Next.js vs. Gatsby: Comparing React frameworks

Anton Ioffe - September 25th 2023 - 18 minutes read

In the vast landscape of modern web development, Next.js and Gatsby are titans that dominate the React-based frameworks sector. Each crafted uniquely with varying themes, features, and principles, they provide developers with robust tools to address the intricate demands of contemporary web creations. This article delves into a nuanced examination of these two powerhouses, scrutinizing the realms of data fetching, pre-rendering, plugin ecosystems, rendering techniques, and more, giving you a broader perspective of their prowess and adaptability.

As we delve into the realms of data manipulation and data fetching, you'll gain an astute understanding of the divergent ways in which Gatsby highlights GraphQL and Next.js prefers its agnostic approach. Drawing on code examples and in-depth analyses, we'll closely inspect their pre-rendering strategies, demystifying performance, readability, and scalability factors. Here, we're laying a stage for an enlightening expedition into the world of Gatsby and Next.js, providing you with the delicate nuances that will locate you more confidently in the web development landscape.

As we proceed to contrasting plugin ecosystems and the influence of community-authored plugins, you'll find comprehensive insights into the merits and demerits of these peripheral aspects. Later, we'll pull apart their rendering techniques, shedding light on how they influence user experience and performance. To further refine your perspective, real-world use cases and best practices for choosing the right framework based on project requirements are put under the microscope. The ultimate goal here is to equip you with a holistic understanding that transcends mere theoretical familiarity, thus shaping you as a maestro in choosing the right tools for your endeavors in web development. Let's propel into this analytical journey of Next.js and Gatsby.

An In-Depth Understanding of Next.js and Gatsby

Both Next.js and Gatsby are the embodiment of modern web development, each of them pioneering and transforming the landscape with their own unique features. Based on React, these frameworks have ushered in substantial innovation in the development process.

Next.js, born from the team at Vercel, is primarily designed for constructing server-rendered React applications. It is a comprehensive solution for React projects that expands beyond the scope of a traditional Single Page Application (SPA). It excels in providing a variety of features, designed for both client-side and server-side rendering. Ideal for those developers stepping into the SPA realm and desiring an edge in high-quality server-side rendering.

Gatsby, on the other hand, differentiates itself by primarily focusing on building high-performance static websites, a technique known as Static Site Generation (SSG). But, it isn’t simply a static site generator, it's a dynamic data integration tool. It harnesses data from various sources, then combines this to create optimized, lightning-fast websites that are SEO-compliant. This approach makes Gatsby optimal for data-focused websites, such as content-rich applications like blogs or portfolios.

These frameworks might seem mysterious without grasping the key concepts that underpin their functionalities:

  1. SSR: Abbreviated as Server Side Rendering, it is a rendering method that essentially acts as a bridge between client-side and server-side rendering. To realize the true power of SSR, imagine creating a large application where SEO performance is critical. Next.js will pre-render each requested page on the server and send the HTML to the client. This process accelerates the page-loading speed and facilitates better SEO indexing compared to SPAs.

  2. SPA: Acronym for Single Page Application, this concept forms the backbone of dynamic web pages. A SPA updates the UI in response to user interactions without serving freshly loaded pages from the server, providing a smoother UX. Suppose you are building a real-time app, like a chat application, using Next.js. The SPA architecture will allow dynamic updating of the chat messages without a need to refresh the entire page.

  3. GraphQL: Developed by Facebook, GraphQL is a data querying language that has emerged as a powerful and efficient alternative to REST for data integration and retrieval. Gatsby leverages the power of GraphQL to fetch data from various sources — be it CMSs, APIs or markdown files, transforming it into a fast and efficient static site. For instance, pulling blog post data from a CMS into static HTML files is an activity common in a Gatsby project, utilizing the GraphQL query language.

  4. MPA: An acronym for Multiple Page Applications, which refers to the traditional web applications of yesteryears. As contrasted with SPAs, MPAs serve entirely new pages from the server as the user navigates the application. A classic example would be building an e-commerce site where each product resides on a separate page, and each page reloads the entire browser.

  5. SSG: Stands for Static Site Generation. Rather than starting up a server to render views upon each request, SSGs render all views of a website at build time, culminating in a pool of HTML files. This drastically enhances website performance and SEO. With Gatsby, you can generate static HTML pages beforehand, which can then be served directly from a CDN, bypassing the need for a server. For instance, consider a blog site that has quite a stable content base where updates are infrequent. Gatsby would build all these pages beforehand and serve the HTML directly, leading to highly performant page loading.

