Next.js vs React: Key Differences

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Rafael Timbó
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Rafael Timbó
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Chief Technology Officer
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Examine the key differences between Next.js and React to better determine which is best for your next project.
Published on
October 9, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

As JavaScript continues to be among the most popular programming languages for web development, understanding its associated libraries and frameworks (Next.js vs React) becomes even more important. While they may share some common elements, their applications and methodologies differ significantly. 

For instance, React is a JavaScript library that focuses on the user experience, while Next.js is a framework for server-side rendering and static site generation from React components. This may be one of their primary differences, but the differences go much deeper.

Therefore, understanding these differences between Next.js and React is critical to making informed decisions about which is the better option for your specific project needs. This article compares the key differences between React and Next.js, focusing on rendering, development speed, developer experience, and configuration.

What Is Next.js?

Next.js is an open-source library designed to make it easier to build complex web apps quickly. Built on the framework of React, Next.js provides a server-rendering engine that makes it easy to develop and deploy static sites from dynamic data sources. It builds on web standards like Webpack, Babel, and React Router to simplify the development process.

Next.js improves the developer experience by providing features such as:

  • Automated code splitting: Next.js automatically splits code into one bundle for each page, reducing payload size and loading time.
  • Hot module reloading: When you change your code, they're applied immediately without restarting the server.
  • Serverless functions: You can write serverless functions in Next.js, enabling you to easily add custom logic to your pages without developing a full-blown back end.
  • Route-based data fetching: Next.js makes it easy to fetch data and render pages on the server, which is useful for SEO and dynamic content.

Benefits of Next.js

Next.js has quickly emerged as a game-changer in the world of web development, offering features that streamline the creation of high-performing, SEO-friendly applications. The key benefits of Next.js include the following:

  • Rapid development: With built-in features such as automatic code splitting and hot reloading, Next.js makes it easier to develop web applications rapidly.
  • SEO friendly: Thanks to server-side rendering and static site generation, Next.js applications typically have better SEO than single-page applications.
  • Better image optimization: Next.js supports built-in image optimization, reducing the number of requests and speeding up page loading times. With WebP support, you can also reduce page sizes even further.
  • Built-in CSS support: Next.js offers built-in support for styled-jsx, allowing developers to write CSS in JavaScript files.

Limitations of Next.js

Next.js, although a powerful and versatile web development framework, has its limitations. These include:

  • Steep learning curve: Next.js is built on React, so you must be familiar with frameworks like React first to use Next.js effectively. Moreover, it introduces several new concepts that can be challenging for beginners.
  • Less flexibility: While Next.js also provides many built-in features, this can sometimes limit its flexibility. If you need a high level of customization for your project, Next.js may prove restrictive.
  • API routes limitation: Next.js bundles all API routes and server-rendered pages into shared serverless functions. This can lead to potential performance issues.

What Is React?

React is a powerful and widely used JavaScript library developed by Facebook in 2023 to construct user interfaces, especially single-page applications. Designed to improve web applications' speed, simplicity, and scalability, it has since gained widespread popularity. 

Its key features include:

  • Components: These are reusable pieces of code that return a set of React elements to render on the page. This makes it easy to build complex UIs from small, isolated, and reusable pieces of code.
  • Virtual DOM (document object model): React uses a virtual DOM to represent the UI of an application.
  • JSX: React uses a JSX syntax to make reading and writing HTML-like code in JavaScript files easier.

Benefits of React

This framework offers several benefits, including:

  • Reusable components: React components are self-contained chunks of code that you can reuse throughout a project, reducing the time needed to build an application from scratch.
  • High performance: React's virtual DOM implementation makes it faster than other frameworks, allowing developers to create high-performing web applications.
  • Improved developer productivity: React projects make it easy for developers to get up to speed and maintain an existing codebase quickly with tools like React Hooks.

