In recent years, Next.js and Gatsby are the most widely used React frameworks; both are included with enough functionality which allows React developers to easily create versatile and powerful React websites & apps with minimal upfront configuration and more features that React doesn’t natively support.
Previously Next.js & Gatsby had some differences that allowed developers to choose one over the other based on the use case,
like how Next.js was well known for its Server-Side Rendering-SSR feature while Gatsby is historically known as a static site generator-SSG.
But, with recent updates, such as Gatsby v4 (2021) introducing Server-Side Rendering among other features, and Next.js v3 (2017) introducing Static Site Generation and Next.js v9.3 (2020) introducing Next-gen Static Site Generation, the two frameworks became more similar.
Despite this similarity. still, there are some main differences between both frameworks to be noticed.
So, let's dive in and see what, why and when to choose one of these frameworks and discover their strength & weakness.
Let's have an overview of these nice frameworks.
What is Next.js?
Next.js is an open-source web development framework built on top of Node.js, that enables React-based functionalities to build hybrid applications that contain both server-side rendered and statically generated pages.
When traditional React apps can only render their content in the client-side browser, Next.js extends this functionality to include applications rendered on the server-side and directly generating HTML on the server whenever any new request is received, which makes it best for developing dynamic websites, and large-scale applications with speed and performance.
What is Gatsby?
Gatsby is an open-source framework based on React with a combination of GraphQL and Webpack that helps developers build blazing fast & flexible websites and apps.
Gatsby uses powerful pre-configurations and works with any CMS, API, or database.
At build time it pulls the data from these sources and creates static files that are optimized by all out-of-the-box Gatsby performance.
That makes Gatsby far more like a modern front-end framework than a static site generator, that provides impressive features like quick page loads, service workers, code splitting, server-side rendering, intelligent image loading, asset optimization, and data prefetching.
Why? Let's explore why you should pick one framework over another by covering some important aspects to guide you to find out the differences, strengths and weaknesses of each framework.
If you're new to both or any of these frameworks don't worry, both of them have comprehensive documentation covering every piece of information you need to get started and set up your project.
Also, both frameworks have an interactive learning course and how-to guide, so you don't have to search out any other resources to start learning.
Both frameworks have very vibrant communities that contribute to each framework advancement.
Next.js provides regular updates and high-quality content for the community by its ambassadors spread over many platforms like blogs, Twitter, Discord community and YouTube channels.
Gatsby as well doing a very good job providing the same support to its community with many resources, additionally if you need help reach out to @AskGatsbyJS and get rapid and trusted solutions.
- Themes, Plugins, Tools and Libraries
Both these React-based frameworks easily integrate with other tools and libraries to extend the capabilities of your app.
Next.js has various sets of functionalities that come by default with it, such as page routing, code splitting and image optimization. Also, Next.js works well with other tools and libraries we regularly use for styling, hosting and building.
Next.js provides a selection of examples to learn from and incorporate these tools and libraries into your project.
However, Next.js doesn't have plugins community or provide starters and themes libraries, so the developers have to spend more time setting up and doing all the work themselves.
On the other hand, Gatsby provides an adequate collection of starters. These starters are pre-made Gatsby templates, shipped with the main Gatsby configuration files, tools and plugins you might need to get up and kick start your project development quickly.
Gatsby also has a vast ecosystem of plugins that enable developers to add any desired functionality to their projects, sourcing data, integrations, responsive images, dropping in analytics libraries, performance enhancements, style enhancement and more.
These plugins are maintained officially or by the community, making the developing experience with Gatsby very smooth and saving a lot of time coding.
Next.js is agnostic about the data sourcing and handling, meaning it leaves the decision entirely up to you, which will require spending some time thinking about the overall data fetching architecture, scalability and how to manage data, define your method, implement it and consume it.
Gatsby's core feature is its ability to load data from anywhere, using its numerous source plugins for pulling in data from other APIs, CMSs, Markdown, databases or even spreadsheets and loading it in the GraphQL data layer.
While Gatsby supports sourcing data with or without using its GraphQL data layer, Gatsby recommends using their GraphQL data layer due to its many benefits.
Using GraphQL simplifies the process of creating pages.
By allowing you to load data in the components where it’s used, making it much easier to see where data comes from and how to change it.
And automatically optimize images for faster loading and a better user experience.
Using Next.js, data will be present on the server. Though using CMSs and APIs will have its private & security features there are chances for attacks and exploitation.
While Gatsby compiles your site to flat files, rather than having running app servers and databases so that it is quite secure and reduces the attack surface of the site.
Gatsby adds a layer of indirection which obscures your CMS - so even if your CMS is vulnerable, outsiders have no idea where to find it.
Rendering Options: define the stage at when HTML pages of your app are generated.
Moreover, both frameworks support deferred static rendering with differences in how they implement it. specifically, how they handle the hybrid rendering of pages on a server.
Next.js offers Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR), while Gatsby offers Deferred Static Generation (DSG).
So, let’s take a more in-depth look and find out what is the difference.
- Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR)
Incremental Static Regeneration is a method of rendering on Next.js applications that allow you to create or update static pages after you've built and deployed your next.js site.
