A Complete Guide to Integrating Server-Side Rendering into a React App: Twitch and TikTok Experience

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Building a React application with server-side rendering offers many advantages over client-side rendering. This article highlights the benefits it offers and helps you implement this type of render.

What is server-side rendering? 

As a technique, server-side rendering is used to render single-page applications on the server. If there were no server-side rendering technique, it would mean that all of our single-page applications would only be rendered in the browser and we'd lose out on performance benefits such as page speed and SEO ranking.

Benefits of SSR for a React application

The most significant benefit to using server-side rendering with your React application is improved performance. However, there are many more benefits to be enjoyed when bringing this concept into your workflow.

Improved performance and user experience 

When an application is rendered on the client-side, the application’s JavaScript file is downloaded to the client’s browser before the page starts to load. When JavaScript files are big, this significantly increases the initial page load.

How does client-side rendering work?

You can also choose to integrate server-side rendering for React.js applications. With SSR, you have the option of serving prerendered HTML from your server so that your users receive a fully rendered page from the first load. This eliminates a delay that’s present when using client-side rendering and helps ensure a seamless experience for users of your application!

Here's how it would work:

If your application uses SSR, you don’t need to worry about website visitors staring at endless loaders and spinners while waiting for your application content.

SEO friendliness

Long initial loading isn’t only an issue for your website’s users. Search engine bots also take time to load webpages, but unlike your visitors, they are driven by artificial intelligence and programmed to not wait to view content.

So when they visit your site it’s important that the rest of the content has already been downloaded or at least made immediately accessible so that these bots can then index your site in what is referred to as the SERPs (search engine results presence) thereby increasing its overall ranking in Google searches!

Content sharing 

When a social network user shares a link to a server-side rendered application in a post, a snippet is automatically used to help people get additional information about the content and provide them with a look at what they'll get. The use of social network snippets can help you attract attention to your application’s content and increase traffic.

Accurate page loading metrics

Rendering an application on the client’s end deprives the server of information about how fast the website's content is visible. When an application is rendered on the client’s side, you have no analytics on how long it takes for the client to see your application’s content. Thus, you won’t know if the speed is sufficient or if there’s room for improvement.

How to build a server-side rendered React app with Next.js

Here, we will give you a few tips you can use to integrate server-side rendering into your React application.

We at Distinct Clouds have used Next.js to enable SSR for React applications. In this post, we'll briefly look at what Next.js is as well as why it works well for us and our end users.

What Next.js is and why we use it

Next.js is a framework based on React that facilitates the production of scalable React applications. Distinct Clouds developers describe Next.js as being slick, fast, and flexible due to the ability to choose whether or not to render components on either the server or client-side, depending on the specific page your app will be making use of.

Other reasons why we use Next.js

  • Improved performance — Next.js has several built-in performance optimization functionalities, including route prefetching, hybrid and AMP-only page serving, and code splitting.
  • Streamlined development — The Next.js framework was created with React developers in mind, and as such it boasts several features that enhance productivity. These include webpack customization, instant refresh (instantaneous feedback on edits made to any part of your Next app), and easy debugging.
  • Universal deployment — Deploying a Next.js project is possible in multiple scenarios with help from the Vercel platform, but you can also deploy your project to any place that has a Node.js server (this is also commonly known as cloud platforms like AWS or Azure). Additionally, Next.js comes with Static HTML Export functionality which helps you generate static site pages which can be hosted on most web roots like GitHub Pages for instance!
  • Growing in popularity — The Next.js team works closely with engineers in the Googler and the React team at Facebook to make their framework as useful as possible, resulting in more and more people taking interest in it. Even the recently announced Next.js conference that’s going to be held on October 27, 2020, already has 20,000 sign-ups in just two days!

Pre-rendering 

Next.js has two different ways of doing pre-rendering: static and server-side rendering. To better understand each one, let's examine what they can be used for.

Static generation 

Static generation is pre-rendering a page into HTML on the server when building the application. Static generation is typically used for pages with relatively static content and is particularly helpful when creating documentation and blog posts of some sort.

Using this method saves your application unnecessary back and forth requests to the server each time someone visits one of these pages. As such, users visiting them will get their content more quickly without having to send along with new query parameters every single visit (which if you've dealt with your APIs would not be possible using templating engines like jinja2 or cheetah which otherwise preserve all query params). If you can deal with essentially designing a page once and cache-ing it to display subsequent views, we highly recommend this approach.

Next.js can help if you’re interested in creating a static page by offering two main ways to do so depending on whether external data is required for the page content to generate properly or not. To enable static generation for a page that doesn’t require external data, you can use Next.js as follows:

function About()

{

return <div>About</div>

}

export default About

If your page needs to load additional information from an external source, you'll need to edit React's getInitialProps function. For example, if your content depends on data retrieved from an API, you can use the function getInitialProps:

If a page has dynamic routes and the page paths depend on external data from different sources, static generation can be turned off with the help of the getStaticPaths function:

Static generation is beneficial for application performance. However, it’s not suitable for pages that change frequently. That’s when server-side rendering comes into play.

Server-side rendering 

Server-side rendering is when a website’s pages are primarily generated by server computing, even before the user request or page loads. This helps create faster web pages that appear to respond faster due to preloading all their content ahead of time. Server-side rendering can be done with any templating system. It’s suitable for serving the same options or personalizing rendered web pages for each user's computer.

SSR is a coding approach that pre-renders the HTML on the server. This means that each time a user visits a site with SSR support, a request is sent to the server. First, the server renders the page; then it delivers it to the user. An application can be made to support SSR with help of the getServerSideProps(props) function:

Or by using thegetInitialPropsfunction:

Thus, Next.js is a unique tool in the sense that it allows for mixing and matching different types of pre-rendering together as per your needs.

Moreover, there's no need to pick only one type of pre-rendering when you're building an application or updating an existing one; instead, you can mix and match as needed - now that's something not many frameworks can boast about!

Automatic static optimization 

Next.js is a popular framework for building React applications, and with it come several automatic optimizations that can help you build applications faster, such as the ability to create static pages without writing any backend code. The framework utilizes Express with cutting-edge web development techniques to automatically generate HTML when your app is pre-rendered on the server.

This is one of Next.js' core features in its Cache API: when there is a getServerSideProps or getInitialProps function in your pages (pages--not components). If neither is present, it enables static page generation for the page automatically.

Additional handy features of Next.js

Static HTML export

Static exporting lets you export your application to static HTML that doesn’t require a Node.js server or any other kind of conversion for delivery. This feature is enabled by default and doesn’t require any configuration. Static exporting can be used only for apps that don’t need to have their pages processed through the server to render properly, using what is known as ‘Server Side Rendering’ or ‘Universal Links’ in React Native.

AMP support

Next.js supports creating accelerated mobile pages (AMPs). AMP is a combination of a wiki engine and content management system that lets you build optimized web pages for your users, enabling fast-loading and smooth surfing.

Conclusion

Server-side rendering is worthwhile for websites, as it can improve their performance, SEO-friendliness, and traffic. Although enabling SSR might seem complicated, you can easily do so using powerful tools like Next.js. Hire our Next.js developer to make sure your application performs at maximum capacity!

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