Limitations of React

While the benefits of React far outweigh its limitations, it’s still worth being aware of those drawbacks before you decide to use it:

  • Steep learning curve: While React is easier to grasp than other libraries and frameworks, beginners may initially find concepts like Virtual DOM, JSX, and component lifecycle methods challenging to understand.
  • Poor documentation: Despite being widely used, React's documentation often lags behind the latest updates, making it harder for developers to find relevant and up-to-date information.

Key Differences

As discussed, React is a library, while Next.js is a framework built on top of React. This means that while React provides the building blocks for web applications, Next.js streamlines and simplifies the development process by providing tools and features that make it easier to build complex web applications quickly. 

Some differences between React and Node.js affect the following:

Rendering

React primarily uses client-side rendering (CSR), where the components are directly rendered in the browser. While this can make the application quick and responsive, it might affect SEO negatively as search engine crawlers might not effectively index the content.

Next.js, on the other hand, supports server-side rendering (SSR) and static site generation (SSG), rendering pages on the server before sending them to the client. This enhances SEO and improves performance by reducing the load time for users.

Development Speed

React offers great flexibility as a library but can slow down the development process because developers often need to select additional libraries for state management, routing, etc.

Next.js, being a more specialized framework, provides many features, such as file-system-based routing and automatic code splitting, which can speed up the development process significantly.

Configuration

React requires additional configuration to handle things like routing and state management. Tools like Create React App or Next.js, can help to bootstrap a React application with minimal configuration.

Next.js has a zero-configuration setup for most common use cases, reducing the time spent setting up the development environment and allowing developers to focus on writing code.

Maintenance

React and Next.js have strong community support and regular updates, ensuring straightforward maintenance. However, given that Next.js builds on top of React, maintaining a Next.js app might require keeping up with updates in both libraries.

Performance

React's performance is generally good, but the initial page load time can be longer since it primarily uses CSR.

Next.js, with its support for SSR and SSG, can deliver better performance in terms of initial page load time. It also permits automatic code splitting, prefetching, and other optimizations that can enhance performance.

Choosing Next.js vs React

Whether you use React or Next.js depends on the project requirements, development goals, and team skill set. Here’s a handy checklist to help you decide:

Choose Next.js

Next.js can be a beneficial choice for your project under several circumstances:

  • If your application requires improved search engine optimization (SEO), Next.js should be your go-to choice. Next.js ensures that content is ready before it reaches the client, making it more accessible to search engine crawlers.
  • If you aim for faster initial page loads, Next.js provides automatic code-splitting, which only loads the JavaScript required for the current page. 
  • If you need to write server-side code, Next.js has built-in API routes that you can use to write back-end logic directly into your Next.js application, eliminating the need for a separate back-end service.
  • If you're preparing a blog, marketing website, documentation, or any other content-focused website that doesn't require dynamic data, Next.js's static site generation can be highly beneficial.

Choose React

React, on the other hand, can be the ideal choice for your project in several scenarios:

  • If you prefer having the flexibility to choose your libraries for things like routing and state management, React might be the right choice. It's not strict about how you structure your project or what libraries you use.
  • If your team is new to modern JavaScript frameworks and libraries, React's simplicity and less daunting learning curve can be beneficial.
  • If you need a framework with proven stability, React has been around for a while, used by large companies like Facebook, Instagram, and Airbnb. 
  • React could be a good fit if you're building an interactive web app with many updates. React's virtual DOM helps optimize rendering and improve app performance.

Find the Right Developers With Revelo

The differences between Next.js and React can make either of them the ideal option, depending on the specific needs of your project. Still, selecting the right technology is just the first step. The next, equally important step is finding the right talent to use the technology and bring your vision to life. 

At Revelo, we can help match your project with top-tier remote software engineers from Latin America who are technically proficient and vetted for soft skills and English proficiency. We also handle all the onboarding logistics, including payroll, benefits administration, taxes, and local compliance, freeing you up to focus on what you do best — building great products. 

So, whether you're looking to build a fast, SEO-friendly web application and hire a Next.js developer or a flexible, user-focused app by hiring a React developer, Revelo can help you find the right talent to make it happen. Contact us today.

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