In the ever-changing landscape of web development, the appropriate framework or library choice can really prove to be a milestone event in any project. Next.js and React.js have been identified as the two most popular and influential among the varied options variables lately. While they are intrinsically linked, React is the backbone over which Next.js is built – a parallel catered for different sides of web development.

This is a complete, detailed comparison: Next.js vs React. We will dig deep into the strengths and weaknesses of these technologies, bringing out the scenarios in which each technology glows best. This is if you are a seasoned developer or a mere beginner on the block, making this to help you make informed decisions about the way forward for your web project. We will detail each, compare the pros and cons, understand when one should be used over the other, and see how sometimes both can be used simultaneously to give more efficient and robust web applications.

Key terms in web development explained

Before we start, I defined some standard abbreviations that will often appear in the article to understand further concepts of both tools better.

  • SPA [Single Page Application] – React is an application that interacts with the user by dynamically rewriting the current page rather than loading entire new pages from the server. This approach results in a smoother user experience and faster page transitions;
    • To explain further, in a typical React app, there is an index.html file that contains a placeholder element, such as <div id=”root” />. This element serves as the mounting point for the React application. React dynamically updates this root element by rendering components based on user interactions without page reloading. This process is what characterizes the SPA approach, where the majority of the user experience occurs within a single web page;
  • SSR (Server Side Rendering) – This technique in web development involves generating a web page on the server before sending it to the client’s browser, ensuring the page is fully rendered when it arrives;
  • CSR (Client Side Rendering) – Contrary to SSR, the client’s browser generates web pages in CSR. It uses JavaScript to render content dynamically within the browser;
  • RSC (React Server Component) – an experimental feature in React 18.2 that allows components to be rendered on the server side, reducing the client-side JavaScript load and enabling direct access to server-side resources. RSC can be integrated with client-side components seamlessly;
  • RCC (React Client Component) – regular components that run in the browser. They are similar to traditional React components and can use browser-specific APIs like the DOM. Client components handle tasks like user interactions, animations, and state management that are specific to the client side;
  • SSG (Static Side Generation) – a feature where data is fetched, and HTML, JavaScript, and CSS are built only once during the build process, unlike in traditional server-side rendering where this happens on every request;
  • ISR (Incremental Static Regeneration) – a feature that allows updating static content after the site has been built. It enables developers to specify an interval at which pages are re-rendered in the background, thus updating the static content. This approach combines the benefits of static site generation (fast loading times, reliability);
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – a digital marketing strategy that improves a website’s visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs). The main goal of SEO is to increase the quantity and quality of traffic to a website through organic search engine results;
  • DOM (Document Object Model) – is a concept used in web development that represents a webpage in a structured, hierarchical way, enabling developers to access and manipulate a website’s content, structure, and style.
A group of professionals engaged in a discussion at a tech meeting with laptops and notepads on a conference table, symbolizing collaboration in web development.

Introduction to React and Next.js: The foundations of modern web applications

What is React? ⭐ 217k stars

React is a popular open-source JavaScript library created by Facebook for building user interfaces, particularly for SPA-based on-reuse components. The library allows developers to create large web applications that can change data without reloading the page (Hot Module Replacement). This process allows a faster development experience by allowing developers to see changes immediately in the browser as they modify the code.

What distinguishes React is that it uses a virtual DOM to update only the changed components, and then changed elements that were updated in the virtual DOM are put on the actual DOM. This selective rendering makes the update process much more efficient, leading to better performance, especially in complex React apps.

What is Next.js? ⭐ 116k stars

Next.js was created by Vercel in 2016. It is a popular open-source web development framework built on top of React. Actually, it includes the latest React features like Server Components or Actions and adds some extra backend stuff like SSR, SSG, ISR, middleware support, or create own API endpoints.

That means Next.js, as opposed to React, also has capabilities to the backend. Next, JS provides an out-of-the-box solution and very friendly customization to start coding new projects without wasting unnecessary time on configuration.

React vs. Next.js: Features comparison

Let’s now see a table with features of React and Next.js to help better understand their main differences.

Core conceptJavaScript library for building user interfacesFramework for building server-side rendered and static web applications
Building structureReuse components with syntax extension JSX | TSXReuse components with syntax extension JSX | TSX
RenderingPrimarily CSRSupports SSR, SSG, CSR, and ISR
RoutingRequires third-party libraries like React RouterFile-system based routing
Data FetchingManages data fetching through lifecycle methods or hooksUsing Pages Router – built-in methods like getStaticProps, and getServerSideProps for data fetching at build time or request timeUsing App Router – we use a built-in fetch method in SSR with async/await syntax
SEOLess SEO-friendly by default due to reliance on CSRBetter out-of-the-box SEO due to SSR and SSG capabilities
Ease of SetupRequires manual setup for advanced features like routing, SSRComes with pre-configured settings for development and production
FlexibilityMore flexible, allows for a variety of architectures and configurationsOpinionated framework with specific ways to structure your React app
Community & SupportLarge community, extensive ecosystemGrowing community, backed by Vercel
Learning CurveLower for primary use but can increase with advanced patterns and integrationsHigher, due to more built-in features and conventions

React vs. Next.js: Advantages and challenges for developers

Now, let’s delve into the distinct advantages and challenges each option presents, aiming to inform your decision in shaping the user experience and the future trajectory of your project.

