React and Next.js are two of the most popular tools amongst front-end web developers. They're fun to work with and responsible for shaping our online experience as the standard tools used to build user interfaces (UI) everywhere.

We'll be looking at Next.js features, how it compares to React, and how it performs as a solid, agile framework for front-end development.

Are you a developer or the person in charge of your company's digital strategy? Are you looking to create a landing page, a static website, an e-commerce website, or improve your core web vitals? This article will show you the benefits and drawbacks of using Next.js along with React's native features and provide insight into whether these combined tools are the right choice to achieve your goals.

Table of Contents

React vs. Next.js: Library vs Framework
Next.js vs React: What is React?
    ➤  React Advantages
    ➤  React Disadvantages
Next.js vs React: What is Next.js?
    ➤  Features
    ➤  Next.js Advantages
    ➤  Next.js Disadvantages
Next.js vs React: How do they compare?
    ➤  Next.js vs React: Is NextJS better than React?

React vs. Next.js: Library vs Framework

First, we need to draw a fundamental distinction between React and NextJS:

  • React is - like it says on the tin - a "Javascript library for building user interfaces";

  • Next.js is a production framework for React.

Next.js is used on top of React, expanding its capabilities and streamlining the development process: React doesn't need to work with Next.js, but Next.js uses React to deploy apps.

React has a dedicated framework called Create React App (CRA), an application used to set up React projects that include tools like ESlint.

Next.js is a React-based framework that builds server-side rendered apps. React is still the app's foundation, but the structure and navigational mechanisms - the architecture - are defined by Next.js.

Why are we comparing Nextjs vs React and not Next.Js vs Create React App (CRA) or other frameworks?

Next.js has a different approach from CRA. Next.js moves the rendering aspect to the server, so the client doesn't have to process that information. This improves performance and SEO because the server pre-renders the pages and then sends the final HTML to the client, resulting in minimal JS, which means less code to load. Users can expect a faster website, but crawlers can also see your website more quickly and index it accordingly.

Pre-rendering has two approaches: Static Generation and Server-side rendering (SSR). Static Generation is and will always be the best performance-wise. Pre-rendering means the page is generated at build time and re-used for every request. In practice, static pages are usually served over a content delivery network (CDN), making it super fast.

SSR is preferable under certain circumstances, such as presenting frequently updated dynamic data: the page will be generated over each request and then sent to the client.

While SSR is still better than client-render apps, it has a lower performance than Static Generation, so it's important to know when to use SSR over Static Generation because otherwise, you won't be able to obtain the benefits of NextJS.

Next.js also allows hassle-free complex structures using a folder system, making the process more intuitive and simple. On the other hand, CRA builds single-page applications right out of the box, as long you are not concerned about routing. The main difference between CRA and NextJS is that NextJS will run on the server while CRA will run on the client's browser, which imposes significant changes to your code.

But that's about as far these frameworks can be compared. Beyond this point, it's all about the native features of React.Js vs. Next.js'. So we’ll be focusing on what React provides and how Next.js improves its core potential.

What is React?

React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces developed by Facebook, made open-source in 2013. It is used to design interactive user interfaces effortlessly, using components that work in a simple way: they receive the input data and render the display. The output can go from a traditional "Hello World" print to complex UI's, using rich data.

React is one of the most popular front-end development libraries today, being used along with React Native (another framework) and Redux for enterprise-grade mobile applications. React Hooks is another commonly React-based tool used to handle component behavior and logic. React components are easy to use and apply to complex structures because of their declarative nature while maintaining scalability.

It is used to build dynamic, SEO-friendly websites (Search Engine Optimization), mobile apps, single-page applications, dashboards, and visualization tools. Some of the most popular platforms and apps we use every day are made with React: Facebook, Netflix, Reddit, BBC.com, Airbnb, etc.

React's main competitors are Angular and Vue.js, but it has been consistently the most popular library of the three in the last years.
Source: npm-stat

React is widely used for many reasons. As a JavaScript library, it is easy to learn by developers who already dominate the language. React changed the way applications are built, and there are a few reasons why.

React Advantages

  • Easy to code - React made the development of web applications easy, in part thanks to the use of Javascript, which allowed developers to create dynamic applications using less code and a familiar language, is less time.

  • Community - there are many learning and production resources made available by a strong community.

  • Components - Components in-react are reusable, which means they can be loaded to different pages recurringly while keeping their characteristics. Edit the component code, and the change will be visible across all pages.

  • Customization - As a library, it has a set of functionalities that can be expanded by adding other tools like Redux.

React Disadvantages

  • It's a starting point - React is a library specialized in user interface development, so it needs other tools to express its full potential.

  • Outdated documentation - Its development cycles are so short that the available documentation gets outdated fast. The strong community promptly answers any questions or doubts, but it also implies a constant re-learning of its features.

