A Comprehensive Guide to Server-Side Rendering in React

Imagine being able to craft highly interactive and super fast web experiences without the constraints of client-side JavaScript execution. Imagine having the power to command what gets displayed for each and every page request, while also enjoying the luxury of built-in features like state management. This is not just a dream, but a reality with server-side rendering in React – an invaluable tool that has transformed the realm of dynamic web applications.

Thanks to groundbreaking technologies like Node.js, first introduced to the world in May 2009, we can now propel content from the backend straight into our frontend, all while maintaining optimum efficiency. The result? Reduced loading times and a level of control that was previously unthinkable.

In this comprehensive guide, we journey into the heart of server-side rendering in React. We’ll demystify how it operates, delve into its implementation in existing projects, and highlight the myriad of benefits it brings to the table. But we won’t stop there. We’ll also tackle the challenges it presents, from performance optimization to maintenance aspects.

Are you ready to harness the power of server-side rendering in React? Then keep reading, as we provide practical tips and tricks to help you start your journey. With this knowledge, you’ll be equipped to navigate the exciting terrain of server-side rendering, bringing your web development skills to an all-new level!

Server-Side Rendering

What Is Server Side Rendering?

Server Side Rendering, or SSR, is a method where web pages are first built on the server and then sent to your device. This makes pages load faster and work better, even on slow internet or on devices with less power. It’s especially useful for websites made with React.

With SSR, a website can send the complete page to your device in one go, avoiding back and forth between the server and your device. This is great for making sure your content looks good on search results, as it helps search engines understand the page better. If a site is only built with Client-Side Rendering, search engines may not see everything correctly because they struggle with some JavaScript code.

Another cool thing about SSR is that it makes sure everything works well across different browsers. Lots of new web features are specific to certain browsers, and these might not always work as expected with just Client-Side Rendering. But with SSR, these features are pre-built on the server, so they work normally when they reach your device.

Benefits of SSR

Faster Initial Page Loads: SSR makes your web page load faster. This is because all the information needed for the page is created on the server before it’s sent to your device’s browser.

Better for SEO: If you’re using single-page applications (SPAs), search engines like Google may struggle to see all your content. This is because SPAs send JavaScript files that aren’t easily understood by search engine bots. SSR helps with this problem by sending fully rendered content that bots can understand better.

No Waiting for Components: With SSR, most parts of your website or app are made ready ahead of time. This means there’s no waiting for parts of the page to load while you’re using the site.

Implementing Server Side Rendering in React

Now, let’s dive deeper into the workings of server-side rendering in Next.js and Express.js, using a real-world example where it proves to be extremely valuable.

Case Study: An Online Shopping Website

Think of an online shopping website, which is a great example where server-side rendering can be incredibly helpful.

Such a website has tons of pages, each showcasing a product or a group of products. These pages are often changing and updated regularly. So, it’s crucial that search engines can easily find these pages and that they’re accessible to all visitors.

By building your online shopping website with server-side rendering in Next.js or Express.js, you can make this possible. This method allows you to create the HTML of each page on the server, making it simple for search engines to explore and index the content.

How to Use Server Side Rendering with Next.js

Next, let’s see how we can use server-side rendering in Next.js for an online shopping website.

Step 1: Start a New Next.js Project

The first step is to start a fresh Next.js project. You can do this by running these commands in your terminal:

npx create-next-app my-ecommerce-app

cd my-ecommerce-app

Step 2: Include Necessary Dependencies

The next step is to include the required dependencies in your project. Run this command:

npm install react react-dom next

Here’s how your package.json file should look after this:


“name”: “my-ecommerce-app”,

“version”: “0.1.0”,

“private”: true,

“scripts”: {

“dev”: “next dev”,

“build”: “next build”,

“start”: “next start”,

“lint”: “next lint”


“dependencies”: {

“@next/font”: “13.1.6”,

“eslint”: “8.34.0”,

“eslint-config-next”: “13.1.6”,

“next”: “13.1.6”,

“react”: “18.2.0”,

“react-dom”: “18.2.0”



Please remember that these package versions are based on when this guide was written.

Step 3: Establish Environment Configuration

Next, we’ll create an environment variable in a .env.local file. This file holds settings that can be used in different situations, like when you’re developing, staging, or launching your project.

To create an environment variable, make a .env.local file in the main directory of your project and include a line like this:


Remember, you shouldn’t include this file in your source control because it might have confidential details like database passwords or API keys.

A better approach is to make a template file named .env.example with placeholder values for your environment variables and include that in your source control. Other developers can then copy this file and put in the real values for the environment variables.

Step 4: Make a New Page

Next.js operates on a file-based routing system. This means every file in the pages directory corresponds to a page on your website. So, to make a new page, you just need to create a new file in the pages directory with the URL path you want. For instance, to make a page that shows a list of products, you could make a file called pages/products/index.js.