Pros of ReactCons of React
– Offering great flexibility in the structure of the project based on component architecture for easier management of state and data flow.
– A large community offering support and a wide range of libraries and tools.
– Virtual DOM for improving the fastest reload changes in components without refreshing the page.
– JSX syntax extension allows HTML to be written within Javascript. This leads to code that is easier to read and write, blending the UI structure directly with UI logic.
– Tools like React Developer Tools for debugging and hot reloading features enhance the development experience, making it more efficient and developer-friendly.
– As the library needs to integrate other libraries like routing or state management, the CSR concept means that HTML and JavaScript are generated and loaded on the client side; that’s how it can work slowly.
– CSR content is dynamically loaded using JavaScript, which means the initial HTML file is often minimal and doesn’t contain the actual content. This can make it more complicated for SEO to crawl and index the content accurately.
– The rapid pace of development in the React ecosystem can lead to issues requiring developers to stay up-to-date.
Pros of NextCons of Next
– Default use of SSR for faster initial page load time, improved SEO, and better user experience.
– Supported features like SSG and ISR are making pre-render HTML pages during build time; as a result, it is better suitable for static content like blogs.
– SSR, SSG, and ISR share a common concept known as ‘hydration,’ where the ‘alive’ server sends pages to the client. This means that initially, the user views the markup HTML on the page. Subsequently, as JavaScript loads, it begins to add functionality.
– Includes a file system router built on the concept of pages, less setup, ideal for projects that want to get up and running quickly.
– Image and Links built-in optimization, automatically splitting code for large third-party libraries into smaller chunks for better performance and the fastest loading content.
– In Next.js 13+, built-in some methods, better known as file conventions in the route structure app, like loading, not-found, error, middleware, or layout for an easy way to trigger it in particular components, control how you want cache-fetched data.
– Can be used in the JAMSTACK structure.
– Has specific ways of doing things (like file-based routing), which can be limiting if you need a highly customized setup (it’s the better way to learn new programming without experience).
– Lacks built-in state manager, low on plug-ins in comparison to Gatsby.
– SSR is a great option but can impact performance, particularly if not properly optimized. SSR can cause additional server load, especially with high traffic.

When should you use React vs. Next.js in real-world projects?

The choice between React and Next.js hinges on your web project’s specific needs and goals. Here’s a closer look at when each technology excels and how they can be leveraged in real-world scenarios.

When to use React framework:

  • For building dynamic admin dashboards: React’s component-based architecture shines in creating interactive admin panels or back-office applications. Its efficient update mechanism is ideal for interfaces that require frequent data updates and user interactions, such as dashboards displaying real-time analytics or managing user data.
  • Developing interactive educational web applications: React enables developing engaging educational platforms where interactivity is vital. Features like state management and the virtual DOM ensure smooth user experiences even in complex applications with quizzes, interactive lessons, and real-time feedback.
  • Projects where SEO isn’t a priority: Applications that are not publicly indexed, such as internal tools or platforms requiring user authentication, benefit from React’s CSR capabilities. This approach speeds up development and deployment without the need for SEO optimization.
  • Applications requiring custom solutions: When your project demands a unique approach to routing, data fetching, or any other aspect of web development, React’s flexibility allows you to implement bespoke solutions without being constrained by the opinions of a framework.

When to use Next.js framework:

  • For e-commerce platforms and content-heavy sites: Next.js is exceptionally well-suited for projects where SEO is critical, such as e-commerce sites and blogs. Its SSR and SSG capabilities ensure that pages are pre-rendered and loaded quickly, improving visibility on search engines and enhancing user experience.
  • Optimizing images on the fly: With its built-in image optimization features, Next.js automatically adjusts image sizes for different devices, significantly boosting page load times. This is particularly advantageous for sites heavily relying on visual content, where performance and speed are paramount.
  • Structured sites with numerous pages: Next.js offers an intuitive file-system-based routing system, making it easier to organize and manage sites with complex structures, such as those with multiple product categories or content sections. This built-in functionality accelerates development by eliminating the need for external routing libraries.
  • Leveraging static generation for performance: When your site consists of content that doesn’t change frequently, such as blog articles or product listings, Next.js’ SSG feature allows for pages to be generated at build time. This results in lightning-fast load times and a more responsive user experience while still enabling dynamic functionalities where needed.


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Making a choice between Next.js and React in Your Next Project

Therefore, the choice between Next.js and React.js comes down to project specifications and scale at the end of the day.

React is a highly flexible, dynamic library for building user interfaces. It makes for a natural start for those novices entering the web development field, and eventually, coupled with other libraries and frameworks, will convert into a powerhouse in its ability to form applications on a grand scale.

On the contrary, Next.js is built on top of React and provides a more organized structure and a comprehensive solution to full-stack development. This includes supporting the easy development of server-rendered applications and static websites, which are equally important for SEO and improvement in performance. Moreover, Next.js has built-in support for API routes, making it very simple to create API endpoints within the same project. This comes in handy in full-stack applications as it paves the way for easier development, seeing that both front-end and back-end developments can be tackled under one roof within an integrated framework.

In the case of some very basic client-side projects, React.js could be a better choice. Meanwhile, when it comes to running a big-scale application with optimized performance and SEO-friendly features, Next.js might prove to be a better choice. In other words, in combination, the two technologies would result in building web applications that are robust, scalable, and efficient in that manner.