Embedding these fundamental concepts, Next.js and Gatsby are engineered to cater high-quality application development. Contextually, if a project demands server-side rendering and versatility, Next.js is the preferred tool. However, in use cases that involve merging data from multiple sources into a performance-centric static site, Gatsby is more suitable. The key is starting the project with the right tool for the job.

Data Fetching in Gatsby and Next.js

Fetching data in Gatsby

The Gatsby framework holds a firm commitment to GraphQL, a data querying language that provides highly efficient data fetching capabilities. A key feature of Gatsby's adoption of GraphQL is the ability to fetch only the necessary data for each page, which benefits performance by preventing unnecessary data transfers.

Let's observe this GraphQL interaction in Gatsby through an illustrative example:

import React from 'react';
import { graphql } from 'gatsby';
import Layout from '../components/layout';

export const query = graphql`
    query {
        site {
            siteMetadata {

export default ({ data }) => (
        <h1>About {}</h1>

In this instance, Gatsby's synergy with GraphQL is clearly displayed. It's important to note, however, that the trade-off for this powerful data querying method is the learning curve associated with mastering GraphQL.

Fetching data in Next.js

Next.js, unlike Gatsby, does not advocate for a specific data fetching method. Instead, it offers developers freedom to define, implement and consume data in any suitable manner. As such, you could adopt REST API, GraphQL API, or any other data fetching methodology without encountering any compatibility issues.

Consider the following Next.js example that utilises the fetch API for retrieving data from a REST API:

import fetch from 'node-fetch';

function HomePage({ posts }) {
  return (
      { => (

export async function getServerSideProps() {
  const res = await fetch('');
  const posts = await res.json();

  return {
    props: { 

export default HomePage;

This segment demonstrates Next.js's support for server-side rendering, granting the capacity to fetch any kind of data and render it on the server before delivering it to the client. Notably, this approach presents considerable gains in SEO and initial page load performance.

How critical do you think is the choice of a specific data fetching technique for your projects? How heavily does it influence the overall performance and efficiency? Would you prefer GraphQL with its ability to fetch precise data or are you more inclined towards the data handling flexibility offered by Next.js? It's important to evaluate the implications tied to these tactical variations, including performance, memory, and complexity, in order to make the most informed choice. As you continue to develop your skills and understanding in web development, remember that exploiting these frameworks' capabilities to the fullest rests on getting comfortable with their data fetching mechanisms.

Pre-Rendering Approach: A Gatsby and Next.js Comparison

When discussing the contrast between Gatsby and Next.js, a significant point of divergence lies in their respective pre-rendering approaches. Here, we delve into the mechanics behind Gatsby's static site generation and Next.js's server-side rendering, to unravel how each impacts aspects like performance and scalability.

Static Site Generation in Gatsby

In the realm of Gatsby, the pre-rendering process is achieved via a method known as Static Site Generation (SSG). Under this paradigm, HTML pages are pre-constructed during the application's build time. This eliminates the need for reliance on a Node server to manage rendering, as the site's pages have been pre-compiled and are ready to be delivered to the client at the point of request.

Consider a simple Gatsby setup as an example:

import React from 'react'
import { graphql } from 'gatsby'

export const query = graphql`
  query {
    site {
      siteMetadata {

const IndexPage = ({ data }) => (

export default IndexPage

This uncomplicated script demonstrates how a component in Gatsby statically fetches data during build time, and incorporates it directly into the component being rendered. A key point here is the graphql query executed within the build process, which allows the data to be baked directly into the HTML page. This results in a significant performance gain as the client receives a ready-to-go page without any computational work required on their end.

However, Gatsby's approach could pose scalability issues when dealing with a vast website comprising numerous subpages and varying HTML templates. As the entirety of the site has to be built upfront, it could lead to an increasingly growing build time. This could be a deterrent when immediate updates or frequently changing content are a priority.

Server-Side Rendering in Next.js

Next.js, on the contrary, leverages Server-Side Rendering (SSR) for its pre-rendering needs. Rather than building all pages beforehand, in SSR, pages are rendered in real-time as they are requested by the client. This implies an active Node.js environment is essential to handle the HTML rendering at runtime for each incoming request.

