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Next JS vs Gatsby - Selecting the Best Tool for Your Web Development Needs

To build a successful website using the Jamstack approach, you definitely need a React framework for your project. In plenty of possibilities, two of them definitely dominated the area which are undoubtedly GatsbyJS and Next JS.

NextJS vs Gatsby Comparison

Some time ago, you would trace noticeable and obvious differences between Next.js and Gatsby. With time passing, they’ve become more and more similar so it’s not that easy to decide which one to use in a particular project. Still, there are some crucial points in which they differ, and that’s why we’ll dig deeper into the topic.

Next JS vs Gatsby - Exploring the Similarities

Gatsby and Next are two popular tools for web development, but they have different origins and approaches. Gatsby is a static site generator that uses React and GraphQL, while Next is a server-side rendering framework that also supports static site generation. Both tools aim to provide fast, optimized, and modern web applications, but they have different trade-offs and use cases.

And with such different backgrounds, are Gatsby and Next still somehow similar? Yes, to some point. So what do they have in common?

They both make building React apps and websites easier and quicker

Starting from the basics, they have the same role: providing a full ecosystem to build apps easier, with less effort, and solving some root issues for you under the hood. Both are based on React.js development, implementing its similar functionalities and solving similar web and app creators’ problems.

They help with bettering the web performance, UX, and SEO

Web performance, UX, and SEO are all essential factors for a successful website. A fast-loading website can improve user retention, engagement, and satisfaction. It can also boost your SEO ranking, especially with the introduction of Core Web Vitals as a ranking signal.

Gatsby and Next are both frameworks that can help you optimize your web performance, UX, and SEO. They provide different rendering options, such as static site generation, server-side rendering, and incremental static regeneration, to suit your needs and preferences. They also have a variety of plugins that can enhance a website’s functionality and performance.

NextJS and Gatsby are often used in Jamstack projects

Both Next and Gatsby are perfect at creating static websites, and this is one of the factors that determine the Jamstack approach to web and app development.

What are the other factors? Well, Jamstack is many things. But mostly, it’s about:

  • Pre-rendering or pre-generation (pages are generated before when the user requests the page)

  • Decoupling (front end and back end aren’t tied up with each other)

  • Composable architecture (websites can be upgraded with 3rd party services through APIs)

It results in great performance, flexibility, scalability, and maintainability.

Although the understanding of Jamstack is constantly changing, Gatsby and Next have always been important players for Jamstackers.

Paired with any headless CMS, they’re equally great at delivering ultra-quick, components-based, and user-friendly websites.

By the way, we’re experts at creating Jamstack websites. Drop us a line if you need one!


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They have great communities and huge companies backing them up

Super-props for developers: both tools have comprehensive documentation. It means that even if there is someone in your team with little experience, they should be able to catch up in no time, being able to connect with a huge community in case of any issues.

What’s more, both Next.js and Gatsby.js have giants behind their backs. This makes them a safe, future-proof choice for website developers as the frameworks wouldn’t simply melt away or disappear that easily because of the lack of interest.

As we said earlier, Next.js was designed and created by Vercel (formerly Zeit), a leading cloud deployment platform. As of 2024, the company has raised $313 million in funding and has been valued at $2.5 billion.

As for Gatsby, it is a community-driven, open-source framework that partnered with Netlify in 2020. Netlify is a leading deployment platform that has raised $212.1 million in funding and is valued at $2 billion.

This Gatsby to Netlify move can mean anything, and we’ll see what will happen. But the most important thing is that odds are equal now and both Next and Gatsby will continue to make a buzz in the JavaScript world.

Gatsby and NextJS provide attractive rendering options

Both frameworks support Static-Site Generation (SSG), Server-Side Rendering (SSR), and Client-Side Rendering (CSR), as well as can handle the hybrid rendering of pages.

The latter is especially interesting, offered by both Next and Gatsby. When using it, there is no need to reload the whole page to update only its small part, which used to be one of the main challenges with the creation of static sites and its major drawback.

Both tools offer some built-in performance-friendly and caching features so you don’t have to handle it all on your own. It will be somehow handled on your behalf even if you do absolutely nothing.

But to get the full picture of rendering options available, you will need to read the differences part.

…because there are some differences, right? Yup. A whole bunch!

Gatsby vs Next JS – key differences

Although similar, both tools have to differ. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any point in their simultaneous market presence. Let’s review this now.

