By Max I.

Next.js vs. React: A Multi-Factor Comparison

React and Next.js are frameworks that complement each other. Next.js builds on top of React and enriches it with multiple features, whereas React provides a solid ground for optimizations. Moreover, Next.js wouldn’t be possible without React. Then, why compare them?

In fact, the comparison is more than legit because newcomers to web development or business owners often can’t understand why two frameworks that are so much alike exist.

And indeed, at first sight, they look very much alike: you can create websites with React and Next.js equally, they have similar initialization commands, and they both have a component-based structure. Except that React is more popular than Next.js. 

If they are so similar, then why would I prefer Next.js to React, especially given that React is more widespread?” — you may ask.

To answer this question, we will outline the benefits of using Next.js in place of pure React and specify the cases when you’re good with React as it is.

This post covers

      What is React?

      React, also known as React.js, is an open-source JavaScript framework developed by Meta in 2011 and open-sourced in 2013. Web developers use it to create interactive UIs.

      React works on the principle of dividing complex UI elements into small pieces known as components. By default, it dynamically renders components in the client-side React DOM (Document Object Model). What’s more, for every DOM, React builds a virtual DOM — a lightweight DOM’s copy that’s fast to manipulate.

      React is easy to learn and is popular among front-end developers for its customizability, even when handling complex user interfaces. It’s well-suited for businesses that manage a bulk of customer data that is updated frequently. 

      Popular examples of React-based platforms include Meta, Netflix, Uber, and Airbnb.

      What is Create React App?

      Create-react-app is a tool in the React ecosystem that optimizes initial application setup — it minimizes the need for manual configuration.

      The tool assists developers in quickly producing a basic project file structure and running it as a single-page application (SPA). It is helpful for both novice developers who don’t want to get into the complexities of the application’s underlying dependencies and for seasoned ones when starting a new website.

      As a result, you get a basic frontend web app with a single command. It includes all dependencies required to run a basic React web page.

      What is Next.js?

      Next.js is an open-source JavaScript framework launched by Vercel in 2016. It’s built on top of React’s various front-end capabilities, enriching it with server-side rendering (SSR) and other features for creating high-performance web applications. Similar to React, Next.js also comes with a create-next-app module. Next.js has over 2400 contributors and is included in more than 780k repositories on Github. 

      Next.js’s main feature, SSR, consists in rendering a web page on the server side and delivering the final HTML page to the client. This results in shorter load times and more SEO-friendliness than React alone. 

      Next.js is a good fit for building responsive eCommerce websites that stay fast even when their architecture becomes complex over time. Popular examples of Next.js-based platforms include Hulu, Docker, TikTok, Netflix, and Scale.

      Concepts: a library, a framework, a meta-framework

      There are ardent terminological debates about how to call React, a library or a framework. Let’s clear up the theory — it will help us explain what position Next.js occupies in web development ecosystem. 

      Some people claim that React is a library. And indeed, React is called a library on the project’s official website. However, in reality, React is more than just a library — it’s a framework. It dictates how developers should do things, whereas a library is just a collection of functions. 

      The reason why React was initially called a library is historical. Back in 2011, the authors wanted to designate a boundary between their new product and older web development frameworks. They picked the word library and insisted it’s not a framework. 

      React wasn’t like any other frameworks of that time. These worked in the model-view-controller (MVC) paradigm and provided all three elements in it. Meanwhile, React provided only the view element, allowing for more flexibility. So, in a nutshell, calling React a library was a marketing hook. 

      But if React is a framework, then what’s Next.js? It’s a meta-framework!

      A meta-framework is an entity that sits one level higher in the architectural hierarchy than a framework. In fact, a meta-framework combines multiple frameworks together to provide you with a ready-made solution for multiple challenges, in our case — the ones related to web development. 

      At the end of the day, how we call things isn’t that important. What’s important is functionality. So let’s outline the cases when you need Next.js and when React is an okay option.

      When to go for React instead of Next.js?