Using ISR, enables you to use static generation on a page-by-page basis without needing to rebuild and redeploy the entire website each time. You can generate static pages on-demand, as the user requests them, instead of all pages at build time.
For Example, if you have a large blog with thousands of posts, you may not want to statically build each one of them at once due to the increased building time it would take.
Using ISR, you can choose to statically render the most recent posts and then have the remaining old posts render when they are requested by the user.
Also using ISR gives you the flexibility to increase the number of pre-generated static posts, or if you wanted to cut build time down further, you could reduce the number of pre-generated static posts.
- Deferred Static Generation (DSG)
Gatsby offers an out-of-the-box DSG method and does a great job comparing it to Next.js ISR.
Deferred Static Generation introduced in Gatsby 4 is a rendering method that seeks to defer the building of certain pages until run-time. These deferred pages are marked during build-time and then actually built during run-time.
Each of the deferred pages is only built a single time once deployed: only when that first user makes the request. When the request is made, the page is built on the fly, and content is rendered to the users. But after that first build, the page behaves exactly like any other static page.
Also, the out-of-the-box solution here is that Gatsby DSG uses the previous full build to supply the data for the deferred builds that happen with user requests. then when data updates, you can utilize a webhook to invalidate the cache of build-time data and ensure that pages are rebuilt and deployed with up-to-date content.
- Difference between ISR and DSG
With Next.js if any third-party APIs go offline as ISR tries to render a page, the build fails and you’re stuck with the previous successful build with out-of-date content.
Because the ISR pages are taking the latest available data from an API, the defer pages could show updated content when the static pages show outdated content, this inconsistency is because the static pages will be using data from the static build, which could be days outdated compared to the latest data consumed by the pages that are generated later.
Next.js recently announced a new feature, on-demand ISR, which is currently in beta. With this feature, you’re able to tell Next.js which pages on your site to rebuild based on where updated content appears, essentially solving that challenge.
Gatsby uses the data from the last full build, it is a more robust offering because the dependency on any third-party APIs is removed.
Using Gatsby DSG method, the pages would never be out of sync because DSG uses the same data for dynamic pages and static pages.
Next.JS is primarily known for building server-side rendered websites which generate the HTML dynamically through a server during every instance of receiving a new request.
Also, it supports static page generation and other benefits of static page generation.
But Next.JS is considered the ideal tool for setting up dynamic websites by many developers, due to its ability to give you complete control of the code that sources and manipulates your data.
While Gatsby is primarily well known for its high performance building static websites, recently it offers improved dynamic generation methods like SSR and DSG, so depending on your use case you have the option either to choose SSG method for moderate websites and Apps or dynamic generation methods like SSR and DSG for large-scale ones.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As I mentioned before that Next.js is primarily Using server-side rendering method to build a website, so under this framework websites take a long way sourcing the data from a server which affects the page loading speed and results in slower performance and slower exposure to search engines.
On the other hand, websites built using Gatsby static site generator method are at least 2–3 times faster than other similar kinds of sites, which increase your exposure to search engines.
Gatsby websites are search engine optimized due to their incredible performance and the way they are optimized to help robots scan their content.
Building a static site generated website, you can host static files on a CDN anywhere, you can use Netlify, GitHub pages, or AWS Amplify.
But using a server-side rendering method needs a proper server to host it.
Server-side rendering sites are supported by various hosting platforms such as Heroku, AWS, MS Azure, or Firebase.
So, while Next.js requires a server for its functioning (in the case of enabling SSR features), with Gatsby primarily using SSG method you can run even in the absence of a server avoiding the probable cost of hosting.
When to use Next.js?
If you want complete control over your code.
If you are not comfortable using plugins system when some issues may occur which aren’t in your control and needs to be fixed then Next.js may be your better choice for its flexibility.
Next.js leaves the decision entirely up to you when it comes to data sourcing and handling.
working on a project that requires scalability features and handles multi-user, lots of content and content also growing massively then Next.js will be the best choice.
When to use Gatsby?
If you want to template a website quickly, Gatsby is a great choice since it’s centered around easily adjustable plugins and offers an extensive library of themes and starters.
If you prefer using Gatsby’s data layer combining data from multiple sources into your app and you are familiar with GraphQL or want a great opportunity to learn it, then go for Gatsby.
If you prefer having the latest data in your application with stability and consistency then go for Gatsby DSG method.
Gatsby static site generator is blazing fast, more secure and has better SEO ranking than dynamic websites.
What to choose in 2022?
In this article we discussed both frameworks, their similarities and differences in detail, both these frameworks have their own set of unique features applicable to different application types, project needs and use cases.
They look a lot more similar than they used to be in the past, but it all comes down to your preference, business requirements and your project needs.
Next.js is widely known and preferred for client-side rendered applications like big eCommerce, finance, multi-user, SaaS and B2B websites.
Gatsby is widely known and preferred for static site generated applications like personal blogs, portfolio websites, progressive web apps, and highly secure and SEO-friendly websites.
Both Next.js Gatsby have been around for quite some time, they offer a great experience for all types of users, and always get updated with the latest tech and features.
Give both a try if you haven't done yet and discover which one you prefer for your next project.
Thanks for reading!