9 min read

Next.js vs Gatsby.js - Which Is The Best React Framework?

Next.js and Gatsby are two of the most popular static site generators used to build fast and SEO-friendly websites.

Tim Davidson
Author
Tim Davidson

Next.js and Gatsby are two of the most popular static site generators used to build fast and SEO-friendly websites. They simplify the development of static sites by providing a powerful toolset that allows you to use modern JavaScript features to build your website. However, these two tools have slightly different approaches and different targets. Next.js is dynamically rendered, while Gatsby is statically generated and rendered beforehand.

In this article, we'll compare the two to help you decide which suits your needs.

Before we get to the useful content, here's a quick plug. If you're weighing up building your new project with Gatsby or Next.js and plan to bring an agency into the equation, then reach out to us! We've built a bunch of sites and applications with both frameworks. The worst that can happen is you get some free, experienced-backed advice.

Next.js overview

Next.js is a free, open-source React-based framework used to build server-side rendered websites with zero configuration. This way, the HTML is generated directly through the server whenever a user makes a new request. This helps improve the site's performance and user experience. The framework is ideal for building landing pages, enterprise web apps, and dynamic websites that require high performance. Next.js leverages the following core features:

Auto-code splitting

Next.js auto-code splitting helps reduce the size of your application and improves performance by splitting the code into smaller pieces that are loaded on demand. This is especially useful for large applications with large code files, as it can help reduce the time needed to load the entire application.

Lazy loading

Next.js lazy loading is a great way to improve your website's performance. By loading only, the necessary components when they are needed, you can save time and resources. This can be especially helpful if your website has a lot of content or if you have users with slow internet connections.

Prerendering

Next.js pre-renders all pages by default, meaning it generates HTML for each page beforehand rather than relying on the client-side JavaScript. Without this feature, users would see a blank screen on the first load as they wait for JavaScript to load. With pre-rendering, a user will see the HTML content on the first load, which makes your site appear to load faster and improve your search engine ranking.

Next.js offers two types of pre-rendering: static site generation (SSG) and server-side rendering (SSR). SSG enables you to render your pages at build time. This works well for an HTML page that doesn't require regular updates. The page is pre-generated and stored in a CDN, and cached to offer improved performance.

The SSR model generates an HTML page for each user request. This makes it ideal for dynamic content since the content isn't cached.

Pros and cons of Next.js

Advantages of Next.js:

  • Offers excellent app performance thanks to lazy loading and auto-code splitting features. Fast loading times lead to improved customer experience and conversion rate.
  • Websites and applications built with Next.js boast high responsiveness and adaptability and can be accessed from any device.
  • It has a built-in image optimization feature that converts images to the high-quality webp format.
  • It's ESLint compatible
  • Allows for easy customization and deployment

Cons of Next.js

  • It has a poor plug-in ecosystem
  • It is restricted to using only the file-router system
  • It lacks a built-in state manager -- you need to use Redux or MobX for state management.

Gatsby overview

Gatsby is a full-featured framework for building powerful React-compatible websites. It provides features that allow you to build dynamic sites, such as data source plug-ins, code splitting, client-side routing, and code-driven page building. It also has a rich plug-in ecosystem that allows you to customize the behavior of Gatsby for your site's needs. This flexibility makes Gatsby suitable for different use cases, such as building blogs, product pages, marketing websites, and landing pages.

Gatsby's features include:

API driven development

Gatsby.js is built on top of React, while its data layer is powered by GraphQL, which makes it a great fit for API-driven development.

Open Source Ecosystem

Gatsby.js was built to be a tool for developers by developers. It is maintained by a community of users and companies who use it daily to build their websites.

Progressive web application support

Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are websites that can act like native mobile applications. They have many advantages over native mobile applications, such as faster load times and native-app experience.

Gatsby supports the development of PWAs and actually has a special plug-in for PWAs called Gatsby-plugin-pwa that allows you to easily build your PWA with minimal coding and configuration.

Framework-agnostic

One of the most important features of Gatsby.js is that it is framework-agnostic. This means that you can use it with any front-end framework or library. It has pre-configured integrations for React and Vue, but you can still use it with any other library. You can also write your own integration if you wish to do so.

Static site generator

Gatsby.js is a static site generator which means that it will generate a static version of the site, and hosting it on a server will be hassle-free. You don't have to worry about updating the content. When you update the content in your HTML or markdown files, the new version will be served to the visitors automatically.

Single page applications

You can build single-page applications using Gatsby since it has built-in support for routing. You can use React Router v4 or v5 with Gatsby. The bundle size of your website will also be small compared to other single-page applications since Gatsby doesn't include unnecessary polyfills and code needed to generate a static site.

Pros and cons of Gatsby

Advantages of Gatsby:

  • A rich ecosystem of plug-ins - Gatsby.js plug-ins are useful for integrating third-party services into your static site. You can integrate a ton of useful services like Google Analytics, Google Adsense, etc., into your static site using these plug-ins
  • It has comprehensive documentation to help you set it up and get started working
  • It improves static website performance
  • Has a large community of users

Cons of Gatsby

  • Gatsby is less user-friendly than some other options out there. It takes some time to learn how to use all its features properly.
  • It's not easily scalable.