      While Next.js improves React’s project structure and adds functionality, sometimes you would still go for plain React instead of Next.js or another meta-framework. Why is that? 

      It’s simply because sometimes Next.js is an overkill. For instance, if your application is for internal use only, so you don’t care about SEO. Next.js is very much SEO-oriented, so it contains too much functionality you don’t need in this case! 

      Then, if your goal is to create interactive dashboards and always keep the data fresh, then you’re better off with React alone. The reason is that Next.js is server-rendered by default. You’ll spend loads of time disabling serverSideProps and finding a workaround. 

      A third scenario involves leaving the idea of using Next.js behind. It’s when your project is so specific that out-of-the-box solutions aren’t suitable for it, and you have to implement the needed functionalities yourself or use some specific libraries tailored to your kind's challenges.

      It makes little sense to branch off Next.js’s core and customize it for yourself if there are too many of such customizations.

      Last but not least, if you’re developing a proof-of-concept and have to deliver it quickly, you can postpone using a meta-framework for later stages. 

      Remember, no framework or library is a jack of all trades. They all come with tradeoffs. Your requirements and resources will define your framework choice.

      Pound for pound: Next.js vs React

      Let’s compare Next.js and React head-to-head on multiple aspects of software development.

      DifferencesNext.jsReact
      Framework vs. libraryNext.js is a React JavaScript framework that acts as a development blueprint for quicker production of React apps.React is a JavaScript library of JS functions that enhance the development of front-end React applications.
      PerformanceNext.js-based websites are fast due to their pre-rendering functionality.React-based websites are interactive and scalable due to their reusable components. React websites can be faster when built using CRA.
      End-ProductNext.js is equipped to build a complete web application, i.e., front-end and back-end services.React is used to build the UI layer of web applications.
      Ease of DevelopmentNext.js is a highly configurable framework that reduces development complexity.React is based on JavaScript, the most commonly used web development language. React is very easy to use by new developers.
      Web-Page RenderingNext.js supports server-side rendering (SSR), where web pages are rendered and sent to clients as HTML pages.React supports client-side rendering (CSR), where web pages are rendered into HTML at the client’s end.
      Learning CurveNext.js has a slight learning curve initially. But it has extensive support to guide novice developers.React is very easy to learn, where developers can learn the tool even during application development.
      Community SizeNext.js is new in the market and supports a relatively smaller but active community.React is one of the most popular front-end tools that supports a huge community of active users.
      Talent PoolNext.js developers are fewer in number but are expected to grow with the increasing adoption of the framework.React is a developer favorite and has become a commonly adopted skill. React supports a broad talent pool.
      Cost of DevelopmentNext.js is a free, open-source framework that significantly lowers the cost of web application development.React is a free, open-source library offering low-cost web application development similar to Next.js.
      DocumentationNext.js supports detailed documentation for its users.React is also a well-documented JS library.

      Next.js Pros and Cons

      Developers and business owners can only decide which tool to choose only after weighing the advantages and disadvantages of using Next.js vs. plain React. Let’s discuss some pros and cons of Next.js below.

      Pros

      Speed

      The three pre-rendering options Next.js offers, namely, static site generation (SSG), incremental static regeneration (ISR) and server-side rendering (SSR), make Next.js-based websites significantly faster than the ones based on plain React.

      Simplicity

      Next.js stands true to its goal of simplifying the development of a React application.

      Less code, less load

      Next.js is a great framework for new developers — they can easily create complex web applications with this meta-framework. It allows developers to create more while coding less.

      Image optimization

      Next.js simplifies the work with images with its ability to scale them to adapt to changing viewports using WebP format. There are a great many image optimizations — we just can’t discuss them all here! 

      Cons

      Next.js is opinionated

      No, not that much opinionated as Gatsby is! But still, if you prefer to have full control over your choices, go for React!

      When to Use Next.js

      • When you need a static website with a lot of marketing landing pages.

