Gatsby vs Next.js: Picking the Best React UI Framework

Posted by Ben Rogojan on March 31, 2020


As web development advances, the way we assemble websites and front-ends is 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 those include concepts like headless content management systems like 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.js and Gatsby.js

Both of these frameworks were developed to help ease the connection between the back and front-end. 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 React UI 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 also improves SEO. 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 backend functionality is a key factor in determining which is the best React UI 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 web pages and server-rendered web pages.

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

What is Gatsby.js

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

They help take care of the 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 is 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 brings 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 the best React UI framework. 

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.JS 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 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.

Great Places To Use These Different Frameworks

In the context of data handling, Gatsby helps us by handling the data in the application where Next leaves this decision to us. This is because of GraphQL, which Gatsby uses to fetch the data and to check the data from anywhere, making the data available on the browser when needed. For example, Gatsby can pull from data sources plugins like MongoDB, ButterCMS, and Forestry. This provides your developers the ability to hook your site up to a headless CMS or data storage system.

This makes Gatsby great when developing small scale websites and blogs where you need to pull data quickly and easily.

On the other hand, Next.js acts a little more than just a liaison between an API or Next.js compatible headless CMS and the front-end. Next’s ability to render pages on the server side allows for larger scaling as you develop and add more components to your app.

It Comes Down To Scale

At first glance, these two frameworks seem very similar. But, when you dig a bit deeper, they really 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. 

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

By 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 great for larger scale projects. 

Examples Of Sites Using Gatsby and Next.js

There are plenty of examples of websites that use Gatsby or Next. Looking out at the landscape of those various websites, Gatsby is used by, and These sites on the front-end site are light-weight and mostly static. 

Some sites that use Next.js are, and These sites require a little more scale and are definitely more interactive. 

Gatsby vs Next.js - Which is the Best React UI Framework for You?

In the end, keeping up with all of these new Javascript frameworks and libraries can be more than overwhelming. However, these tools can help ease 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 React UI framework for your project?

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

On the other hand, Gatsby is great if you are just developing a smaller application or one that will be pulling directly from a Gatsby.js compatible CMS. Gatsby is easier to set up, which is a great fit if the project is on the smaller side.

Overall, both frameworks have their place and it really comes down to app size and scalability. So take these for a spin and see if either end up being useful in your next React.js project. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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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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