Next.js vs. React: The Difference & Best Frontend Framework

With new JavaScript frameworks and libraries coming out every year, it gets hard to keep up with the pace of the changing JS ecosystem.

But even in the sea of JavaScript frameworks and libraries, React and Next.js stand out against the crowd. React is the most popular JavaScript library for frontend developers. Next.js, while smaller than React has been growing steadily over the years and it’s poised to become the most used JavaScript framework.

React’s UI library is staggeringly robust, but with great power comes great responsibility, and you have to configure Babel, Webpack, ESLint, and a server –and that at the very least. Such extensive tooling is daunting to everyone, especially beginners and developers who want a more straightforward approach.

Next.js, a frontend JavaSript framework that builds upon React’s UI library, aims to reduce JavaScript fatigue by enabling developers to build web applications in a zero-config environment that provides all the tools they need out-of-the-box.

The difference between a framework and a library is that a framework has more features and focuses on more than one aspect of development while also giving you rules and guidelines on writing your code and structuring your files.

For React users already familiar with Create React App, React’s framework, switching to another one is enough to give them PTSD, but with Next.js, the payoff will probably be worth the initial hassle.

In this article, we’ll look at both tools, see how they compare, and discuss when it’s appropriate to use each one.

Want to learn which one is right for you?

What is React?

Created by Facebook in 2011 and then open-sourced in 2013, React is a declarative, efficient, and flexible JavaScript library for building interactive user interfaces that are influenced by XHP, an HTML component library for PHP.

React is commonly used to develop web apps that require constant data changes on their UIs. Think of Facebook and Instagram, where you scroll to see new posts and content while most page sections remain the same.

A traditional approach would require the entire website (or app) to reload every time you click on something, which is time-consuming and frustrating for visitors.

React avoids reprocessing every line of code by using pieces of UI called components.

A typical React component for a shopping list looks like this:

class ShoppingList extends React.Component {
  render() {
    return (
      <div className="shopping-list">
        <h1>Shopping List for {}</h1>

So, when building applications with React, independent isolated and reusable components are created and then composed to build complex user interfaces.

To understand how components interact, let’s look at the diagram below. The image shows a Twitter-like application.

As you can see, each part of the app represents a component that can be developed separately and then put together to form an application.

Components tell React what to show on the screen. When that data changes, the library

updates and generates a new image or text in a process called rendering.

Now that we know what React.js, the library, is, let’s talk about Create React App (CRA), the framework.

What is create react app?

The easiest way to integrate React.js into a website is with Create React App. It sets up a development environment where you can leverage React’s UI components library and build a JavaScript-based web app out of the box.

If you want to run, Create React App and try it yourself. Just open Node.js and type the code below.

npx create-react-app my-app
cd my-app
npm start

React’s opinionated approach might simply be too much to handle for some devs, and they prefer less opinionated, straightforward frameworks like Next.js to get things done.

What is Next.js?

Next.js is a lightweight framework for React applications. In web development, it’s used to build fast web apps thanks to its static site and server-side rendering.

Next allows you to build a React app that uses server-side rendering to store the content in advance on the server. That way, visitors and search bots interact with the fully pre-rendered HTML page and a fully interactive website or app.

This approach ensures that visitors can see an interactive site in less than three seconds.

Next.js’s built-in configurations and styling solutions simplify development and provide you with templates and website starters to kickstart your web application.

But if you’re feeling adventurous, Next.js gives you the freedom to get under the hood and tweak the configuration to get the most performance out of your app. However, you might not even need to because what you get out of the box is already pretty good.

Here’s a diagram that shows how Nex.js works with React and other tools to render a fully functional web app in seconds.

If you’ve never used Next.js and you want to try it for yourself, you can run this website starter at your terminal and play around.

npx create-next-app nextjs-blog --use-npm --example ""

Is Next.js better than React.js?

Honestly, it’s hard to say that one is better than the other because it feels like comparing apples to oranges.

Remember, React.js is a JS library –a set of tools you can use to build UIs– and Next.js is a framework –the blueprints and rules you need to build an entire app– based on React so it’s not a pick this one instead of the other situation.

Just like you wouldn’t bring a banana to a gunfight, sometimes it makes more sense to use React than Next.js and vice versa.

Use React if…

  • You need highly dynamic routing

  • You’re already familiar with JSX

  • You need offline support

Use Next.js if…

  • You need an all-inclusive framework

  • You require backend API endpoints

  • You need server-side rendering

Next.js vs. React Comparison

Now that you know when to use each framework, let’s do a side-by-side comparison of React and Next.js.

  React Next.js
Server-side rendering Doesn't support SSR out-of-the-box. Supports different types of SSR and incremental static regeneration.
Configurability Not very configurable. You can configure almost everything.
Maintenance Requires you to stay updated on new React releases. Easier to maintain.
Learning curve Steeper learning curve. Easier to learn if you know React.
Performance Slower to load than Next.js. Faster than React and CRA.
Community Large community of users Smaller but very dedicated community
Documentation Solid documentation and developer community. Smaller community but spotless documentation.

Pros and cons to React and Next.js

Pros and Cons

We’ve seen Next.js and React compared side by side, and you probably have some ideas in mind of which one to choose. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s dive deeper and see the pros and cons of each framework.

Advantages of React

  • Easier to learn than Next.js: It’s based on JavaScript and has extensive documentation to get you started quickly. With Next.js, you need to learn React and then Next.js.

  • Allows you to reuse components: Every React app is made of reusable components you can mix and match to build web applications.