Inside this file, you can write a React component that will show up when someone visits the /products URL path. Here’s an example of a component that gets a list of products from an API and shows them in a list:

function ProductsPage() {

  const [products, setProducts] = useState([])

  useEffect(() => {

    async function fetchProducts() {

      const res = await fetch(‘/api/products’)

      const products = await res.json()




  }, [])

  return (




        {products.map((product) => (

          <li key={product.id}>{product.name}</li>






export default ProductsPage

Step 5: Set up an API Endpoint

To get the list of products, we used an API endpoint at /api/products. Next.js has a built-in API routing system that makes it really easy to set up serverless API endpoints.

To make an API endpoint, you need to create a new file in the pages/api directory. For example, to make an API endpoint that gives back a list of products, you can create a file named pages/api/products.js.

In this file, you can write a function that will run when someone accesses the API endpoint. For this guide, we’ll use a mock function that gets a list of products from a dummy API:

const products = [  { id: 1, name: ‘Product 1’ },  { id: 2, name: ‘Product 2’ },  { id: 3, name: ‘Product 3’ },]

export default function handler(req, res) {



Step 6: Modify the Page for Server-Side Rendering

By default, Next.js renders pages using client-side rendering (CSR), which means JavaScript code runs in the user’s browser. But for server-side rendering (SSR), you need to change your page component to use a function called getServerSideProps.

The getServerSideProps function runs on the server before the page is displayed. It can be used to gather data from an API or database, and then return it as props to the page component.

Here’s a new version of the pages/products/index.js file that uses getServerSideProps to collect the list of products on the server:

import { useState } from ‘react’

function ProductsPage({ products }) {

  const [loading, setLoading] = useState(false)

  return (




        {products.map((product) => (

          <li key={product.id}>{product.name}</li>






export async function getServerSideProps() {

  const res = await fetch(`${process.env.API_URL}/api/products`)

  const products = await res.json()

  return { props: { products } }


export default ProductsPage

It’s important to note that we’ve relocated the useState hook for the loading state outside of the getServerSideProps function. This is because it needs to be initialized on the client side as well.

Step 7: Launch the Development Server

At this point, you’re ready to launch the development server. You can do this by running this command in your terminal:

npm run dev

This command will launch a local development server at http://localhost:3000.

Step 8: Check Out the Application

You’re now ready to test the application. You can do this by going to the /products URL path in your web browser. You should see a list of products on the page.

Server-Side Rendering: SEO vs. Performance

Server-side rendering (SSR) can enhance both SEO and performance, though there might be certain compromises.

SEO Advantages

  • SSR enhances SEO as it simplifies the task for search engines to scan and index content.
  • By sending fully rendered HTML to the client, SSR makes it simpler for search engines to comprehend the content.
  • Search engines may assign higher ranks to SSR pages as they offer a superior user experience.
  • SSR ensures that all content on the page, including JavaScript-generated content, is visible to search engines.

Performance Advantages

  • Client-side rendering (CSR) might provide quicker initial page load times as the browser can begin rendering the page once it receives the initial HTML and JavaScript files.
  • SSR might be slower for initial page loads as the server needs to render the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript before sending it to the client.
  • After the page has loaded, navigating within the site can be quicker as the server has already completed the rendering task.
  • SSR can lessen the amount of client-side processing, which would be advantageous for slower devices.
  • SSR can help decrease the number of network requests needed to load a page, thereby enhancing performance.

Final Thoughts

In sum, server-side rendering (SSR) in React is a powerful tool for building dynamic and high-performance web apps. It optimizes page load times, improves user experience, especially for users with slower devices, and ensures consistency across different browsers by rendering pages on the server before sending them to the client.

While there are challenges such as increased complexity and maintenance, modern technologies like Next.js and Express.js simplify the implementation process. When combined with caching strategies and the right infrastructure, SSR can enhance user experience and provide a more SEO-friendly solution, particularly for complex sites like e-commerce platforms.

SSR is a valuable asset for React developers, especially for projects with lots of dynamic content or backend logic. If implemented properly, it can significantly improve performance, user experience, and SEO.

As React’s popularity grows, it’s important to have skilled developers to implement your projects. Consider hiring a proficient React Developer who can deliver custom solutions to fit your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is React server-side rendering faster?

React server-side rendering (SSR) can be faster in scenarios where a lot of content or data needs to be loaded initially. However, if your content is mainly generated by JavaScript, client-side rendering (CSR) might be quicker.

Is SSR worth it?

The value of SSR depends on your specific application needs. While it offers benefits like improved load times, SEO, and performance on slower connections, it can also complicate your application and may not be needed in all cases.

Is Facebook a CSR or SSR?

Facebook uses both CSR and SSR. While they utilize SSR for the initial load of some pages like the newsfeed, they rely heavily on CSR for dynamic updates and interactions.

When should I use SSR?

SSR is beneficial when you have a large amount of data or content to load, for SEO improvement, or to boost performance on slow connections. It’s also useful for highly accessible applications or ones that need to render on low-end devices. However, as SSR can increase complexity, consider the trade-offs carefully before deciding to use it.

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