Let's examine a routine Next.js component:

import Head from 'next/head'

const HomePage = () => (
      <title>Home Page</title>
    <h1>Welcome to the Home Page!</h1>

export default HomePage

In this rudimentary Next.js example, the HTML for the HomePage component isn't pre-rendered in build time. Instead, it's generated reactively, whenever a request for the page is received. The advantage of this approach lies in its on-demand rendering concept, which yields more flexibility than Gatsby's build time rendering, especially for applications with dynamic data or user-centric personalized content.

Nevertheless, SSR tends to be slower than pre-generated static sites, as there is some latency from the time the request is received to when the fully rendered page is sent back to the client. However, scaling with Next.js can be smoother by the mere addition of more servers, thereby dividing the rendering workloads.

To conclude, the choice between Gatsby and Next.js for pre-rendering primarily depends on your project needs. If you're building a content-heavy site that doesn't require frequent updates, Gatsby's SSG may be a good fit. When dealing with highly dynamic, personalized content or user-specific data, the SSR approach of Next.js provides higher flexibility.

Plugins, Ecosystem, and Customization

Plugins and Ecosystem

Two key components that can significantly impact the development process and the final output of a project are the framework's plugin ecosystem and the degree to which the framework encourages or allows customization.

Let's dive into these aspects, starting with Gatsby. Gatsby utilizes a large and expanding community network. This community thrives on developing and authoring plugins, extending the framework's capabilities in a myriad of ways - be it sourcing and transforming data, adding new functionalities, or even styling a site. Undeniably, Gatsby's plugins are its key strength, ensuring that developers have access to a rich set of tools that can considerably enhance their site's performance as well as its user experience. In terms of numbers, the Gatsby community has produced a staggering count of more than 2,000 plugins so far.

// Gatsby's plugin usage
module.exports = {
  plugins: [
    // your other plugins here...

In terms of customization, Gatsby also triumphs. Developers have the flexibility to modify themes and functionalities to suit their individual project requirements. Thus, in terms of modularity and reusability, Gatsby genuinely shines, enabling developers to give their projects a unique touch.

However, this heavy reliance on plugins can be a double-edged sword. Though it simplifies certain tasks considerably, it may also result in added complexity — developers may need to spend additional time understanding, integrating, and troubleshooting these plugins. Therefore, though Gatsby provides fantastic opportunities for customization, it might slightly compromise readability and possibly increase development time in the process.

In contrast, Next.js presents a very different approach. Instead of a plugin-based architecture, Next.js leans more towards the 'do-it-yourself' paradigm. It empowers developers with a broad range of built-in features like code splitting, page routing, and image optimization, but doesn't offer an extensive plugin community like Gatsby. This lack of a plugin ecosystem can have both positive and negative implications.

In one aspect, this approach allows developers to remain in full control of their codebase. Developers can certainly appreciate this, especially when intricate customization and detailed control over data sourcing and code details are necessary.

// Next.js built-in image optimization
import Image from 'next/image'

function HomePage() {
  return (
      alt="Picture of the author"

However, the limited availability of plugins also means that developers may need to write additional code for features that might have been easily achievable through a plugin in Gatsby. This can potentially lead to a higher code complexity and longer development times, especially for projects that require substantial customization. Nevertheless, Next.js offers superior readability and interpretability, as developers do not have to grapple with third-party plugins' complexities.

To conclude, both Gatsby and Next.js have their unique approach towards plugins, ecosystem, and customization, each with its own set of perks and drawbacks. While Gatsby provides an expansive plugin environment and significant customization options, it may introduce additional complexities. On the other hand, Next.js provides less out-of-the-box functionality but offers greater control and cleaner codebase. The choice between the two largely depends on the project's requirements, the team's expertise level, and finally, the time one is willing to invest in learning and mastering these tools.

Rendering Techniques & User Experience

When we discuss rendering methods, it's crucial to know that Gatsby and Next.js handle page rendering quite differently. Gatsby generates HTML pages during build time, effectively making it a static site generator. This approach eliminates the need for a Node server to manage rendering, which can be beneficial for small to medium websites that have static content. However, this approach is not efficient for larger websites that have many subpages or require hundreds of HTML templates to be managed dynamically.

