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Next.js vs ExpressJS: which one to use

Let's review Next.js and ExpressJS to see how each framework stacks up against one another regarding performance, ease-of-use features and UX.

6 January, 2022
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There are different JavaScript frameworks that you can use for your project, but it isn't always easy to know which one will suit your needs. Many developers use React because it is easy to learn and fast-growing. Angular is not as popular but has more features than React does. Vue is a newer framework gaining popularity quickly because of its ease of use and performance benefits over other mobile app development frameworks. What about Next.js and ExpressJS?

Let's review Next.js and ExpressJS and how they are being used to see how each framework stacks up against one another regarding performance, ease-of-use features, and user experience in mobile applications.

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What's a framework?

Frameworks are the building blocks of any application. The more frameworks you have, the easier it is to build your application. One can define a framework as a set of guidelines, typically written in software code, that provide general instructions for solving a problem or accomplishing a task. Frameworks offer consistency and predictability across an application and its various components.

Frameworks are software libraries that help developers build applications on top of them. They provide standard functionality like routing, emulating, and data management. Frameworks also make it easier for developers to organize code into logical chunks and reuse code across projects. The choice of framework depends mainly on the type of application you want to build and how much control you want over design decisions.

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What you need to know about Next.js

Next.js
Next.js

Next.js is an open-source JavaScript framework for web and mobile application development that enables functions like static web generations and server-side rendering for apps built in React. It runs on Node.js, supporting serverless architecture for comprehensive development in both mobile and web apps.

Features like hot reloading (which lets you see changes without refreshing the page) and the one-command installer make it an excellent choice for developers who want to get started quickly. With this framework, you don't need to worry about maintaining your server because Next runs on Node.js and supports serverless architecture.

Next.js stands out with its versatile rendering options. Server-Side Rendering (SSR) and Client-Side Rendering (CSR) are complemented by Static Site Generation (SSG), allowing for faster page loads by generating HTML in advance. 

Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR) further refines this by allowing pages to update after deployment, offering a blend of static generation and on-demand rendering. Partial prerendering ensures that only parts of the page needing frequent updates are rendered dynamically.

To further enhance performance, Next.js includes automatic optimizations for images, fonts, and scripts. Its image optimization automatically adjusts and serves images in the most efficient format, reducing load times. Font optimization ensures text remains visible during webfont loading, and script optimization helps in reducing the size and number of JavaScript files, crucial for maintaining excellent Core Web Vitals scores.

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Alex Ratushnyi

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CTO, Javascript engineer: TypeScript, React, Next.js

Next.js leverages the latest React features, including React Server Components. This addition allows developers to reduce the client-side JavaScript bundle size by rendering more components server-side. The result is faster load times and a smoother user experience, as less JavaScript needs to be downloaded, parsed, and executed on the client side.

How different is Next.js from other frameworks

Next has many of the same features as other frameworks, but some unique aspects that set it apart from others. The main difference between Next and other frameworks is that it uses React components instead of templates. This makes the code easier to read and maintain by separating the UI code from the application logic code.

The next main difference between Next and other frameworks is how it handles updates to data on the page. Unlike other frameworks, which typically update the whole page when data changes, Next only updates what needs to be updated. It speeds up application performance and reduces network usage for users with slow internet connections.

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Next.js doesn't have a single language in which components are written – they can be written in ES6, TypeScript, or even JSX. It enables developers to use existing webpack configurations, so you don't need to start from scratch when setting up your project. The framework also makes it easy to share code between client and server-side because all logic is written in JavaScript.

If you're familiar with React, then the syntax should be very similar to what you're used to seeing. In fact, Next will import any .jsx or .js file in your working directory into the app's entry point.

Why Next.js is worth using

Next.js features
Next.js

A great benefit of Next is its ease of use: you can develop applications without ever leaving the browser, as it supports live reloading out-of-the-box. This means changes in our code are reflected immediately without refreshing the page, so we never have to worry about manually restarting the server every time you change something.

