What’s the Technical Difference between Next JS and Gatsby

Next JS and Gatsby have emerged as two of the most popular React-based frameworks for building web applications. At first glance, they may seem quite similar – both leverage React and modern web development practices to help developers build fast, efficient sites and apps. However, there are some important distinctions between these two frameworks that are worth understanding before deciding which one is the best fit for your next project.

Head-to-Head Comparison Between Gatsby vs Next JS

Here is a difference table comparing Gatsby vs Next JS:

Feature Gatsby Next JS
Built With React React
Rendering Method Static Site Generation (SSG) Server-Side Rendering (SSR)
Performance Very Fast Load times due to SSG Fast Load Times but can be slower than Gatsby
Data Handling Tightly integrated with GraphQL Agnostic – Works with GraphQL, REST, etc
Plugins/Extensions Huge Plugin Ecosystem Smaller Plugin Ecosystem
Learning Curve Steeper Due to GraphQL Easier for React Developers
Scalability Can scale to Large Sites but not as Robust as NextJS Excellent Scalability to Large, Complex Sites
Server Requirements None, Static Assets Only Requires a Backend Server
Suitable Use Cases Smaller, Simpler Sites like Blogs and Brochures Larger, Complex Sites and Web Apps
Developer Experience Excellent DX with Hot Reloading, etc. Excellent DX with Close Vercel Integration
Documentation Extensive Docs and Tutorials Concise, high-quality Docs

Getting Started with Next JS

Next JS Home
The open source Next.js framework builds on top of Node.js to provide developers with functionality like server-side rendering and static site generation. It enables working with React universally, supporting server-side rendering, client-side rendering, and hybrid data fetching approaches. Next.js streamlines building apps that have great performance on both server and client sides, and still stays very developer-friendly. The framework makes it straightforward to create React apps with universal capabilities like server rendering, client rendering, and flexible data fetching. This improves performance on server and client while keeping the development experience smooth.

Getting Started with Gatsby

Gatsby Home

The open source Gatsby framework builds on React to help developers construct incredibly fast websites and applications. As a static site generator for React, Gatsby takes data, makes it dynamic, and pre-renders it to HTML for near-instant loading speeds. Gatsby optimized sites build, develop, and deploy with blazing performance for an improved user experience. The framework also provides responsive design capabilities, robust data features, and lightening quick page loads. By pre-rendering React sites to static HTML, Gatsby enables incredibly fast load times and a smooth user experience. The open source tool helps developers harness the power of React to create lightning fast websites and apps.

The Key Differences Between Gatsby vs Next JS

Data Fetching and Handling

One of the biggest differences between these two React frameworks is how they handle data fetching and management. Gatsby is built on GraphQL and essentially requires using GraphQL for querying data into your site. GraphQL is deeply baked into Gatsby’s architecture and tooling. While technically you can use other data sources, Gatsby heavily steers developers towards GraphQL for everything from sourcing content to transforming data to populating pages.

Gatsby built on GraphQL, Next JS is agnostic

Next JS takes a much more flexible, unopinionated approach to data. You can use GraphQL if you want, but you can just as easily pull data from REST APIs, databases, CMSs, and other sources. Essentially Next JS doesn’t care or dictate how you fetch and handle data – you decide what works best for your use case.

For developers who are new to GraphQL or simply don’t want to use it, Next JS removes that barrier. The required learning curve of GraphQL can make Gatsby more challenging to pickup for GraphQL beginners. However, for teams that specifically want to leverage GraphQL and its benefits, Gatsby provides GraphQL out of the box and builds sites around it.

Server Requirements

Related to data, server requirements are another area where Gatsby and Next JS diverge. Gatsby produces static HTML files that do not need a backend server to run. The static assets can be deployed to a CDN or host like Netlify very simply. Next JS, in contrast, relies on server-side rendering to generate pages on demand when requests come in. So Next JS requires running some type of Node server to function, introducing more operational complexity.

Gatsby vs Next JS – Side by Side Comparison

Performance Optimization: NextJs andGatsby

In terms of performance optimization, both NextJS and Gatsby employ code splitting, image optimization, and other techniques out of the box to achieve fast load times. However, Gatsby’s static site generation typically enables better perceived performance for end users as pages are prebuilt at deploy time. NextJS can match Gatsby’s speeds through incremental static regeneration, but Gatsby still has a slight edge here.

Developer Experience: NextJS vs Gatsby

Both NextJS and Gatsby provide a great developer experience with features like fast refresh, easy routing, and component-driven development. NextJS benefits from tight integration with Vercel which streamlines the development workflow. Gatsby’s vibrant plugin ecosystem provides prebuilt modules for adding functionality, though troubleshooting issues with third-party code can be tricky. Developing in both frameworks is enjoyable, but Gatsby offers more customization capabilities.