Taking a closer look, here's a foundational example of how Gatsby pre-generates its HTML pages during build-time. The gatsby-node.js is crucial to create pages programmatically:

const path = require('path')

exports.createPages = ({ actions, graphql }) => {
  const { createPage } = actions
  const blogPostTemplate = path.resolve(`src/templates/blog-post.js`)

  return graphql(`
        sort: { order: DESC, fields: [frontmatter___date] }
        limit: 1000
      ) {
        edges {
          node {
            frontmatter {
  `).then(result => {
    if (result.errors) {
      return Promise.reject(result.errors)
    }{ node }) => {
        path: node.frontmatter.path,
        component: blogPostTemplate,
        context: {}, 

This code executes during build time and generates HTML pages for each markdown file in the src/templates directory. For each of these created pages, the data is passed as context and used within the page.

Contrastingly, Next.js uses Server-Side Rendering (SSR) to handle page rendering. You'll have to install Node.js and npm to manage HTML rendering in runtime for every request. Once the initial HTML gets loaded, Next.js runs the application by handling hydration.

Take this simple example in Next.js:

import { GetServerSideProps } from 'next'

export const getServerSideProps: GetServerSideProps = async context => {
  const res = await fetch(``, {
    headers: {
      'Content-Type': 'application/json'
    method: 'GET'
  const data = await res.json()
  if (!data) {
    return {
      notFound: true,

  return {
    props: { data }, // will be passed to the page component as props

const Page = ({ data }) => (
    { => (
      <div key={}>

export default Page

This code fetches data server-side for every request and renders the page with the fetched data, leading to an always up-to-date page with minimal loading times.

Both these rendering techniques have their pros and cons. Pre-rendering with Gatsby leads to fast page loads, but can suffer from long build times for larger sites. Moreover, rendering static pages is not suitable if content changes frequently, as it would require a rebuild each time.

On the other hand, SSR with Next.js enables dynamic content rendering, allows for optimal SEO, but can cause slower initial page loads compared to static site generators as pages are rendered on-the-fly for each request.

Lastly, both frameworks offer a hybrid approach to rendering. This approach is ideal for web apps where you need to handle dynamic data Client-Side Rendering (CSR) as well as render the UI using SSR. A real-world scenario might be a single web app with CSR for logged-in users (like a user dashboard page) and SSR for new visitors (like a landing page).

It's also worth noting that when it comes to UX, faster page loads result in a better overall user experience. Gatsby's approach ensures that UX is optimal, thanks to its pre-rendered pages, which load faster (since they don't need to wait for server response) but can suffer if the site content needs to change frequently. On the contrary, Next.js provides a more dynamic user experience, where page content can be updated often without any need for full rebuilds, though at the cost of slightly slower initial page load due to server-side rendering.

So, could it be that a hybrid rendering strategy offers the best of both worlds? If so, what challenges might this bring? Importantly, how could you as a developer decide between using Gatsby, Next.js, or some hybrid rendering option in a future project? These are critical considerations to keep in mind as you explore these React frameworks further.

Case Studies: Practical Applications of Gatsby and Next.js

Case Studies: Practical Applications of Gatsby and Next.js

Given the unique advantages each tool offers, deciding between Gatsby and Next.js inevitably requires considering the specific demands of the project at hand. Let's investigate further by looking into real-world examples where Gatsby and Next.js have been put to good use.

Leveraging Next.js

Netflix, Twitch, Uber, Docker, Invision, and Magic Leap serve as testament to the usability of Next.js. The vast majority of these platforms require dynamic routing, complex data fetching, and user authentication - features which Next.js are well-equipped to handle.

In the case of Netflix, a streaming service with near-infinite watch options, the flexibility offered by server-side rendering and dynamic routing of Next.js makes it ideal as the website needs to quickly and seamlessly navigate through vast amounts of media files.

Similarly, Twitch and Uber need to handle real-time data, be it for streaming content or for updating geolocation details. The efficient server-side rendering and dynamic data handling capabilities of Next.js make it optimal for these high-stakes, high-frequency applications.

Utilizing Gatsby.js

On the other hand, companies such as Figma, Nike, Airbnb Engineering, Digital Ocean, Hasura, and Impossible Foods have integrated Gatsby.js into their tech stack. The key benefits here are that Gatsby is fast, lightweight - thanks to its static site generation feature - and incredibly SEO-friendly.

For instance, Figma, a design tool that is used mostly for static content, the superior speed provided by Gatsby's static rendering feature is essential. Similarly, Nike, who predominantly features product descriptions and images on their site, benefits from Gatsby's incredible handling of static content.