React needs a framework to develop its full potential. Next.js is one of the most powerful frameworks that use React to build applications.

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What is Next.js?

Next.js is an open-source framework designed to work with React, created by Vercel. It claims to be the Web's Software Development Kit with all the tools needed "to make the Web. Faster" (sic). So far, the claim remains undisputed.

It works on top of React, along with Node.js, to create server-side rendered apps or hybrid static apps. It provides structure to React's functionalities while adding a few of its own. It is opinionated, which means it defines how the application should be structured, routing pages through a simple file folder system.

Next.js is used to build landing pages, SEO-friendly websites, eCommerce stores, and all kinds of web applications that need fast, high-performance load times.

Some of the most outstanding examples of Next.js in action are Twitch.tv, TikTok, Hulu, Binance, and many other websites and platforms that involve a massive number of users engaging with complex data influxes.

Features

Next.js edge over other frameworks comes from a set of distinctive features. The main ones are:

  • Data Fetching - Next.js manages data for optimal speed, having two types of pre-rendering. Server-side Rendering (SSR) allows fetching data and rendering it at request time. The other type is Static Generation, which uses data already available at build time before the request is made, being very useful in situations where data can be publicly cached (not user-specific) or pre-rendered for SEO.

  • Typescript - TypeScript is a programming language that builds on JavaScript. Next.js supports Typescript, which is one of the reasons for making Next.js so popular among developers.

  • Redux - Next.js supports Redux seamlessly.

  • Configurability - Next.js is highly configurable, which doesn't mean it is complex. Routing is as simple as creating folders.

At the time of writing, Next.js was in version 12, the biggest release so far, mainly focused on integration and speed. Among its new features, Next12 has a Rust compiler for faster builds, better image management, optimized SEO crawlability functionalities, along with operational tools that make it even more production-friendly.

Read also:

Next.js Advantages

But why use Next.js and not other frameworks for React? It depends on the production requirements and medium/long-term goals, but these are some of the main reasons developers are inclined to use Next.js.

  • It's easy to code - compared to React itself and other frameworks working with React, Next.js requires less code. Developers just have to create the page and link to the component in the header, which means less code, better readability, and improved project management.

  • Speed - Applications built with Next.js are fast because of Server-side Rendering and Static Generation, providing a smarter way to handle data. Server-side rendering will only be as fast as the server is handling requests. Static Generation is fast since it can be served from a CDN. Native image optimization features also improve performance.

  • Fast rendering - Every change to the file is immediately visible by refreshing the page. The component is rendered on the spot, making it easier to follow the edits as they happen.

  • Built-in CSS - with Next.Js, you can import CSS styles from a JavaScript file to be used inline for faster rendering.

  • Better image optimization - Images are resized and served using the best, up-to-date formats like WebP (while keeping open to new formats), and pictures are configured to adapt to smaller viewports.

  • SEO - For those looking for better SEO, titles and keywords for each page are easy to create. Just use the featured Head component to place them on every page.

  • ESLint compatible - Developers can use ESLint with Next.js with "scripts": { "lint": "next lint"} . It’s that easy.

  • Easy customization and deployment - Next.js uses plugins like Babel which makes it highly customizable. Deployment is very simple and intuitive by design, allowing to launch applications quickly.

  • API support - Third-party APIs can expand your project possibilities, and Next.js connects to them easily, helping to create your own API routes.

Next.js Disadvantages

These Next.js characteristics shouldn't count as disadvantages but as inherent features. All tools have some features that are more or less friendly, according to developer experience, and these two must be taken into account:

  • Routing - Next.js routing system is basically a file system, and, for some projects, it's not enough. Node.js is the tool to have in hand to create dynamic routes, so developers must have the proficiency to use it.

  • Community - It is small yet growing by the day as Next.js becomes one of the most used building blocks of the web. There are fewer Next.js experts compared to React or other frameworks, but it is definitely not a novelty. The talent pool and the need for developers versed in Next.js are increasing, which translates to opportunities for those looking to stand out in modern application development.

Suppose you're looking to build applications that are fast, highly customizable, easy to edit, with improved SEO capabilities. In that case, Next.js is a tool to consider, especially if your development team works with React already and is open to applying a new tool to their workflow.

Next.js vs. React: How do they compare?

What Next.js does is to provide structure and better rendering features to React. As stated before, it works on top of React since it names itself as "The React Framework for Production". So, it works as an engine for React's capabilities, using many tools and resources already used by React like Redux or Hooks.

Keeping with the automobile metaphor, Next.js has features that turbo-charge the already highly-capable functionalities of React.

Is NextJS better than React?

That shouldn't be the question but rather if Next.js is a good choice to develop your React application. Whether you're acting as a developer or a CTO, it all comes down to the type and goals of the project.

Next.js and React are lining up to become two of the most important building blocks supporting the collective digital experience. They are making the web faster through applications with better performance, lower development costs, and higher production rates.

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