Governance: Next.js vs Gatsby

NextJS and Gatsby both offer security capabilities like environment variables and CORS policy configuration. NextJS benefits from Vercel’s expertise in security and infrastructure management. Gatsby’s static site model provides inherent security benefits with no servers to be compromised. Both frameworks enable developing secure, well-governed sites, but NextJS offers more enterprise-level capabilities.

Accessibility: Gatsby and NextJS

Gatsby and NextJS both support modern accessibility best practices like semantic HTML, ARIA roles, and progressive enhancement. Gatsby offers more out-of-the-box support through its routing and focus management. NextJS gives developers flexibility to build in accessibility themselves. Overall, both frameworks enable creating accessible sites, with Gatsby providing more handholding.

Documentation: Next JS and Gatsby

NextJS and Gatsby both offer excellent documentation with tutorials, concept guides, API references, and more. Gatsby benefits from also having plugin-specific docs. NextJS’s documentation is more concise and focused on core concepts. Overall, both are well-documented, but Gatsby’s wider scope results in more extensive docs.

Ecosystem: Next JS vs Gatsby

Gatsby has a much more robust ecosystem of plugins, starters, and themes thanks to its open-source community. NextJS has a more limited ecosystem, but benefits from Vercel’s first-party integrations. Gatsby’s ecosystem is unparalleled for flexibility while NextJS offers more curated integrations.

When to Choose Next JS?

NextJS is an excellent choice for applications with frequently updated, dynamic content. Its server-side rendering capabilities enable serving fresh data on each request, rather than requiring a full site rebuild every content change. Sites like ecommerce stores and news sites with prices fluctuating or stories being published all day benefit greatly from NextJS’s incremental regeneration and ability to handle rapidly changing data.

NextJS also shines for sites needing to scale across multiple servers. Its server-based model makes it straightforward to scale up on demand by adding more instances and load balancing requests between them. Applications with huge traffic and usage spikes can handle them smoothly with NextJS’s horizontal scaling abilities. Gatsby’s static file model makes scaling more challenging and limited.

Finally, for teams wanting flexibility in their data fetching and APIs, NextJS is a perfect fit. You can use GraphQL, REST, microservices, databases, or any data source you want without being limited or steered towards a single proprietary system. With full control over your data pipeline, you can integrate NextJS seamlessly into your existing infrastructure.

When to Choose Gatsby?

For smaller, static sites like personal blogs and company landing pages, Gatsby is an excellent framework. Since these sites don’t have huge amounts of dynamic content being updated 24/7, Gatsby’s prebuilt static files offer insane performance right out of the box. The combination of React’s power and Gatsby’s static regeneration is perfect for sites with more fixed content.

If your team is fully bought into GraphQL and wants to use it across the entire stack, Gatsby is a great choice. GraphQL is deeply integrated into Gatsby’s architecture, so you get excellent support for building GraphQL schemas, crafting queries, and populating data into pages with minimal effort. For GraphQL enthusiasts, Gatsby helps realize its benefits quickly.

Finally, Gatsby is perfect for teams wanting to leverage its robust plugin ecosystem. With thousands of plugins for adding functionality, themes, data sources, and more, Gatsby has a wealth of prebuilt modules to speed up development. For projects where you want to customize and expand capabilities, Gatsby’s plugins help do it faster than building from scratch.

Final Thoughts Next Js vs Gatsby

At a high-level, NextJS offers more flexibility in data fetching and management, while requiring a server environment. Gatsby is more prescriptive utilizing GraphQL and produces completely static sites. For dynamic, data-driven sites NextJS is likely the better choice while more fixed, smaller sites suit Gatsby well.

Both provide excellent performance, development experience, and documentation out of the box. NextJS scales better to large, complex applications while Gatsby is faster for smaller sites. Gatsby provides more plugins and customization capabilities through its community.

For teams already using GraphQL or wanting an easy way to learn it, Gatsby is a great option. Those desiring flexibility in their data stack and handling will appreciate NextJS’s unopinionated approach. Sites needing to frequently update content are better suited for NextJS while smaller blogs and brochure sites will thrive with Gatsby.

Amelie Lamb

Amelie Lamb

Amelie Lamb is an experienced technical content writer at SoftwareStack.co who specializes in distilling complex software topics into clear, concise explanations. She has a talent for taking dense technical jargon and making it engaging and understandable for readers through her informative, lively writing style.

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