What is Next.js? Everything You Need To Know

What is Next.js? Everything You Need To Know

Are you a React developer? 

If so, one of the frameworks you need to know is Next.js. Although the framework itself is somewhat complex, it isn’t terribly difficult to master, and it offers a number of potential benefits for apps and websites.

Read on to learn more about what Next.js has to offer to see if this is something you want to add to your development toolkit.

The history of Next.js: How it started

Next.js was developed in response to issues with server-side rendering (SSR), which delivers HTML to the browser. The process was somewhat bulky and inefficient. At the same time, loading pages could still be slow in some cases, and developers were looking for a way to optimize it even further for faster speeds.

The solution they came up with was automatic static optimization through a new framework called Next.js. This framework offered a unique hybrid option for pre-rendering that included both SSR and static site generation (SSG) along with custom webpack config. It also included the next/babel preset for TypeScript support.

Next.js debuted on October 25, 2016 through an open-source project on GitHub. As additional improvements were made, new versions of Next.js were developed, including:

  • March 2017: Next.js 2.0 was introduced with better tools for small websites, enhanced build efficiency, and improved scalability for the hot-module replacement feature.  
  • September 2018: Next.js 7.0 improved upon its dynamic route handling with better support for React’s context API. Error handling was improved as well.
  • February 2019: Next.js 8.0 was the first version to incorporate code splitting into individual lambda functions which were run on demand, creating a better experience for a server-less deployment of applications. In this version, statics exports also required less time and resources and pre-fetching performance was enhanced.
  • March 2020: Next.js 9.3 included global Sass and CSS module support along with other helpful optimizations.
  • July 2020: Next.js 9.5 introduced new features for incremental static regeneration, rewrites, and redirect support.
  • March 2021: Next.js 10.1 features improved installation time due to fewer dependencies, Shopify integration, and three times faster refresh.

One of the creators behind Next.js is Guillermo Rauch, who also founded LearnBoost and CloudUp. He is currently the founder and CEO of Vercel (formerly ZEIT), a cloud platform for static sites.

Today, Next.js is used by some of the biggest sites on the web, including HuluRealtor.com, and Ticketmaster.

What is the React framework?

Because Next.js is so closely related to React, it helps to understand some of the background behind that framework. React is a frontend JavaScript library that can be used when developing mobile and single-page web applications. 

When creating React apps, some client-side functionality may be required along with additional libraries for file-system routing purposes due to the limitations of the framework. However, it offers a number of notable features that set it apart from other framework options, such as:

  • React components, which are divided into functional components and class-based components depending on how they are applied.
  • Hooking through the use of lifecycle methods, which assists in rendering various components.
  • Virtual Document Object Model, which is often referred to as simply virtual DOM or React-DOM. This process uses reconciliation to make quick updates.
  • JavaScript XML, which is also known as JSX. React uses this extension to the JavaScript language syntax for easier component rendering.

Like Next.js, React is known for having a developer-friendly user experience. React applications are fairly easy to create once the framework has been mastered. However, Next.js has been viewed as a streamlined alternative that allows developers to “hit the ground running” since it uses advanced data fetching for pre-rendering purposes.

The basics of how to use Next.js

Next.js is a development framework within React.js that disconnects the CMS from the frontend of a website or application. This makes it capable of achieving much faster website speeds. And because it’s based on JavaScript, the Next.js framework will be familiar to many developers from the get-go.

Here’s a simple overview of how to create a Next.js application:

  1. Start your project with an npm install, then create a package.json file.
  2. Go to the pages folder and create an index.js file. Now you can start creating static website Next.js pages. Note that the URL will be determined by the page file name using API routes. Optionally, you can also create dynamic pages within your Next.js project.
  3. Use the Link component to build links. This will assist with navigating within the Next.js app or website and speed up client-side rendering.
  4. If you need to, export your Next.js application as a static site. This bypasses the need for setting up a Node environment.
  5. Make changes to the package.json to prepare your app for deployment. Run npm run build and npm run start and your application will be ready to go.

