Why Is React a Library and Next.js a Framework?

Discover the difference between React and Next.js and understand why React is a library not a framework. 

Written by Vytenis Alaburda
Published on Jul. 25, 2023
Why Is React a Library and Next.js a Framework?
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Before developing your web application, you’ll have to decide which framework or library to use. It’s no secret that React is the most popular JavaScript library in the world.

A good popularity measurement is community activity on that topic. And we see that people are most willing to ask questions and answer them on React topics, according to Stack Overflow. Other libraries and frameworks aren’t even close.

Is React a Framework? Answered

React is a JavaScript library that’s used for building reactive websites. While it’s not a framework, React does have a dedicated framework called Create React App that can be used to build web applications. 

However, if you’ve decided to use React for your web app, you may have heard about Next.js and how it’s better at some things than React. Next.js’ rising popularity shows that developers trust it even though it is a relatively new competitor compared to other frameworks and React.

react vs next.js search results image
Popularity of Next.js compared to React from Stack Overflow. | Image: Vytenis Alaburda

In this article, you will:

  • Gain a basic understanding of React and Next.
  • Find out why React is not a framework and Next is a framework.
  • Learn about both tools’ features and how they perform to help you decide which tool to use for your next web application.


What Is React?

React is a JavaScript library that was created by Facebook in 2011 and then open-sourced in 2013. React made headlines as an efficient, flexible and declarative JavaScript library for building interactive websites. It’s really good at developing web apps that require constant data changes on their user interfaces. Its most successful apps are Instagram and Facebook, which are notable for being responsive and fast.

If you’ve ever developed a website using only primitive technologies, you know that after clicking on anything, the website refreshes. It’s hard to find anything like that on the web these days.

This important feature of React is called Components, which shows data. When that data changes, the React library updates and generates new data. This process is called rendering.


Why React Is Not a Framework

You may have read debates on whether React is a framework or a library. To cut to the chase, it’s a library. Developers generally use the terms “library” and “framework” interchangeably, but they’re not the same. The main criteria for frameworks are:

  • Frameworks provide ready-to-use tools, standards and templates for fast application development, while libraries don’t.
  • Frameworks control the calling of libraries for our code.
  • Frameworks give rules and guidelines on writing your code and structuring files and folders.
  • Frameworks are consistent with APIs, compilers, toolsets and libraries within.
  • When you use a framework, the control is inverted. The framework controls the flow and calls your code. In contrast, libraries let you control the flow of the application.

React does not match these criteria and thus, is not a framework.

More on Software EngineeringDifferent Ways to Display Images in React.js


What Is Create React App (CRA)?

To compete with frameworks, React has a dedicated framework called Create React App (CRA). It includes file structuring and other tools so that React could be used as a framework. It’s the best way to start building a new single-page application in React.

CRA creates a development environment to build a React-based web app and optimizes your app for production right out of the box.

A few things good to know are that CRA doesn’t handle back end logic or databases, and it uses Babel and webpack. I would recommend learning about them if you want to dive deep into the subject.

An introduction to React. | Video: Programming with Mosh


What Is Next.js?

Next.js is a lightweight open-source framework created by Vercel and released in 2016, . It was built on top of React to improve the experience and add additional features. It’s used to build optimized and fast web apps thanks to its static site and server-side rendering stages.

Next.js is popular among frameworks thanks to the following features:

  • Typescript: This language is gaining popularity and I would recommend learning it if you haven’t already. It’s built on JavaScript. Next.js supports Typescript.
  • Redux: Next.js seamlessly supports Redux, which React developers really like.
  • Optimal speed: Next.js has two pre-render stages. The first one is server-side rendering (SSR), which allows us to fetch data and render it at the time of request. The other is static generation, which uses data available before request and helps us to cache data to get better SEO. That way, web crawlers can interact with a fully pre-rendered HTML page. Vercel claims that Next.js is one of the fastest frameworks, and they are right.
  • Configurability: Next.js is easily configurable, as any good framework should be. Auto-generated styling solutions simplify development and provide template starters to kickstart your project.
  • Routing: Creating page routes is as easy as creating folders.


React vs. Next.js 

Now that we know the basics of Next.js and React, we can compare them to determine when to use each one. Choosing the main tool for your application is very important.


Advantages of React

  • React is easier to learn than Next.js. It has extensive documentation to get started quickly.
  • React has hundreds of packages and tools created to make coding easier.
  • Coding is made easier in React due to JavaScript, which is a great language that enables developers to create dynamic applications using less code.
  • A strong community with 197,000 starts on Github (as of this time of writing), which makes searching for help a lot easier.
  • React has reusable component systems that let developers reuse most of the code and create easily readable code bases. These components can be loaded to different pages in a recurring manner while still keeping their characteristics.
  • Create React App tool lets developers kick off their projects fast and without a hassle.


Disadvantages of React

  • React has worse SEO because React applications take longer to load. Next.js, on the other hand, was built with SEO in mind.
  • React’s performance isn’t as good when compared to Next.js. Applications take longer to load and become interactive.
  • Developers need tools like CRA to create a project faster. Otherwise, the configuration may be difficult and take too much time.
  • React is getting updated quite fast, thus developers need to watch every update for React as new features can be added at any time. Documentation gets old fast and is not necessarily updated at the same time as updates.


Advantages of Next.JS

  • Developers don’t need extra configuration to create an SSR app, while React needs CRA.
  • Out-of-the-box experience. No need to worry about extra tools or bundlers as everything is done for you at project creation.
  • Next.js was built with SEO in mind. SSR makes applications build on Next.js faster for so-called crawlers that visit your website and gather data for search engines.
  • Performance is a big advantage of Next.js. Thanks to SSR and Static generation, applications built with it are fast.
  • Next.js optimizes images, which helps with performance.
  • Next.js allows you to import CSS files from a JavaScript file. This is possible because Next.js extends the concept of import beyond JavaScript.
  • Next.js has its own folder structure which makes the process more intuitive and simple.


Disadvantages of Next.JS

  • Unlike React, dynamic routing is not supported for Next.js. Node.js is needed for dynamic routing.
  • It takes more time to build larger sites according to developers on various sites.
  • Routing isn’t that flexible, as Next.js has its own integrated one.
  • Without React fundamentals, it will be harder to create new projects.

More on Software EngineeringInstall Node.js: A Tutorial


Why Understanding React Is Important 

Whether you are using Next.js or React, both are based on React, and you will be coding in React. Understanding React UI libraries and core aspects is a must. React doesn’t need Next.js, but Next.js needs React.

The main difference between CRA and Next.js is that CRA will run on the client’s browser, while Next.js will run on the server.

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