Gatsby vs Next.js: Picking the Best React Framework for Your Next Project?

Posted by Ben Rogojan on March 31, 2020

GSD

As web development advances, the way we assemble websites and front ends are also changing. Web applications used to be simple static HTML pages with a few hyperlinks and terrible animations. However, web applications and websites have become much more complex in the modern era. 

New frameworks, libraries, and tools are developed on a daily basis and it can be hard to keep up. As a result, many current advancements in web technology are focused on simplifying web development. Some of these advancements include concepts like headless content management systems such as ButterCMS, whose Next.js CMS and Gatsby.js CMS can greatly simplify back-end development.

On the front end, there are also plenty of frameworks helping to simplify development. These include React.js, Angular.js, Vue.js and many more. React is currently one of the more popular front-end JavaScript frameworks.

As its popularity has grown, many new tools have been introduced to simplify the React development process. Two such tools are Next and Gatsby. Both of these frameworks were developed to help ease the connection between the back and front ends. Partnered with the right headless CMS, this workflow can majorly streamline your development process.

But when you compare Gatsby vs Next.js, which is the best open-source React framework? We'll start by taking a look at each individually. 

What is Next.js?

Next.js is an open-source React framework that is used to build web-based applications. This framework is based on Node.js and Babel, and it integrates with React to develop single-page applications. 

Next allows you to lay the foundations for creating an application and focuses on rendering pages server-side.

For those familiar with creating web apps with PHP, you know the process is usually to create some files, write PHP code, then deploy everything. There isn’t a huge need to worry about routing.

Next.js also reduces time to interactivity on a web page, and helps improve SEO. Next.js is also known as a meta-framework for universal applications, the goal of this framework is to allow users to develop web views in JavaScript.

Working with Next.js

Next.js builds single-page applications and statically-rendered pages on the server-side by integrating with React. It helps develop applications faster as it streamlines basic features such as client-side routing. When comparing Gatsby vs Next.js, this back-end functionality is a key factor in determining which is the best React framework. 

By simplifying server-side rendering and splitting the code, it allows automatic optimization and partial exporting statically. This allows websites to have both static and server-rendered web pages. 

Key benefits of Next.js

Next.js has plenty of advantages that make it an ideal framework:

  • Quick Page Load — With no dependencies to load, static websites built with Next.js load quickly.
  • Usability — Next.js websites are responsive and can work on any device. 
  • Quicker Time to Market — Next.js comes with tons of ready-to-use components which makes it easy to build a website.
  • Dynamic Static Generation — Developers can update static pages by re-rendering them in the background.
  • Zero Configuration — With Next, you can focus on building application logic rather than configuration tasks. Next automates compilation and bundling.

Illustration: A man using Next.js sits surrounded by a bunch of different devices.

Next.js Considerations

While there are many significant benefits that come with using Next.js, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Flexibility — As there aren’t many built-in pages, in some cases developers may need need to create the front-end UI from scratch
  • Lack of State Manager — There is no state manager with Next, which means developers will need a plug-in to handle that task.

Learn how your marketing team can update your app content with our Next.js CMS.

What is Gatsby?

Gatsby.js is a free and open-source framework that also integrates with React and helps develop web applications faster. 

Powered by GraphQL, Gatsby generates static sites. Except, unlike Next, it doesn’t render on a server. GraphQL allows you to declaratively express your data needs. This is done with queries, which are the representation of the data you need. Gatsby acts as a liaison between your CMS, data systems and your front end, as depicted in the image below.

Gatsby flow chart

This makes it a great tool when working with headless CMSs, which are essentially only the back-end. 

They help take care of back-end heavy lifting and content management so you can focus on the UI and design. 

As a headless CMS, ButterCMS fits naturally with Gatsby and can help make your development process easier. There's also already a plug-in that can further speed up your development process.

Working with Gatsby.js

Gatsby helps in building sites by pulling in data from almost any source. Using its rich data plugin ecosystem, it can fetch data from many different sources - big databases, third-party APIs, etc. - and bring that data directly to your web pages.