Similarities between Next.js and Gatsby

Next.js and Gatsby are similar in the following ways:

  1. Incremental building

The two frameworks allow developers to make changes to the content without updating the entire page. This helps improve productivity and reduces the hustle of building pages.

2. Developer experience

Next.js and Gatsby have comprehensive documentation to help developers set up everything and start building applications. Besides, they are both React frameworks. So, if you already understand React well, you can work with any framework without learning everything at once.

3. Improved SEO

Next.js and Gatsby are tailored to improve your site's ranking on search engines. Next.js offer server-side rendering allowing the SEO crawler to index your site faster. Gatsby prebuilt the entire HTML before its even requested by the user making it readily available for indexing by search engines; while offering fast performance.

Differences between Next.js and Gatsby

Page rendering

Next.js uses a traditional server-side rendering approach. Whenever a user requests a page, the server will render the page and send the HTML response back to the browser. This approach has several benefits, including increased performance and SEO friendliness. However, it also has some drawbacks, such as increased complexity and decreased flexibility.

Gatsby uses a static site generator (SSG) to pre-render pages during build time. This means that when a user requests a page, they will receive the pre-rendered HTML file from the server instead of having the server generate it on the fly. This approach has several benefits, including decreased complexity, increased flexibility, and improved performance. However, it also has some drawbacks, such as decreased SEO friendliness and increased build times.

Data handling

Next.js gives developers the freedom to manage their data however they want. You can fetch data using any API - REST API or GraphQL API -- from any database or headless CMS. You can even fetch it directly from the database.

Conversely, Gatsby is opinionated as it requires you to fetch and handle data using GraphQL queries. While it's possible to use Gatsby without GraphQL, the framework advises against using any other queries since it claims GraphQL simplifies the building process and allows you to load data in the same place it's consumed.

Extensibility

Both frameworks have a vast ecosystem of plug-ins, add-ons, and libraries to help you improve the functionalities of your app. However, Next.js plug-ins require more effort to work with them than Gatsby's. This is because Gatsby has a community-driven plug-ins ecosystem, and you can easily find pre-configured plug-ins that serve your unique needs. Next.js plug-in ecosystem is different -- the developers must do all the work themselves. However, this approach gives you full control over your project and data system. But if you want to save time -- avoid reinventing the wheel -- then Gatsby is your ideal framework.

Scalability

Next.js is ideal for building enterprise-grade applications. It's actually used by renowned companies such as Nike, Apple, Twitch, and TikTok. Gatsby, on the other hand, isn't optimized to support large applications. If your Gatsby app increases in size, it becomes relatively slow during build time and may even fail to build at all. This makes Gatsby an ideal framework for building personal websites and small static sites.

Security

Gatsby is more secure since it compiles your files to pre-rendered files instead of building in real-time on a server. The framework also allows you to fetch only the requested data making it relatively secure. With Next.js, the data is present on the server, creating room for vulnerabilities and attacks.

Page rendering

Although Next.js and Gatsby both support SSG and SSR, there's a slight difference in how they handle deferred rendering. Let's assume you have a 250-page website, but the last 150 pages are outdated or non-critical. Gatsby allows you to use deferred static generation, which enables pre-rendering the critical 100 pages and defers the 150 non-critical pages. These non-critical pages will only be loaded upon user request. So, instead of generating all pages up front, you can choose to generate the critical ones at build time and the rest only when a user requests the page for the first time. This approach speeds up building times.

On the other hand, Next.js uses incremental static regeneration (ISR). This approach allows you to update pages after you've deployed your site. This way, when a user requests the non-critical pages, you can update the data on demand. If you run a website that needs constant data updates, then Next.js stands as a more suitable tool.

Flexibility

Next.js is more flexible than Gatsby as it allows you to choose how you want to render your website -- whether using server-side rendering or static site generation. This flexibility comes in handy when scaling your website to your business growth. Gatsby is an opinionated framework that's tailored specifically for static site generation.

Content management system (CMS)

Next.js doesn't have a well-developed plug-in ecosystem which makes fetching data from a CMS a bit challenging. Gatsby allows you to connect to a CMS via plug-ins. You can also edit content/update data without programming knowledge.

Choosing between Next.js and Gatsby

You should use Next.js if you plan on building a scalable website with dynamic content. The framework also gives you complete control of the code that sources and manipulates your data. Gatsby, on the other hand, is ideal for building static websites. It has a rich plug-in ecosystem that allows you to extend the functionality of your website or application. But if you're uncomfortable using GraphQL, you better stick to Next.js.

Frequently asked questions

Q: Is Next.js better than Gatsby?

A: It depends on your use case. Next.js is suited for building large-scale applications and dynamic websites thanks to its scalability advantage and SSR. Gatsby, on the other hand, is designed for static site generation, which makes it suitable for landing pages, personal websites, and small-scale websites.

Q: Is Gatsby worth using?

A: Yes. Gatsby still has its place in the modern-day web development sphere. Making it an ideal tool for building static websites.

Summary

Next.js and Gatsby are ideal frameworks for building fast and search-engine-optimized websites from scratch. However, it would be best to analyze each framework's strengths and weaknesses to choose one aligned with your business needs.

Written by
Tim Davidson

Tim Davidson

Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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