These steps only cover the basics of Next.js. The framework also allows for additional features like setting up zones to communicate with different URLs. A number of plugins for Next.js are available as well.

For a more advanced tutorial on how to use Next.js, you can check out the official website at Nextjs.org

Web hosting for Next.js

With Next.js, users have their choice of several solid hosting options. The easiest option is the Vercel platform, which works with a variety of Git providers (GitHubGitLab, and BitBucket). 

Next.js can essentially be used with any hosting provider that supports Node.js or Docker containers as well.

For Node.js hosting options, your package.json will need the “build” and “start” scripts. This is a good option for both statically generated and server-side rendered pages.

If you have a single node in a cloud provider, consider using a hosting provider that supports Docker containers instead. For this option, you’ll need to build your container with docker build . -t my-next-js-app and run it with docker run -p 3000:3000 my-next-js-app.

Website design and customization

Another great feature with Next.js is the ability to customize your website. There are thousands of free and paid Next.js themes which can be used when building your site, like those available at Creative TimEnvato, and Dribbble. Custom features are easy to integrate using plug-ins or third-party software. Here are some of the many possibilities for website design with Next.js:

  • Add a store interface to sell products online through your website. The store can be customized to present products in different categories and display detailed individual product pages.
  • Launch hidden pages to present to a specific client without making them publicly available in your site navigation or through online search engines.
  • Create visually stunning homepages and landing pages that feature your primary services or products and entice visitors to explore your site.
  • Incorporate backend webpack configurations to customize your site. Some of these are available as plug-ins, such as:

Next.js: Is it really the best for blogging?

For developers who want to create a blog, Next.js is sure to come up as one of the primary options. There a number of advantages that come with building a Next.js blog, including:

  • Adding new content frequently is especially easy with Next.js. Real-time publishing is a breeze with this framework thanks to the hybrid server-side rendering and static generation.
  • It works for multi-user blogs, so you can have multiple blog authors access and add content to the site.
  • Fast speeds make your blog more engaging and searchable for visitors.
  • Scalability is effortless as your website grows. You don’t have to worry about your website lagging as you add more content. An influx of new visitors won’t cause a crash, either.
  • Easy customizations allow you to easily integrate all kinds of features within your blog, like video content, polls, and more.
  • The maintenance is simple and easy. Once you’ve built a blog with Next.js, there’s little effort in maintaining it besides adding your content.

Next.js vs WordPress

For those with web development expertise, Next.js is generally preferable to WordPress. While WordPress is more accessible for those who are beginners in building sites, Next.js provides great solutions for some of the drawbacks to using WordPress.

Here’s a closer look at how Next.js beats out WordPress in a number of key areas:

  • Faster page loading speeds. WordPress sites with a lot of plugins tend to load at a slower pace.
  • Automatic website updates. WordPress is constantly changing and updating, while Next.js offers more consistency for users.
  • Better online security. It’s harder to hack Next.js sites because they sit on a CDN.

Next.js certainly has some enticing features, but WordPress does have a number of advantages to consider as well. 

You need a lot of web development experience to use Next.js, which may be a barrier for some. Meanwhile, WordPress is fairly straightforward even for those who are not particularly tech-savvy. In addition, it takes more time to get a site set up and running on Next.js, and the hosting options are more limited.

How much does it cost to build on Next.js?

Because it is a type of open-source frontend development web framework, Next.js is free to use. It is designed with the idea that it will be freely distributed and modified by different users.

In addition, there is free hosting for Next.js sites available on Vercel. There are also paid hosting options that can work with Next.js, but Vercel is the most popular choice.

Additional customizations may require payment, such as certain paid themes, plugins, or third-party software. Depending on the customizations you want for your website, there may be some costs involved.

For those who don’t have development experience or are unfamiliar with the JavaScript framework, the primary cost of using Next.js will be paying a developer to create and maintain their site. 

Use this guide to decide if Next.js is the right fit for you. Depending on what types of features are most important to you and your web development experience, Next.js could be a smart choice for your site.

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