Data fetching comparison between Next JS and Gatsby

In the context of our article, data fetching is the operation of retrieving data and further displaying it in the most suitable way for the app or website use case. It can be also referred to as data sourcing and is frequently used to communicate the front end with CMS, e-commerce systems, or microservices via APIs.

Next and Gatsby have a particularly different approach in this area.

Data fetching in Gatsby.js

In general, if you go for Gatsby, you go for GraphQL API. Period.

Gatsby also supports sourcing data without using its GraphQL data layer. You can try using the createPage Gatsby node API.

But… Gatsby’s creators strongly convince people to use the default GraphQL data layer in most cases. And they have strong arguments behind this.

They introduced GraphQL to overcome some limitations when it comes to dynamic data. Thanks to that, they were able to offer some extra functionalities like automatically optimizing images and allowing you to load data in the same place it’s consumed.

GraphQL simplifies the process of building and optimizing your pages, they say in official docs. There is also some impact on safety – Gatsby allows no scope of direct connection to the dependencies, database, user data, and other sensitive information. This way, your website will be more secure than other regular websites of your competition by default.

Data fetching in Next.js

As opposed to Gatsby, Next.js has a pretty agnostic approach to data fetching. You can use any method you wish to use, without a single limitation.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s GraphQL API, REST API, or anything else. Next just doesn’t mind but it’s you who’s in charge of defining, implementing, and consuming the approach.

The same applies to safety: it all depends on customization and the tools used.

Are any of these approaches better? Not necessarily. In the Gatsby case, you give up some of the decisiveness to earn simplicity. In Next.js development, the case is the other way around: it’s getting more complicated, but the full freedom and customization may be worth it if not needed in your particular case.

Next JS vs Gatsby - Plugins and Ecosystems Comparison

In general, using plugins can additionally streamline the development workflow.

In particular, it’s not that easy, and it all depends.

To provide plugins that enhance the possibilities of the tool you offer, you need an engaged community in the first place. As we said earlier, both Next and Gatsby have excellent, huge communities, so they’re in the position to do so.

Yet, as the two frameworks took particularly varied approaches to this aspect, you’ll see that handling plugins is diametrically different.

Plugins in Gatsby.js

Gatsby relies heavily on its community-authored plugins. These tools can be used by anyone in their applications for things like sourcing and transforming the data, styling a site, etc.

For example, you can use plugins like:

  • gatsby-source-filesystem handles sourcing data into the app from the local file system; it has its own subset of plugins for different formats

  • gatsby-plugin-google-analytics or gatsby-plugin-google-tagmanager do the whole Google tools configuration for you if you only give it your ID

  • gatsby-plugin-sitemap generates the sitemap automatically

There are many more of them: super simple, fast, and easy.

But… they can also be limiting and increase the need for troubleshooting. Why? You rely on other people’s work that still could be imperfect for your project, and finding a solution for some edge cases can be really problematic as you don’t have one and only one source of truth.

Plugins in Next.js

Next JS represents a different approach as there isn’t a community targeted at creating plugins like Gatsby’s.

Developers have to do all of this work for themselves. Seems like a lot, but also gives you full control from the data sourcing through all the nitty-gritty details of the code.

Troubleshooting should be also easier as we have a fully custom approach… But it’s not always like that. Because there aren’t any limitations, inexperienced teams can unconsciously generate a trap for themselves. Whoopsie.

Similar to other areas, there is no one way preferred. Some users love the simplicity of using plugins, and some of them prefer to keep every line of the code in control. The key is, as always, matching solutions with actual business needs, requirements, and resources.

The nice-sounding guarantees won’t work magically just because we want them to.

Rendering methods comparison between Next JS and Gatsby

As we said earlier, both frameworks support Static-Site Generation (SSG), Server-Side Rendering (SSR), and Client-Side Rendering (CSR). It means they can easily let you build dynamic websites, static websites, or Jamstack websites (static websites with full interactivity and modularity).

Usually, you have to choose one of these methods and stick with it. However, for creating ultra-fast websites, there is another rendering method that has gained popularity recently: hybrid page rendering.

This feature lets you combine the best of both worlds: the fast speed of statically generated sites and the smooth interaction possibilities of client-side and server-side rendering.

Both Next.js and Gatsby offer this solution, but they have different approaches. It’s also the area where the most important differences between these two tools come to light.

Deferred Static Generation (DSG) in Gatsby

Gatsby JS calls their method a Deferred Static Generation (DSG). This method is based on delaying or deferring the build of certain pages until the run-time.