Another great feature of Next.js is its powerful routing system, which allows us to define routes for each component separately and then combine them. It provides an elegant API that allows you to create complex, interactive web applications easily. Furthermore, it includes features such as code-splitting, server-side rendering, routing, and more, which make developing React applications feel like a breeze.

The framework is built on top of React and uses JSX syntax to define your views. The data model is simple: all your data lives in one place – there are no separate models or stores, making Next very easy to learn and use.

Also, while Next.js does not include a built-in state manager, it's flexible and compatible with popular state management libraries such as Redux, MobX, or React's Context API, allowing developers to choose the best tool for their specific needs.

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What you need to know about ExpressJS

ExpressJS
ExpressJS

ExpressJS is a lightweight, open-source web application framework that simplifies the development process by providing scalable APIs, middleware support, and a robust routing system. It's part of the MEAN stack, compatible with various databases, and offers extensive support for template engines, enhancing its capabilities for building modern web applications.

It uses the Sinatra style of DSL for defining routes and HTTP methods, but it also has many other features like support for different emulating styles (e.g., EDS, jade) or powerful middleware (e.g., compression). Express can be used together with other frameworks like AngularJS or Meteor to make them more powerful and offer a complete solution for developers looking for everything in one place. Express can also use any front-end libraries you want because it's only responsible for the server-side code.

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It has since become one of the most popular frameworks in the Node community. It is easy to learn and use and powerful enough to build any modern app that you can imagine using JavaScript on both client and server-side code. Express is gaining popularity and becoming one of the best frameworks for web development.

Why ExpressJS is worth using

ExpressJS features
ExpressJS

ExpressJS framework is a minimal and flexible web application development framework that provides robust features for building single-, multi-page and hybrid web applications. It offers both an endpoints API to handle requests that should be routed to server-side logic and support for writing your own middleware components if you need functionality not provided by the built-in library. The project is designed with a convention over configuration approach, meaning that it's easy to get started without having to write a lot of code.

ExpressJS is valued for its efficiency and speed, using minimalist tools and functions that streamline the development process. Its flexible, efficient, and straightforward approach allows developers to route client requests effectively, making it a preferred choice for modern app development. It also gives you more time to focus on the design aspects of your application without having to scrap together code from scratch each time you need something new.

It has very little overhead, making it ideal for single-page apps that are driven by the browser. It also offers an MVC pattern that makes it easy to build well-structured projects.

Express is opinionated by design to allow developers to use it in their preferred style with minimal configuration. The framework does not dictate how you structure your project or where you should put files inside your project directory. This way, you can use Express as a light framework for prototyping or as an all-inclusive solution for large projects.

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How different ExpressJS and Next.js are

ExpressJS has similar features as Next Framework but does not have all the features Next.js offers. ​​The two frameworks are different in how they use routing, with Express using regular expressions to match URLs, while Next uses the concept of routes as objects that map URIs to handlers.

To look at it more closely, Next.js simplifies page routing with its file-based system. Simply by placing a JavaScript file in the 'pages' directory, you can create a route that corresponds to the file name. This system streamlines the development process and is particularly beneficial for API routes, allowing developers to quickly set up endpoints.

The interfaces on each framework are different, too – with Express having an API that resembles Node's callback-based API but also has some additional features like middleware, which Next lacks, and Next being more declarative by using "pages" which are React components rendered on the server-side.

For those looking for a JavaScript-based serverless framework, Next.js may be a perfect choice. It is an open-source framework with React compatibility that allows developers to use their favorite tools like Babel, Webpack and TypeScript.

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Is Next.js better than ExpressJS?

These are no better and worse frameworks. The answer to this question largely depends on your use case. Frameworks are designed for different purposes, so you must know your goals before deciding on which framework will be best for you.

While Next.js and Express.js can technically be used together, they cater to different aspects of web development. Next.js is more focused on the frontend, leveraging React for server-side rendering and static site generation, whereas Express.js is a backend framework that's lightweight and flexible, suitable for setting up APIs and routing.

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CEO and Founder of Merge

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

My mission is to help startups build software, experiment with new features, and bring their product vision to life.

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