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InfoQ Homepage News Next.js 13 Targets "Dynamic without Limits" Apps with New, Experimental Features

Next.js 13 Targets "Dynamic without Limits" Apps with New, Experimental Features


The Next.js conference recently introduced Next.js 13, the latest version of the React application framework. Next.js 13 wants to enable developers to make “dynamic without limits” applications through innovative features, many of which are still in alpha or beta. The new features update the compiler, routing, and rendering infrastructure, and improve the component toolkit.

The Next.js team explained in a recent keynote the rationale behind the latest release of Next.js:

Next.js had its origins as a React framework for dynamic server-rendered sites. Instead of optimizing for single-page applications, we designed Next.js for teams building ambitious, complex applications. But being dynamic has always come with a lot of limits.
You’ve wanted to be dynamic, but it’s meant at the expense of costly, always-on infrastructure, requiring manual provision and extensive operations.
You’ve wanted to be dynamic, but it’s meant juggling two sets of runtime APIs, no JS in the server, and web standard APIs in the browser.
You’ve wanted to be dynamic, but often only in a single region origin, depending on legacy, static, CDN caching to try to perform and scale.
Today, we’re releasing Next.js 13 to enable you to be dynamic without limits.

The new release features improvements in the toolkit (improved Link component, new Image component, and new @next/font library). Additional alpha/beta features provide a glimpse of the future of server-side rendering, as envisioned by Vercel.

The new Image component is designed to improve user experience, as driven by native lazy loading, less client-side JavaScript being shipped, and the absence of layout shift. On the developer experience side, the new component strives to be easier to style and configure.

The improved Link component no longer requires an anchor tag (i.e., <a>) as a child. The following is now valid Next.js code for an anchor link:

// Next.js 13: `<Link>` always renders `<a>`
<Link href="/about">

@next/font (released in beta) will automatically optimize fonts (including custom fonts) and remove external network requests for improved privacy and performance. The documentation details:

@next/font includes built-in automatic self-hosting for any font file. This means you can optimally load web fonts with zero layout shift, thanks to the underlying CSS size-adjust property used.

Next.js 13 introduces Turbopack (released in alpha), intended as a Rust-based replacement to Webpack that provides developers with orders of magnitude improvements in speed. Like Parcel before it, Turbopack incrementally builds and bundles source files. The Next.js team touts:

Turbopack only bundles the minimum assets required in development, so startup time is extremely fast. On an application with 3,000 modules, Turbopack takes 1.8 seconds to boot up. Vite takes 11.4 seconds. Webpack takes 16.5 seconds.

Turbopack has out-of-the-box support for Server Components, TypeScript, JSX, CSS, and more.

Evan You, the creator of Vite, recently challenged the Vite vs. Next/Turbo benchmark, finding similar speed when the benchmark is performed using comparable configurations. As of the day of publication of this article, Vercel’s benchmark methodology and results have been published and corrected some mistakes but remain a topic of debate.

While the improvement in the developer experience is expectedly positively valued by many developers, one developer pointed to possible downsides and limitations:

There’s a massive ecosystem of Webpack plugins that will likely make migration very hard for existing apps. Vercel will likely need to count on community contributions with some kind of plug-in system and that might be difficult because JavaScript developers like me are too dumb and lazy to learn Rust.
Furthermore, […] Vite with esbuild is already fast enough for most projects and it’s got an awesome developer experience that’s hard to beat.
You should also know that Vercel has an angle to make money on this by remotely caching builds in the cloud.

Next.js 13 also brings major changes to the routing and rendering infrastructure of the framework, some of which have been worked on in direct collaboration with the React core team to leverage React’s Server Components, Suspense, and streaming. The documentation explains:

The new router includes support for:

  • Layouts: Easily share UI between routes while preserving state and avoiding expensive re-renders.
  • Server Components: Making server-first the default for the most dynamic applications.
  • Streaming: Display instant loading states and stream in units of UI as they are rendered.
  • Support for Data Fetching: async Server Components and extended fetch API enables component-level fetching.

For more detail, developers may refer to the release note.

While there are plenty of positive reactions to the release from developers, one developer noted:

The rules related to how server components can be used may be unintuitive and hard to teach. React already has a reputation for being too complicated, I don’t think this is going to help. Dealing with client-side JS and Node runtimes in the same codebase is already a bit of a dance, but in the old paradigm at least there was only one interaction point between the two worlds (getServerSideProps/getStaticProps); now it could be at every component boundary.

Another developer warned against the bleeding-edge nature of some of the new features:

Next.js embraces some experimental, not yet stable React features, which the React team is researching, like server-side components, or async/await support in those server-side components.
And therefore, NextJS also embraces potential future React concepts. But what’s really important to understand, and what can’t be stressed enough is that we’re talking about unstable, not yet finished APIs, which are still being researched and fleshed out.
For that reason, if you explore the beta docs for this new /app folder and this new way of building Next.js applications, you will find a lot of warnings and notes about features still missing, not being finished, likely to change, and so on.

Next.js is open-source software available under the MIT license. Contributions are welcome via the Next.js GitHub repo following the Next.js contribution guidelines and code of conduct.

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