Airbnb Engineering, Digital Ocean, and Impossible Foods have web presences that aren’t frequently updated and don’t require real-time data fetching. In such scenarios, Gatsby’s static site generation ensures high performance and improved SEO rankings, making it the ideal choice.

In conclusion, both Gatsby and Next.js serve unique sets of needs and choosing between the two depends on the project and its specific requirements. The organizations listed here have successfully harnessed the potential of Gatsby and Next.js for their unique use cases, illustrating the practical efficacy and applicability of both frameworks.

Final Evaluation & Best Practices: Choosing between Gatsby and Next.js

When it comes to choosing the right framework between Gatsby and Next.js for your project, several factors, such as performance, memory usage, modularity, reusability, and industry trends, must be considered. A clear understanding of these aspects can have a significant impact on the end product.


Performance is, without a doubt, a crucial variable in selecting a framework for your web project. Both Gatsby and Next.js are known for their speed, but they achieve this in different ways. Gatsby uses static rendering to pre-render pages at build time, allowing for significant performance improvements. Next.js, on the contrary, adopts a more traditional server-side rendering approach, generating the pages in real-time, which, while slightly slower than static rendering, offers a higher degree of flexibility.

From a practical standpoint, this means that Gatsby could be a better fit for websites where the content doesn’t change frequently, such as blogs or portfolio websites. This would take full advantage of the speed of static rendering. Conversely, for dynamic websites where content is expected to change frequently, like e-commerce websites or interactive web applications, Next.js might be a more suitable candidate due to its flexible server-side rendering approach.

Memory Implications

Concerning memory implications, Gatsby leans on the heavier side due to its build process involving GraphQL and heavy reliance on plugins. Next.js, on the other hand, is lighter since it doesn't involve pre-building all pages and its minimalistic approach towards build-time processing.

Modularity & Reusability

Both Gatsby and Next.js promote modularity and reusability. However, Gatsby is more opinionated, and it leverages GraphQL to fetch and render data, which might add an extra layer of complexity to your project. Next.js leans toward a more flexible approach, allowing developers to use REST APIs or GraphQL according to the requirements.

Best Practices: Choosing Between Gatsby and Next.js

Choosing the right framework ultimately depends on your project's specific needs and constraints. Here are some best practices to help you make an informed decision:

  1. Evaluate Your Content: Static content benefits from Gatsby's build-time rendering, whereas dynamic content might be better suited for Next.js.
  2. Consider Scalability: If you're planning to scale your application in a serverless environment, Next.js could be a better option due to its less memory-consuming build process and support for serverless functions.
  3. Determine Your Data Sources: Gatsby shines with data-sourcing plugins and GraphQL, but if you prefer simpler data fetching through REST APIs, Next.js might be a better choice.
  4. Think About Developer Experience: Balance the need for complexity. Gatsby's GraphQL might be overkill for simple applications, but can excel for complex data-driven sites. Next.js offers easier entry but scales up for advanced use cases.

Lastly, don't forget about personal preference. Comfort with a particular framework, and the community and resources around it can greatly influence the development process and its outcome. So take the time to experiment and gauge which one resonates better with you and your team.

Which framework would you prefer for a large-scale, content-driven web application? How about for a small, simple blog with infrequent content updates? These are the kind of project-specific questions that might help inform the decision between Gatsby and Next.js. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all, perfect choice. It’s always about choosing the right tool for the job.


In this article about "Next.js vs. Gatsby: Comparing React frameworks," the author provides an in-depth comparison of these two popular JavaScript frameworks. The article covers various aspects like data fetching, pre-rendering, plugin ecosystems, rendering techniques, and more. The author explains the differences between Gatsby's focus on static site generation and Next.js's server-side rendering. They also discuss the plugin ecosystems and customization options offered by both frameworks.

Key takeaways from the article include:

  1. Gatsby is great for content-focused static websites, while Next.js is more suitable for dynamic applications with personalized content.
  2. Gatsby has a robust plugin ecosystem and offers extensive customization options, but this can also introduce complexity. Next.js, on the other hand, provides more control and cleaner code but lacks a large plugin community.

A challenging technical task that readers could try is to build a hybrid rendering strategy combining server-side rendering (SSR) and client-side rendering (CSR) using either Gatsby or Next.js. This could involve setting up different routes that utilize SSR for specific pages and CSR for others, creating a web app with the benefits of both rendering methods.

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