  • Comes with pre-packaged scripts: Using tools like Create React App, React.js allows you to kick off projects quickly with minimum configuration.

  • Strong user community: React has 182k stars on Github and a community of thousands of users creating content to help others build projects using the library.

Disadvantages of React

  • Less SEO-friendly than Next.js: Single-page applications created with React are not good for SEO because it usually takes them longer to load, whereas Next.js was built with SEO in mind.

  • JSX can be off-putting: While JSX extends React’s capabilities, it can be daunting for newer developers who might not be familiar with it.

  • Lower performance compared to Next.js: React applications usually take longer to become interactive than similar web applications built using Next.js.

Advantages of Next.js

  • Out-of-the-box SSR: You don’t need extra configuration to create a server-side rendered app as you would with React and CRA.

  • Requires less fiddling with build tools: In Next.js you don’t need to worry about extra tools and bundlers as everything is included within its initial configuration.

  • Better for SEO than React: SSR makes web applications built on Next faster to crawl and to visit, resulting in better search engine rankings.

  • Image optimization: Next.js comes with an API to optimize images. This tool takes each image you use on your web app and optimizes its size to serves them to the clients

  • Support for third-party APIs: Next.js supports API Routes that can be used to handle user authentication, form submission, database queries, and even custom Slack commands.

Disadvantages of Next.js

  • Needs Node.js for dynamic routing: Unlike React, Next.js doesn’t readily support dynamic routing and it can be complicated to set it up.

  • Long build times for large sites: Developers complain that Next.js takes its sweet time to build sites, and while there are some workarounds to it, it can deter some users.

  • Potential framework lock-in: If you go straight to Next.js without learning your fundamentals, you can get locked into it and be unable to change to a new framework when necessary.

By now, you probably already know which framework you’re going to use, but don’t make any rash decisions just yet and check these use cases so you can finally make up your mind.

Best Use Cases for React

While Facebook created React for its platform, social media platforms aren’t React’s only use case. You can use it for various projects; let’s take a look at some of them:

Data visualization

Airframe is a free, open-source dashboard based on React. Airframe gives developers the tools to build powerful dashboards with beautiful, clean UIs.

The tool has been designed for large projects. Its vast components library can be used to create a wide variety of custom web apps like CRMs, CMSs, dashboards, and analytics platforms.

Cross-platform apps

React users can also leverage React Native to build mobile applications for both Android and iOS, saving themselves the time and effort it would take to build two separate applications. It follows the philosophy of “learn once, write everywhere” and enables developers to build mobile apps without the need for Java, C, or Swift.

Uber, for example, uses React Native as a core framework in its tech stack to ensure that the app could be accessed on iOS and Android platforms.

Single-page applications (SPA)

An app like Trello is an excellent example of a SPA built on React. Trello uses Kanban boards to create workflows that break tasks down into manageable blocks.

When visitors navigate the SPA, they keep interacting with the same page rather than loading a new one with each click. React enables routing and offers the React-router library to make this possible.

Best Use Cases for Next.js

Next.js is a great candidate for website projects where SEO and speed are necessary. It can be used for various types of websites such as:

eCommerce stores

AT&T, the telecommunications giant, uses Next.js to power its online stores across America. Next.js’ architecture enables them to integrate its online stores with other third-party systems such as CMS, PIM, and ERP.

Customer Portals

Portals can also benefit from Next’s blazing-fast speed. For instance, the PlayStation Competition Center hosts user-generated content that visitors can interact with in real-time. Next.js also enables Sony’s developers to integrate personalization capabilities and data security features into the platform.

Marketing websites

Companies require fast websites if they want to convert visitors into customers. Next.js powers sites like InVision, giving them the features and performance benefits to attract and convert new visitors.


I believe that React and Next.js are fantastic, powerful tools that will help you build beautiful, snappy web apps, and there’s no winner in my heart. They serve different tasks.

For example, you can use Next.js if you’re building an SEO-driven marketing website that needs image optimization and deploys with zero configuration.

On the other hand, React will give you better results for sites that require powerful UIs and cross-platform app support. Also, if you’re a beginner, it makes more sense to start with React.

Before I finish, let’s rewind.

  • React gives you a set of tools to build UIs based on JavaScript. Also, with tools like CRA and React Native, you create single page and cross-platform applications out-of-the-box, but you would have to deal with Babel, ESlint, and webpack.

  • Next.js, while still based on React, improves upon it and enables you to build blazing-fast web apps and SPAs. Next’s SSR capabilities reduce the load time, providing solid performance and SEO gains. But keep in mind that if you choose Next.js, you will have to host your app on a server, increasing the size and complexity of your infrastructure.

However, it’s all going to be React coding in the end. If you pick Next.js, you will still need to learn React first because it builds on React’s UI libraries and core aspects of React, so you will need React no matter which way you go.

From my point of view, if you’re a beginner, it could be a good idea to start by learning the basics of React and move toward CRA to learn the fundamentals.

I would then progress toward Next.js if you really need it. It is way too easy just to fall prey to the framework craze. In the end, what matters is to use tools when it makes sense to you.

That being said, the choice is yours and will depend on your goals and the project you’re building.

What about you? Have you used React and Next.js? Let us know what you think of them in the comments.

About the author

Diego Salinas Gardón
Content Strategist and Jamstack Community Creator

Diego is a content strategist and Jamstack Community Creator. He is interested in Futures Thinking, low-code development, and the democratization of technology for non-English speakers. He spends his free time writing non-fiction and poetry.
Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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