The key difference in how a site builder and a page editor work is in how they can manipulate and work with site files. Files is emphasized because in order for any web page to exist, it must have a file on a server somewhere, and that file must contain standardized code. Many hosts bundle and blur the lines between these distinct differences for the sake of simplicity.
For more details on the key elements that make up a website, please refer to the following article:
How a Site Building Program Works
A site building program is just as it sounds. Users tell the builder how they would like the site to look and the program builds it, code and all. With a builder, the program does not edit files, it creates new ones with each time that site is published.
What Happens When Code Is Edited
If you edit a file outside of the builder after you've published it, the builder will not take those changes into account as it does not know they exist; and those changes will be overwritten when you re-publish using the builder.
While the program stores a history of previous editions, it stores everything its told about how the site is structured in a proprietary database. When you're ready to publish, the program takes that data, runs it through a script, then outputs a set of HTML files and images and uploads them to the server.
When going back to make editions to the site, the program will not go back to the server and retrieve what it published previously. Instead, it goes into its database and retrieves the most recent list of updates you made to the site so that you can pick up from where you left off.
How a Page Editor Works
A site editor or WYSIWYG editor literally edits the pages. When the page is opened by the user, it connects to the server, downloads the current version of the file, parses it like a web browser would and shows what the page will look like.
What Happens When Code is Edited
When you make an edit in the code manually, it shows you how the page looks after the edit. Additionally, when you make an edition through the simplified interface, it updates the code as well. Since the editor is literally "reading" the code, changing it, and finally re-writing it to the server, any changes made will not be recognized by builder programs.
Perks of Using a Site Editor
Most professional web designers use more than one of these editors for the same site since most editors can be used interchangeably. The editors usually recognize the changes made by the other software because standardized HTML is being utilized, not a proprietary web-builder format.
In order to move your site to another host and pick up where you left off, you would need the new host to have the exact same builder software; and your old host would need to provide the backup of your site in the proprietary format that the builder uses so that the new host can have the files restored exactly as they were before. This usually requires that you have access to the site's files.This is the primary reason that professionally built websites are not made on builder programs.
- If files cannot be obtained... most hosts won't be able to transfer the site over. All that can be done is to download the pages from a browser as they appear on the web. This saves the HTML structure of the page; however, it will not save any dynamic content, which is a good starting point if you're going to edit the site using a WYSIWYG editor from now on.
- If files can be obtained... the site can be migrated; however, further site edits would need to be done through a WYSIWIG editor. Which means our site building programs would not work for this use.
If the site was made in a site building program such as SiteBuilder, you can also likely request that the old host give you a backup of your site in the proprietary format. Thus, you can have a setup exactly like you had before, but on HostGator's servers. Most hosts don't want to do this, since it's extra work for them and they know that they're retrieving this backup because you are about to leave their company.
If you do decide to rebuild the site with a WYSIWYG editor, the same custom work doesn't need to be recovered constantly. If you transfer to another host, you can copy everything over without a hitch, and pick up right where you left off.
Content Management System (CMS)
Another popular alternative is using a CMS, which is basically a builder and site all integrated into one and just as portable as a site made in a WYSIWIG editor.