It does this using GraphQL, a technology that provides a complete description of the data by fetching the data on run time to fulfill the queries. It generates progressive web applications by splitting the code out of the box and it only loads critical components so that processing is fast for your website users. GraphQL is a major factor to consider when you're comparing Gatsby vs Next.js to identify which one is the best React framework for your project. 

Key benefits of Gatsby.js

While Next.js has many outstanding features, Gatsby has plenty of its own that make it an ideal choice:

  • Optimized for Speed — According to performance tests conducted by its founder, Kyle Matthews, Gatsby sites are, on average, 2-3 times faster than similar types of sites, and the framework itself handles the performance, so it’s off your plate as a developer.
  • Excellent Documentation — The documentation is clear, comprehensive, and easy to follow.
  • Dynamic Developer Documentation — The framework autogenerates style guides and usage documents.
  • Automatic Routing — Where Next lacks in routing, Gatsby shines. With Gatsby, routing is automated based on directory structure.

What makes Gatsby so fast?

Illustration: A woman lays on the ground with her laptop surrounded by icons representing gatsby's speed

The framework predicts what the user will want to see next to fetch and preloads content in the background. This pre-fetch feature enables Gatsby sites to load faster than Next.js sites.

Gatsby considerations

Similar to any other, Gatsby also has a few considerations you need to keep in mind if you chose to work with this technology.

  • Verifying plugin quality - As an open-source project, many of Gatsby's plugins are maintained by the individual members of the community who build them. You will need to verify the quality of a plugin on your own before using it.
  • In some cases, longer build times - As the content on your site increases so will build times. That said the solution to this is using Gatsby Cloud (which starts at $20/ mo), still, your updates might not always be visible right away.

Gatsby vs Next.js: A side-by-side comparison

Both of these frameworks are used for server-side rendering and static site generating. Next.js and Gatsby lay foundations for many React projects and give us a guideline on what should be built on top of those foundations, but here are some key differences:

Gatsby.js

Next.js

Gatsby.js is a static site generator.

Next.js is an automatic server-side renderer.
Requires no back end and relies on third-parties and APIs to provide data. Requires a server/back end to provide data.

Must know GraphQL to work with.

Agnostic of what you use to interact with the back-end.
Often many more requests required to load the same page due to JSON calls. Fewer requests, as long as you know how to develop your own front end.

Common use cases for Gatsby and Next.js

Use cases for Next.js

When you are building larger applications that will require hundreds of thousands of pages to be built, then it will probably be best to use Next.js. Using Next.js also provides you with more direct access to your data without having to go through a third party.

  • Sites That Require Real-Time Updates - Sites that want to provide real-time updates to users will do well with Next. 
  • Sites With Extensive Content - Sites that have extensive content and will grow over time are more suitable for Next. With Next, developers have the flexibility to decide how to approach data fetching.
  • Ecommerce Sites - User performance is important for eCommerce sites. Generating SSD pages would take too long.

Illustration: Two people sitting at different desks. One is surrounded by notifications and updates; the other is at a casual corporate desk

Use cases for Gatsby.js

On the other hand, Gatsby.js is great if you are developing a smaller application or one that will pull directly from a compatible CMS. Gatsby is also easier to set up, which can further reduce development time if the project is already on the smaller side.

  • Corporate Websites - Corporate websites usually aren’t updated very frequently. They also may not require registration or login credentials. Here, Gatsby is the way to go.
  • Static Storefronts - Gatsby is perfect for static storefronts for headless eCommerce. In this scenario, it serves as the storefront but the checkout page happens via a third-party platform such as Shopify.

Gatsby vs Next.js: Scalability

At first glance, these two frameworks may seem very similar. But, when you dig a bit deeper, they end up being quite different. One is built to scale, the other is built for the ease of generating static sites.

Gatsby’s connection with GraphQL allows users to quickly develop static web pages that might not be good at scaling, but are easy to build. For many scenarios, the best choice between Gatsby vs Next.js comes down to the question of scalability. 

