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Gatsby vs. React: The Difference and Which Framework to Choose

Godwin Alexander Ekainu
Godwin Alexander Ekainu
December 31, 2023 · 16 min read
Gatsby vs. React: The Difference and Which Framework to Choose

JavaScript frameworks have been increasing in popularity, and as a result, developers have been left wondering which framework is best suited for their specific needs.

Questions that come up include, but are not limited to, which framework is the most optimal for a given task and which performs better.

In this blog post, we will dive into the topic of modern web application development and compare two popular frameworks, Gatsby and React.

By doing so, we aim to provide you with a thorough analysis of each framework's features so that you can make an informed decision when selecting the right one for your project.


What Is React?

React is a JavaScript framework used for building web applications and user interfaces. It allows developers to create reusable UI components that can be applied to multiple web applications.

Programming in React is declarative, component-based, and functional. Developers can create large web applications that modify data without requiring the page to reload. Instead of re-rendering the entire page, the framework uses a virtual DOM (Document Object Model) to render only the component that has changed, increasing efficiency.

Additionally, React utilizes the JSX JavaScript syntax extension, which enables the use of HTML tags and quotations inside JavaScript code. This makes it easier for developers to use React with existing codebases and improves code readability.

Features of React

  • Create reusable React components to improve code reusability.

  • React.js uses the virtual DOM to render changes only where necessary, improving performance.

  • React provides a server-side rendering API to render components on the server, also improving performance.

  • JSX is an alternative solution to append JavaScript functions for dynamic React components.

  • React uses the MVC architecture to separate logic from UI.

  • React uses one-way data binding to manage data flow.

Advantages of React

  • Efficient Rendering Technique: The document object model (DOM) is like a tree, so any change at the top can affect the re-rendering of the entire page. However, with React's virtual DOM, only the selected places with changes are updated when necessary.

  • Composable: Code for a web page is usually large because it contains all the functionality needed for that page, and already written functions are repeated throughout different pages of the application. React, on the other hand, is composed of components that can be reused in other web pages or applications.

  • Cross-Platform Support: React Native can be used to build applications for other platforms, such as mobile apps.

  • Stability: ReactJS solely uses downward data flow to ensure that even minor modifications to the child structures won't have an impact on their parents.

  • SEO-Friendly: Another advantage of React JS is its ability to address a prevalent issue with search engines' inability to understand JavaScript-heavy apps. React can be used as a workaround by running on the server, rendering the virtual DOM, and sending it back to the browser as a regular webpage.

  • Hot Reload: This allows developers to see changes made in their React app easily without having to reload the app.

Disadvantages of React

Excessive Freedom

React does not have a defined way of handling or solving certain problems, which can be both an advantage and a limitation for developers.

On the one hand, it allows for more flexibility and creativity in problem-solving. On the other hand, if the code is handed to an inexperienced developer, they may struggle to understand and work with it.

Additionally, different developers may have varying views and approaches to problem-solving, which can lead to inconsistencies in the codebase.

Steep Learning Curve

The statement that learning React is challenging is a widely held belief among developers. While there is some disagreement on this point, it is generally acknowledged that a new developer must possess a working knowledge of several other technologies in order to fully comprehend and use React. These technologies include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, all of which are integral to the React development process.

Additionally, the use of JSX in React adds another layer of complexity to the learning process, further compounding the difficulty for novice developers. As such, it is important for new developers to be aware of these challenges and to approach the learning process with patience and persistence.

State Management

State changes in React applications follow a unidirectional flow, traveling through the virtual DOM tree from the top-level parent component down to its children. As the state changes propagate through the tree, they trigger re-rendering in each child component, ensuring that the user interface updates to reflect the new state. This process of propagating state changes down the component hierarchy is known as "trickling down" the virtual DOM tree. It is a key mechanism in React that allows for efficient and predictable updates to the user interface, even in complex applications with many interconnected components.

