest thing we can do is to change our thinking. Rather than pretending that we’ve created a bulletproof website, admitting that the thing is probably going to have a hiccup or two down the road is a more realistic approach.

With that new approach, we can become even more motivated to stay on top of the latest developments and be better equipped to handle problems when they arise. In the end, preparation may be the best line of defense against the inevitable.

What’s your take? Is it possible to build a bulletproof website? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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