Illustration: A man in gatsby colors rapidly building small websites and another man in next.js colors building a large website with a bunch of different features.

In contrast, Next.js can require a broader set of technical skills that can slow down development. However, it is still easier than developing your entire React website without some framework. This makes Next.js great for larger-scale projects. 

Learn how your marketing team can update your app content with our Gatsby.js CMS.

Examples of sites using Gatsby and Next.js

There are plenty of examples of websites that use Gatsby or Next. As you look through these examples you'll probably notice how the sites using Gatsby are, on the front-end side, lightweight and mostly static. The sites built with Next.js however require a little more scale and are definitely more interactive. 

Sites using Gatsby.js

CodeSandBox.io

CodeSandBox.io is a lightweight platform that empowers development teams to create, share and collaborate for rapid web development. Developers can quickly code prototypes, test ideas, and iterate to create better products.

Clubhouse.io

Clubhouse.io is a project management suite built specifically for software teams. With Clubhouse.io, teams can create tasks as stories, track epics and milestones and maintain greater visibility into their projects.

Impossiblefoods.com

Impossiblefoods.com is a site that features product descriptions and recipes for plant-based meat products. 

Sites using Next.js

Angel.co

Angel.co is a site featuring what is known as “the world’s largest startup community.” The site showcases job opportunities at tech and startup companies. The site is also a place for investors to locate up-and-coming tech companies that may be a good investment. 

Coinmarketcap.com

Coinmarketcap.com is a website to track cryptocurrency prices by market cap. Investors can create a watchlist and signup to receive automated updates on their chosen cryptocurrencies.

Fantasy.espn.com

Fantasy Football fans will recognize Fantasy.espn.com as the ultimate hub for all things fantasy sports. The site features team news and scores for all fantasy sports leagues.

What about SEO?

The ease and convenience of JavaScript frameworks in building websites can’t be understated. However, this convenience comes at the cost of sacrificing Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It is important to know the difference between Gatsby vs Next in terms of how each handles SEO.

SEO overview

To determine a website's rank, search engines use bots known as web crawlers to collect and analyze information about each website. These web crawlers search each page and gather information such as:

  • Website freshness
  • Content uniqueness
  • Number of backlinks

The bot then downloads all HTML and CSS files and sends that information to the search engine’s servers for indexing. 

Why is this a problem?

Websites built using JavaScript render the page on the client-side. This means the page initially loads as an empty object. This is bad news for JavaScript sites because this means the site won’t be indexed.

Illustration: Two people holding a sign that reads SEO.  

How Next.js solves the SEO problem

With Next.js, HTML is generated on the server. The server then provides those pages to the browser. As a result, the page has all content when the page loads in the browser.

How Gatsby.js solves the SEO problem

Gatsby generates static HTML pages. However, they are only built during the development or build phase. With this approach, the data is only fetched during the build phase and any new content won’t show up until you run another build.

Gatsby vs Next.js - Which should you pick?

In the end, keeping up with all of these new JavaScript frameworks and libraries can be more than overwhelming. However, these tools can help simplify much of your development process. Frameworks like Next and Gatsby help developers make their web applications faster and more effective. But which one is the best option for your project?

As Jason Lengstorf from Netifly once said, “In general, the question I encourage teams to ask isn’t “which tool is best?”, but rather, “which tool will make this team the most effective?”

Overall, both Gatsby and Next.js have their place and the best option for you really comes down to app size and scalability. So, if possible, take them both for a spin and see if either end up being useful in your next React.js project. Let me know which of these two frameworks you prefer and why in the comments below. 

Make sure you receive the freshest Butter, Gatsby.js and Next.js tutorials.
    
Ben Rogojan

Ben works as a data scientist and technology consultant helping companies design, develop custom software as well as make good decisions on their future tech strategies. He enjoys writing and teaching others about all forms of technology wether it be about automation and machine learning models or CMSs.

ButterCMS is the #1 rated Headless CMS

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