React Library Limitation

React.js is a library, not a framework, and therefore doesn't come with some crucial development tools out of the box. It is a weak standalone platform due to its reliance on third-party libraries. This dependence on various libraries that offer their own packages raises questions about the total size of React web apps. Additionally, developers must depend on the stability of external libraries to ensure their React app operates correctly at all times. This exposes the app to potential security and consistency issues.


What Is Gatsby?

Gatsby is a development tool that generates static web pages. Built on top of the React framework, Gatsby uses GraphQL to query data from various sources, including markdown files, headless CMSs, and APIs. The data is then transformed into HTML pages and served by a web server. Gatsby is designed to work with modern front-end tools such as Webpack and Babel, supporting features like hot reloading and server-side rendering.

As an open-source tool, Gatsby has a thriving community that fosters its growth. Its ecosystem includes many ready-made plugins for added functionality. Gatsby is also known for having well-organized and well-written documentation. Without this documentation, developers may struggle to solve problems or properly use the tool, leading to a lot of trial and error.

Features of Gatsby

Gatsby is a web development framework that offers a variety of rendering solutions. Additionally, it uses GraphQL, a query language for APIs, to fetch data from any source. Gatsby's focus is on page performance, which is achieved through heavy image optimization, lazy loading, code splitting, and smart preloading of assets. This focus on performance is especially important since faster pages lead to better user experience and improved search engine rankings.

Another advantage of Gatsby is that it allows for the easy building of progressive web applications (PWA), which are web applications that can work offline and provide a native app-like experience to users. This is a significant benefit, as PWAs are becoming increasingly popular due to their ease of use and ability to provide a seamless experience across multiple devices.

Furthermore, Gatsby integrates easily with almost all headless CMSs, which are content management systems that provide a back-end only, without any front-end presentation layer. This makes it easy to add Gatsby to an existing CMS-based website or to start a new project from scratch with a CMS that fits your needs.

In summary, Gatsby is a powerful web development framework that offers a variety of rendering solutions, uses GraphQL to fetch data from any source, focuses on page performance, allows for the easy building of progressive web applications, and integrates easily with almost all headless CMSs.

Advantages of Gatsby


Gatsby.js is a performance-focused React framework for building static websites and web applications. It leverages modern technologies, such as CSS Modules and webpack, to optimize performance and minimize bundle size. Additionally, Gatsby.js supports server-side rendering and code splitting out of the box, making it a great choice for performance-critical applications.

Moreover, it supports out-of-the-box image optimization to reduce asset bundle size and lazy loads of images.

Good Documentation

One of Gatsby.js's best features is its comprehensive documentation. The documentation covers all the basics of using Gatsby.js, including installation, creating pages and posts, and deploying your site. It also provides a detailed explanation of how Gatsby.js works, which can be helpful for understanding the tool's internals.

Additionally, the Gatsby.js team regularly releases new tutorials and guides on their website, so you can always stay up-to-date with the latest changes. Overall, comprehensive documentation is one of the biggest selling points of Gatsby.js.

Strong Ecosystem

Gatsby has one of the strongest communities in the web development world. Its community actively releases new plugins to aid performance.

The platform is built on top of React, allowing developers to create high-performance user interfaces. Additionally, Gatsby.js has a strong ecosystem of plugins and themes, making it easy to extend the platform's functionality.


Gatsby is a highly secure tech stack developed by experts, which makes it difficult for hackers to carry out any significant website compromise. Due to its highly secure nature, there are fewer common security errors. In fact, Gatsby websites are not often targeted by hackers as they are not easy pickings.

In addition, Gatsby is a serverless system, which greatly reduces its attack surface. The serverless architecture ensures that the web application is deployed on a cloud infrastructure managed by a third-party provider. This means that the application does not have a fixed server or operating system, which makes it difficult for attackers to identify vulnerabilities or exploits. Furthermore, the use of serverless architecture ensures that the application can scale automatically depending on the traffic, reducing the risk of a DDoS attack.

