Comparing Gatsby and Next.js

Outliant Editoral Team
October 12, 2022
min read

Lately, Gatsby and Next.js have been dominating the React user base. While they are both React-based front-end frameworks, Gatsby and Next.js have distinct differences that define them individually. The similarities can sometimes make it difficult to choose between them for building applications, so developers analyze their unique features to help them select which applies best to each use case. 

Read on to understand the fundamentals of Gatsby and Next.js as we highlight the differences between the two frameworks and what you need to know about choosing the right one.

  • Gatsby vs. Next.js: What to know
  • What are the differences between Gatsby and Next.js?
  • Choosing the right framework

Gatsby vs. Next.js: What to know

At a basic level, Gatsby and Next.js provide similar React front-end enhancements that improve both the developer and user experiences. Both frameworks allow you to create versatile React web applications using features like Server-Side Rendering, Static Site Generation, and other external elements that may not be supported on React. 

What is Gatsby?

Gatsby is a front-end tool typically used with an external data source, such as an API or a database. This framework is one of the easiest to integrate with your existing tech stack. Gatsby sites can be hosted anywhere and are flexible for each use case. 

Gatsby uses page pre-rendering by default, the Static Site Generation (SSG) method in particular, to enhance SEO performance. In simple terms, this is when the pages of a site built with the Gatsby SSG are cached and pre-rendered to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript during development. For instance, when a user opens your site in their browser, Gatsby locates and hydrates the necessary build files that match the request's path. Because these pages are connected, it duplicates the build files on every request, improving the user experience. 

By design, Gatsby's features do not come immediately included - meaning connecting with other tools and libraries is done through plugins. This makes Gatsby the most extensive partner ecosystem, through its immense plugin library that provides developers with starters, templates, and the ability to easily extend the capabilities of their application. 

While Gatsby offers faster enhancements, its usage has certain limitations. For instance, data fetching can only be done using GraphQL, a data query language for APIs that provides a comprehensive description of the data in your API. Because these updates and changes require a rebuild that may only be done using GraphQL, it makes it difficult and less accessible for developers who are unfamiliar with GraphQL. 

What is Next.js? 

Next.js is a React framework designed to help developers create fast web applications. It provides additional structure, features, and optimizations for your web application, by managing the tools and configuration needed for React production. 

Next.js is built on an extensive system known as Vercel, which works to ensure easy integration of the Next.js app with other popular languages, tools, and libraries. This system enhances developer experience through production-level features like code-splitting, bundling, routing, image optimization, and internationalization that don’t require intensive configuration.

What are the differences between Gatsby and Next.js?

When categorizing the differences between Gatsby and Next.js, there are three primary distinctions: the process and management of data fetching, server usage, and the fundamental structure of each framework's ecosystem. 

  • Data Fetching - Data fetching is an easy-to-spot distinction between the two frameworks. While Next.js is compatible with different data-fetching methods and operating systems, Gatsby supports data-sourcing using external retrieving methods. For Next.js, you can define, implement, and consume data using any method, like REST API and GraphQL API. In contrast, Gatsby supports sourcing data only through its GraphQL data layer. Gatsby encourages developers to use their GraphQL data layer when querying data in Gatsby, because it optimizes images and allows you to load data in the same place where it's consumed. 

  • Server Usage - Another significant difference between the two tools is that Next.js users require a server to start, and Next.js includes that server by default. Gatsby can run without a server, however, this reduces its server-side rendering flexibility. In this case, Next.js provides users with better server-rendering scalability features when compared to Gatsby. Also, since Gatsby is not a server-reliable framework, it's challenging to use real-time data-fetching to ensure efficient scalability. 

  • System Structure - While both frameworks have active networks that contribute to their development and advancement, there is a critical difference in their structure and how these resources influence them. Gatsby heavily relies on its community-authored plugins, which are accessible to anyone for issues like sourcing or transforming data or when designing a website. In this regard, Gatsby makes it easy to build out a website from scratch, by using a gatsby-source-filesystem plugin to source all your blog posts to GraphQL and then query them on your page. The same applies to marketing plugins like Google Analytics. With Next.js, there is no plugin community, meaning the developer does all the work. For instance, to build a blog using Markdown, you'll need to source the data yourself. This can be strenuous, due to the code's complexity, which gives the plugin ecosystem on Gatsby the advantage. Though Next.js has plugins, they tend to be much lower quality when compared to Gatsby. 

Let’s compare the two frameworks by category:

Choosing the right framework

As mentioned earlier, Gatsby and Next.js offer similar benefits for developers and end users. Depending on your choice of solution, these React frameworks can build a production-ready site in a short time without intensive configuration.

Deciding which framework to use may depend on each use case; however, other factors can also influence this decision. For example, an e-commerce store that changes its site daily may require the Next.js server-rendering option, while developers with a strong preference for GraphQL would prefer the fast, easy, and flexible advantage of Gatsby's plugin ecosystem. If you want complete control of the code that sources and manipulates your data, and you like testing out the latest and most outstanding React features (like the React Server Components), then Next.js is the right tool for you. While Next.js is catching up to Gatsby with on-demand Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR), Gatsby offers more stability and consistency with its Deferred Static Generation (DSG). 

Choosing the right tool for your dev projects requires expert knowledge and careful consideration. At Outliant, we offer startups digital support and development that enhances their digital presence, reaching their target goals and market. So, if you're looking to integrate or update your website using any React framework, schedule a call with us, and let us walk you through it.

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