      • When fast page rendering is an essential requirement. Next.js can render pages on the server so even users with slow devices can access them faster. 

      If you want to increase organic traffic on your website, pick Next.js: it can significantly increase it and improve your SEO scores.

      When Not to Use Next.js

      • When you’re already using some other meta-framework.

      • If you’re building a data-rich back-office.

      • If you’re building a proof-of-concept.

      React Pros and Cons

      Pros

      Reusable components

      A React component can be incorporated into multiple pages of an application. Any updates on these components are rendered across all pages.

      Easy coding

      With a familiar language like JavaScript and great training support, React allows you to learn and develop dynamic applications with less codebase.

      Customizability

      React library can be easily extended for more functionalities, e.g., using React with other tools like Redux.

      Community Support

      React is supported by a massive community of developers that actively communicate and make every new aspect easier to learn for all developers.

      Cons

      High growth rate

      React improves through its short development cycles that constantly modify the development environment. It requires developers to update their skills with the changing environment constantly.

      UI layer

      React is only responsible for creating an application’s view layer. For a complete application, developers must incorporate additional technologies such as a back-end framework.

      Outdated documentation

      The React documentation often fails to keep up with the changing development environment.

      When to Use React

      • When working for platforms that require web pages and accompanying mobile applications, React is a great choice as its code is compatible with mobiles (React Native).

      • When you’re building large websites requiring reusable components, React can speed up the process. E.g., social media websites.

      • When building websites that receive rapidly changing or real-time data, e.g., news websites.

      When Not to Use React

      • When developing simple landing pages, you can work without React.

      • You should opt for static site creators when your website does not require frequent re-rendering of web pages or their components.

      • When your web page requires CSS animation, the inline styling of React can be restrictive.

      React in the Wild

      Varcroft & Bianco

      In this React project, we worked closely with Varcroft & Bianco's tech team to create a seamless integration between their 3D product configurator and Shopify. We designed the UI with Figma and built it in React.

      Users can design their own drawer inserts in the progressive web app and order it directly with Shopify, which has been integrated into the app through the Shopify API.

      Next.js in the Wild

      Headstart Diary

      We worked with URUS to build an interactive marketing site with Next.js. The site includes interactive SVG animations to support Headstart Dairy's storytelling when you scroll through the site.

      Creating an animated site with large SVG files where almost every SVG has its own individual component would be nearly impossible to create with a legacy content management system such as WordPress. However, by using Jamstack and a modern frontend framework, we can make the site work seamlessly on all devices.

      Closing Thoughts on the Next.js vs. React Debate

      Next.js and React are popular in the digital world because they enhance the web development experience. The web is becoming faster thanks to rich applications based on Next.js and React. It’s not difficult to decide whether you should go for Next.js or leave your developers with plain React: in most cases, Next.js is a great option.

      To recap: React is a powerful tool for creating single-page applications with interactive user interfaces. React is an excellent choice for creating dynamic web pages that handle a ton of data that gets updated all the time.

      Next.js offers a lot of extra functionalities like code splitting and lazy loading, meanwhile, it preserves modularity which is one of React’s main characteristics. Its server-side rendering capabilities make it excellent for building all sorts of SEO-oriented websites. And with SSG, you are free to experiment with blogs and landing pages. For businesses already working with React, Next.js is a good option to explore.

      To sum it up, Next.js is loaded with features that speed up the development process at low costs. And with Next.js, you already opt-in to the React ecosystem. Meanwhile, React has all the resources for efficient front-end development of web and mobile applications. 

      Your choice of libraries or frameworks should be driven by your development and business needs–not to mention your budget and resource limitations. We hope this article gives you a clear idea of both tools’ capabilities for you to make an informed choice. Whether you opt for Next.js or React, you’ll be taking your digital experiences to the next level.

      We at Ikius offer Next.js development services to create highly SEO-optimized websites. If you are looking to build high-performance applications based on the latest web development trends, get in touch with us today.

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