In short, the highly secure nature of Gatsby, coupled with its serverless architecture, ensures that it is highly resistant to cyber-attacks. Therefore, users can rest assured that their website is safe and secure when using Gatsby.

Deferred Static Generation

Deferred Static Generation and SSG are conceptually similar, as their names suggest. With Deferred Static Generation, developers can choose to delay creating specific pages until a user requests them for the first time. This provides developers with more control over the construction timelines of their sites.

For instance, consider a situation where you have an archive of older articles that are no longer popular. It is unnecessary to generate these for every build, which would delay the delivery of fresh articles. In this situation, you can choose to delay the production of old pages, and Gatsby will skip them during the build process.

Disadvantages of Gatsby

Steep Learning Curve

Firstly, Gatsby is built on React, which uses JSX as a technique to add dynamic functions to web pages. This may be a bit confusing for new learners. Additionally, Gatsby introduces GraphQL, Markdown, Gatsby-specific APIs, and more. All of these concepts can be overwhelming for someone who is not familiar with them.

Gatsby Ecosystem

The Gatsby ecosystem is one of the most attractive features, as professional developers can extend Gatsby's functionality. However, it can also be a disadvantage.

With so many plugins available to solve different issues, it is easy to use poorly managed plugins that can harm your applications. Similarly, some starters and themes may not be of high quality.

Gatsby vs. React: Head-to-Head Comparisons

Both Gatsby and React are powerful tools that can assist web developers in creating fast and user-friendly websites.

But which is better?

To answer that question, we need to compare them side by side.

In terms of speed, Gatsby easily wins. Since it uses static site generation, pages are pre-rendered instead of needing to be generated on the fly. As a result, Gatsby apps load much faster than ReactJS apps. However, if they use server-side rendering, ReactJS applications can still run quickly.

Another significant difference is how these two systems handle data. Gatsby collects all the information it needs at build time, so pages are fully loaded when they are first accessed. On the other hand, ReactJS only retrieves the data required for the active view. This makes ReactJS apps more flexible and able to adapt to data changes more easily. However, it also means that setting up ReactJS projects properly takes more effort during development.

Finally, we should consider ease of use. Gatsby has a fairly high learning curve because it requires knowledge of both NodeJS and ReactJS. ReactJS, on the other hand, is easier to learn because it only requires a working knowledge of JavaScript. However, all frameworks are equally easy to use once you have learned them.

Similarities Between Gatsby and React

  • Open-Source: Both frameworks are open-source, meaning they are maintained by a large community and are completely free. The community puts in efforts to release new updates to improve the tools.

  • Developer Experience: Gatsby and React come with extensive documentation to help developers create applications with ease.

  • Live Reloading: Live reloading is supported, so you can see changes without having to reload the page.

  • Server-Side Rendering: Both frameworks can render pages using server-side rendering (SSR).

Differences Between Gatsby and React



Greater plugin ecosystem

Smaller ecosystem

Has rich APIs that make static site generation easier

Uses a set of functions it provides

Uses GraphQL to fetch data from different sources

Offers a more straightforward solution that depends only on files exported from the /pages directory

Has several components, such as link, image, etc., that help make processes easy

Prefetching links and/or image optimization needs more configuration to work

When to Use React over Gatsby?

When it comes to deciding between React and Gatsby for your web project, there are several key factors that you should take into account. Although both frameworks have their own unique strengths, React may be the better choice for you in the following situations:

  • You require full control over how your application works and need to have the flexibility to customize every aspect of your project.

  • You need to build cross-platform applications that can be used on a wide range of devices and operating systems.

  • You are working with virtual reality applications and need a framework that can handle complex graphics and visual elements.

  • You need to hire skilled developers who are experienced with React and can help you build your project quickly and efficiently.

  • You need to manage your code easily and want a framework that is easy to work with and can be scaled up or down as needed.

