React Based Static Site Generators
React and static site generators (SSGs) built on top of it are gaining a lot of traction with frontend developers worldwide in the last couple of years. A ton of reasons for that.
ReactJS was first released in 2013, promising to transform front-end development. Since then, it has become one of the rare technologies to deliver on its promise. So much so that today many refer to it as the king of the front end.
On the other hand, we have Jamstack. As recently as two years ago, only a buzzword but today an established web development framework (take these terms lightly will ya!?) for pretty much anything, i.e., websites, ecommerce, apps. Did you know that 32% of surveyed developers said they are working on sites that serve audiences of millions of users? Which, BTW, is a considerable uplift from last year.
And why is that? It’s simple: these technologies/approaches significantly simplify the web development, management, and distribution processes.
As content types and consumption platforms further diversify, API and CDN ecosystem grow more, and modern browsers abilities continue to evolve, it’s safe to presume that the adoption for both of these approaches will only increase from here.
So you know React, and you’re ready to take advantage of Jamstack. All you’ll need is a static site generator to bridge the gap...so to speak.
What Are Static Site Generators?
A static site generator generates an entire website from completely static HTML files, pre-built without any calls to the database or external data sources and server-side processing.
As the online world evolved, websites have become highly complex. An influx of plugins and add-ons caused the websites to become slow, insecure, and complex to maintain. Static site generators address these problems.
A growing static site generators space plays a huge role in building a faster and better web.
Static vs. Dynamic Pages / Websites
On the other hand, dynamic pages generate content/pages with the help of a server for each page request. That means that each time you refresh a page, you’ll be served with a newly server-generated page that may be different from the previous one.
Why Use Static Site Generators?
Static site generators bring on a slew of benefits by solving the problems otherwise associated with dynamic websites.
Unlike dynamic websites that generate your website pages in real-time, static site generators deliver a pre-build HTML file when the users request a page. The file is usually hosted on a content delivery network (CDN), enabling maximum loading speeds for your web pages, winning you the trust of search engines and users alike.
Static site pages are HTML files that aren’t connected to any database. Because of this, cybercriminals cannot do SQL database injections (for example) or find similar server-side flaws.
That significantly brings down any security risks.
Simplification of Development and Management
We’ve established that static site generators don’t need databases, packages, libraries, or even a backend server. This alone makes static sites easy to use in development, managing, and migrating to another host whenever you please, without any complexity or compatibility issues.
Dynamic websites frequently run into server overloads during traffic spikes. With static sites, that’s no issue making these incredibly easy to scale and serve as large a traffic spike as needed.
Facebook first introduced it for its news feed, designed to be fast and simplify the user experience, and it is most often used for dynamic websites. However, you may have noticed that these websites don’t exactly deliver on the speed promise anymore.
That’s why today, it’s often used for static sites, too.
React’s ability to enable pre-built HTML files that increase loading speed makes it a perfect framework for building an SSG. React allows for a granular approach in making changes to your static website by making it possible only to edit one component file.
All that means that the number of React-based static site generators is growing every day. Still, not all of those are the same.
Newcomer React SSGs
Before discussing the most popular ones, look at one of the newcomers in React static site generators space.
React Static is a powerful, lightweight, and fast progressive static site generator for React.
It was designed with the user and developer experience in mind, built for SEO, supports the entire React ecosystem, and comes with great features right out of the box.
Its simple setup and migration and the fact that it is data agnostic make it one of the favorites among developers.
UmiJS is an extensible enterprise-level front-end application framework based on React.
UmiJS is highly extensible with support for various plugins and function extensions, letting you cover the complete lifecycle.
It’s very popular among enterprises because it’s easily scalable and customizable. It supports both configuration and conventional routing with functional completeness such as dynamic routing, nested routing, permission routing, and more.
Docusaurus is a static site generator that helps you build optimized websites quickly, focused on your content, which often consists of open-source software documentation.
It’s built on React and powered by Markdown, support localization, versioning, and content search out-of-the-box, as well as a variety of integrations.
Next.js is one of the most popular static site generators, and with good reason. It offers one of the best developer experiences delivering all the features that you need for production: hybrid static and server-side rendering, TypeScript support, smart bundling, route pre-fetching, and more.
Since its version 10 update (there is now Next JS 12 version), it has become the definitive leader in the React-based static site generator space, having brought, among other things:
- Internationalized routing with built-in primitives
- Analytics of actual user performance
- A step-by-step guide for high-performance e-commerce websites
- Support for React 17
- Ability to import CSS from 3rd party React components
- Built-in image component and automatic image optimization
Next.js is relatively easy to learn, and the community is vast so that you won’t be making a mistake should you decide to go with it.
To start, you’ll need to fill out the requirements: having Node.js and npm (or npx) installed. When that’s done, it’s time to create your app, either through create-next-app or manually. Thankfully, Next.js has provided extensive documentation that will get you up and running in no time.
Finally, Next.js also comes with an added value of Vercel, a platform for frontend frameworks and static sites, designed to integrate with headless content, commerce, or database. Vercel lets you develop, preview, and ship every Next.js feature without configuration.
If you’ve ever read anything about static websites, you’ve heard of Gatsby.
The highly customizable Gatsby helps you build blazing-fast static websites by loading only critical parts of a webpage, after which it prefetches resources for other pages. It supports a variety of sources to pull content from through GraphQL.
Gatsby also brags content mesh, the modern headless CMS architecture, with Gatsby managing all the web app components.
On top of that, they offer the Gatsby Cloud platform that was designed for building, previewing, and deploying Gatsby websites in real-time on a global Edge network. It covers the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) part of the architecture.
If you don’t consider yourself an expert in web development, you’ll be happy to know that Gatsby offers step-by-step tutorials on getting started. Intermediate or advanced developers can start by creating their Gatsby website and setting everything up locally before deploying on Gatsby Cloud or via another solution of their choice.
What Now? Which React-based SSG Is for You?
I guess I won’t be saying anything new with it depends on your business goals, the website you are making, and team proficiency, right? But it is true.
Docusaurus is built with docs in mind, but it is a good option for small websites as much as other newcomers. Both Gatsby and Next JS work great on almost any project, no matter the size, and I am emphasizing size here.
While it is true SSGs might have problems generating tens of thousands of pages whenever you make a change. Gatsby and Next solve this by offering solutions in the form of incremental builds.
The thing is, web development is moving fast nowadays, and it is moving fast in the direction of agile frontend frameworks offering businesses unique best-of-breed stacks tailor-made for individual experiences.
And now might be the right time to join the future.
Server-Side Rendering. Client-Side Rendering. CSR with Prerendering, etc. The differences, trade-offs, and similarities between most common web rendering solutions and why you should care about them as a dev.