During the build-time, a page is marked so it won’t build itself until the run-time. Deferred Static Generation uses the previously-made full build to supply the data for the deferred (built on-demand) pages.

When data updates, you have the full possibility to invalidate the cache of built-time data. Then, all you have to do is make good use of webhooks to make sure pages are rebuilt properly. If you want to dig in deeper, you can do this on Gatsby’s blog.

Any drawbacks? DSG can cause some issues when huge numbers of requests happen, especially when your data changes very dynamically. Because of that, Gatsby JS is mostly used for building websites with a predictable number of pages with mostly static content.

However, as it sticks to Google’s PRPL (Push, Render, Pre-cache, Lazy-load) architectural pattern, this approach greatly boosts a website's performance on mobile devices for an extra huge SEO kick.

Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR) in NextJS

Next JS handles this case in the Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR) method which gives the possibility to create or update static pages after your application is deployed. It means you can use static generation on a page-by-page basis without redeploying the entire website each time, which can be very efficient if you care about the built time. And in most cases, you do care.

ISR allows you to generate static pages on-demand, exactly on the user’s request instead of doing it all at build time and “eating” your capacity in this matter. For example, if you have a large-scale blog with thousands of articles, you may not want to statically build them all every time – it would take a long, long time.

Instead, by using Incremental Static Regeneration, you can statically render only a small number of pages and then build the remaining pages only when they are requested by the user. Sounds really great and flexible, right? So it is – but there is also some downside waiting around the corner.

Let’s imagine you have a shop. You render a services page statically and have some ISR-rendered single item/product pages linked to it. ISR-rendered pages will take the latest data from the API, but data on the static page will remain static. This way, whenever data changes, the static page will not fetch the lately changed data and will become slightly out of date.


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Next.js or Gatsby - which is better?

If you consider Next.js or Gatsby.js for your website, the key question you need to answer is: will this way of creating websites have an impact on your business?

Overall, Next.js is a great framework for building large-scale applications with an extra smart feature of loading CSS or JavaScript required only for a particular page for a page speed boost.

Gatsby is a similarly great framework, especially for smaller websites with a lower amount of dynamic data.

They’re just created to be successfully used in different projects, with different angles taken, and for different business needs.

Let’s specify this now.

When to use Gatsby JS?

Use Gatsby when you don’t need huge customization in terms of data fetching and you don’t mind the GraphQL-and-nothing-else approach.

Full customization is not a must-have to create fast, simple, and SEO-friendly static sites. Sometimes it can even provide more confusion than needed.

Gatsby will be a perfect choice for websites:

  • With small amounts of dynamic, live-updated data

  • That needs quick development

  • In which you really need a rapid speed

  • That don’t require complex data fetching structures

As it evolved from a static site generator into something much more, it handles its basic function in the best way possible. This makes Gatsby a perfect solution for:

  • Personal blogs

  • Custom landing pages

  • Small corporate websites

  • B2B websites

  • Simple & small eCommerce websites

When to use Next.js?

Use Next if for any reason you need more freedom in data fetching or you don’t want to use GraphQL at all. It will also be a perfect solution when you need more customized solutions or the latest features like React Server Components that the newest Next.js 13 utilizes to reduce the amount of JavaScript sent to the client.

Real-life projects in which Next would be the best choice include websites:

  • That have more complex pages with a few different sources of data

  • That comes up with different levels of dynamics on different pages (i.e. mixing static pages with complex search mechanisms or e-commerce shop functionality) 

  • That depends on specific requirements for deploying solutions

Next.js will work perfectly on:

  • Corporate websites

  • Paas / SaaS websites

  • B2B websites

  • Headless e-commerce websites

It doesn’t mean, though, that Next wouldn’t cope with small landing pages or personal blogs. It would be simply unnecessary to use it as Gatsby is smiling and posing.

And… that’s it! Next.js vs Gatsby Conclusions

We use both solutions frequently and we love them. They’re making our developers’ lives easier and better organized than using plain React for Jamstack development services.

To sum it up:

  • We love the simplicity of Gatsby but sometimes we don’t like its limitations

  • We love what Next.js is all about, especially free customization, but sometimes it can be challenging or simply take form over substance

As you can see, both tools are very much along but have some slight nuances in data fetching, specificity, and rendering methods. They can impact your business.

The old story never gets outdated: if you want to build a future-proof solution, it’s always advisable to analyze the customer’s needs and the project’s specificity.

And… As Jamstack & headless ecommerce development company, we’re always ready to talk through your needs. Tell us about your projects and we’ll figure out the best solution

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