In addition to these factors, there are many other considerations that should be taken into account when deciding between React and Gatsby. Ultimately, the decision will depend on your specific needs and the unique requirements of your project. By carefully weighing all of the factors and doing your research, you can make an informed decision that will help you achieve your goals and build a successful web application.

When to Use Gatsby over React?

Gatsby is a static site generator that is designed to deliver high performance, making it an ideal tool for developers who want to create fast-loading websites. If you are considering using Gatsby for your next project, there are several reasons why it might be the perfect fit for your needs.

Firstly, Gatsby is optimized for smaller websites with fewer than 500 pages, making it an ideal choice for e-commerce sites or other types of static sites. This means that you can create a high-performance site without having to worry about complex server-side setups or database management.

In addition, Gatsby is designed to deliver a fast, responsive user experience, which is essential in today's online environment. By using features like gatsby-link, which eliminates the need for page reloads between links, and lazy-loading images and code-splitting, Gatsby ensures that your site will feel fast and responsive, even on slower devices.

Another advantage of using Gatsby is that it provides additional security measures for your website. Since Gatsby only delivers plain HTML files and does not store any private client information or databases, there is less to hack in the event of a security breach. This means that you can rest easy knowing that your site is as secure as possible.

If SEO is critical for your application, Gatsby can help you there too. By optimizing your site for search engines and providing tools to ensure that your content is easily discoverable, Gatsby can help you to improve your site's search engine rankings and drive more traffic to your site.

Finally, if you want to provide a fully app-like experience for your users, Gatsby can help you to achieve this by borrowing from full PWAs and adding features to make the user experience more seamless. With Gatsby, you can create a site that feels like a native app, while still delivering the performance benefits of a static site generator.

The Bottom Line: Which One to Choose

To conclude, it's important to carefully consider your options when it comes to modern web development. While Gatsby and React are both excellent choices, they have different strengths and weaknesses that may make one a better fit for your specific needs. For example, if you're looking for a fast, lightweight solution that allows you to get up and running quickly, Gatsby may be the way to go. However, if you need a more robust solution that can scale as your project grows, React may be the better choice.

Additionally, it's worth noting that both Gatsby and React have large and active communities that can provide support and resources as you work on your project. Whether you're a seasoned developer or just starting out, having access to these resources can be invaluable.

Ultimately, the best decision is to carefully evaluate your specific needs and goals, and choose the tool that best fits those requirements. By doing so, you'll be setting yourself up for success in your web development endeavors.

Is React Better Than Gatsby?

When choosing a web development framework, there are several factors to consider. Some engineers may prioritize the programming language, while others may put performance or features first.

Both Gatsby and React are excellent options for web development. React, with its adaptability and simplicity, is a favorite among developers.

However, Gatsby also has several benefits, including deep data integration and built-in functionality for static site development.

Ultimately, the ideal framework for your project will depend on your unique requirements and preferences.

Best JavaScript Frameworks for Your Next Project

Download the best JavaScript frameworks guide to answer the 'which JavaScript framework to use for your next project?'

Frequently Asked Questions About Gatsby vs. React

Does Gatsby Use React?

Yes, Gatsby indeed employs React. Gatsby is a highly-regarded framework for website development that's built on the React library. By harnessing the power of React along with other well-known open-source technologies, Gatsby provides a versatile and efficient environment for web development. Gatsby stands out due to its swift rendering abilities, simplified content management, and robust plugin ecosystem. This allows developers to tailor their websites to meet their unique needs.

How Does Gatsby Enhance the Capabilities of React?

Gatsby augments React's component-based structure by adding features like static site generation, image optimization, and automatic routing, making it a comprehensive tool for web development.

Can I Use Gatsby without Knowing React?

While it's possible to use Gatsby without extensive knowledge of React, a basic understanding would significantly enhance your capability to exploit Gatsby's full potential.

Best JavaScript Frameworks for Your Next Project

Download the best JavaScript frameworks guide to answer the 'which JavaScript framework to use for your next project?'

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