“I already know React,” mused my friend. “What popular backend language should I learn that will make me a useful hire to companies?”
The truth is there is any number of reasons you’d want to know which backend technologies are a good fit for React. Maybe you want to know which backend stack is the most scalable, or you’re looking for a better way to streamline the development workflow. And sometimes you just want to practice new tools that will look good on your resume. This article will walk through five of your best options, so you can choose the right one for your circumstances.
React is one of the most popular front-end technologies in use today, serving as a front-end library for building user interfaces on over 11 million websites. According to StackOverflow’s 2023 Developer Survey, it’s the most desired web framework (35%), the most used web framework among professional developers (42%), and the most loved web framework – over 90% of respondents want to continue developing with React.
That’s a lot of superlatives! Why is React so popular among web developers? Well:
- It’s easy to scale, thanks to its modular nature — components are easy to extract, merge, and reuse.
- Its virtual DOM means faster rendering than many other frameworks, which makes it a top choice for high-performance applications.
Before we dive into these five backend frameworks for React, a quick note: if your architecture is decoupled – for example, if your front end single page application contacts your REST API on another server – it does not matter what your backend is written in. There’s also a reason I’ve selected five options, rather than just giving you the top choice. Choices of technology always depend on your situation. For instance, while Next.js is the most popular meta-framework for React, vanilla Node.js is a good choice if you need more flexibility.
|Backend Option||Description||When to Use|
|Next.js||Meta-framework with SSR, SSG, and integrated API routing.||Server-side rendering, static site generation, improved performance and SEO, streamlined frontend-backend integration within a single codebase.|
|Django||High-level Python web framework with built-in features and RESTful API integration.||Advanced backend features, user authentication, database management, content administration, and Python ecosystem benefits.|
|Go||Lightweight and flexible web server written in Golang||You need a server that’s computationally efficient because you’ll be working with a lot of data|
|Ruby on Rails||Popular open-source web framework emphasizing simplicity and productivity.||Elegant and concise codebase, rapid prototyping, CRUD operations, and solid integration with React using JSON responses.|
🔗 Choosing the right backend for React
If you’re still not sure why your situation should matter so much, here are some key considerations to take into account when considering backend development for React.
- Community: Especially during the initial getting-used-to-it phase, you want ongoing updates, resources, and a helpful community for problem-solving.
- Documentation and a short learning curve: Bad documentation makes it hard to implement new backends. Clear documentation helps your developers learn quickly and be productive.
- Performance and scalability: It’s fine today, but what about tomorrow? Your backend should handle expected loads and scale effectively as your application grows. Backend performance matters for user experience.
- Integration: Consider how easily backend integrations will work. For example, are there popular client libraries for your chosen3rd party vendors like Stripe or Twilio?
- Security: Backend security means authentication and data protection, to keep user data secure.
- Maintenance and support: Consider the long-term backend maintenance for React and the availability of support services for the chosen backend technology.
- Cost and resources: Tally up licensing fees, hosting, and resource requirements. Do they fit within your budget and available resources? You want a cost-effective backend for React.
🔗 A quick note on decoupled architectures
I promise we’ll get to the list soon, but I want to better explain my decoupled architecture point. Decoupled architecture is when you separate the frontend and backend of your application, allowing them to function independently while communicating through APIs.
In the context of this React backend comparison, this means that the React frontend can interact with a backend implemented in any language or framework, as long as it provides a suitable API. For example, our own Boot.dev architecture is decoupled. The SPA (frontend) is served from the domain “boot.dev” while the API (backend) is served from “api.boot.dev”
🔗 Benefits to decoupling
First, it grants you more flexibility. You can choose different technologies for the frontend and backend based on their strengths. For example, you can use React for the frontend and choose a backend technology that excels at handling specific tasks like data processing, real-time updates, or complex business logic even if it’s not a perfect native fit for React. (cough, cough, Golang)
It’s also more scalable to decouple your architecture. You can independently scale each component based on its specific requirements. For instance, you might add more frontend servers to handle increased user traffic or scale the backend independently to handle heavy computational tasks or database operations.
Normally each frontend project needs to duplicate and maintain its own set of backend code, leading to code duplication and increased maintenance efforts. But with a decoupled architecture, you can create reusable backend services or APIs that can be consumed by multiple frontend applications or platforms. This promotes code sharing, reduces duplication, and simplifies maintenance across different projects.
🔗 Downsides to decoupled architecture
It’s worth thinking about decoupling when deciding on a backend integration with React, but there are also some downsides – it can make your architecture more complex since you have to manage communication and data synchronization between different components or services.
You’ll also be in the position of needing to continually maintain APIs instead of relying on a monolithic system, which can require additional effort and resources to ensure compatibility and version control.
Finally, you’ll likely experience more latency between your frontend and backend because each request and response has to traverse the network, potentially leading to slower overall performance compared to a tightly coupled architecture where data loading can happen at the same time that the page is being rendered on the server.
With those points in mind, we can finally get into the top five backends for React.
🔗 Node.js / Express
Why is it good as a React backend option? First, it means you’re writing JS on the frontend and the backend! It also allows you to leverage the same codebase and shared libraries, enabling efficient code sharing and reducing development time. Finally, it provides excellent scalability and performance, making it suitable for handling high-concurrency and real-time applications.
🔗 When should you choose Node.js as a React backend?
For example, Netflix uses Node.js to make Netflix even faster. Use TypeScript for bonus maintainability points.
Next.js is a popular meta-framework built on top of React, providing server-side rendering (SSR), static site generation (SSG), and integrated API routing.
It’s a solid React backend option because it simplifies React application development by offering built-in SSR and SSG capabilities, enhancing performance and SEO. Next.js uses server-side rendering to generate web pages on the server instead of the browser. This ensures that search engine crawlers and bots can effectively scan, index, and interpret web pages, which boosts its SEO. It also offers seamless integration of API routes, which allows developers to build the backend directly within the React application.
🔗 When should you choose Next.js as a React backend?
I’d recommend it for any React projects that require server-side rendering or static site generation to improve performance and SEO, like a company blog or an ecommerce site. I’d also suggest it as an option for applications where frontend and backend integration needs to be streamlined within a single codebase.
A meta-framework like Next.js really shines when you need the very first page load to be super snappy due to SSR. It’s not necessary for example, when you’re building admin dashboards or internal tools where the user is already authenticated and the data is already loaded.
🔗 Django (Python)
Django is a high-level Python web framework known for its “batteries-included” approach, providing a robust set of tools and functionalities for web development. Here at Boot.dev, we’ve got a pretty strong opinion on batteries-included tools like frameworks, specifically that it’s really important that you understand the fundamentals of the tools you use, instead of blindly relying on them. That way, when they break, you can fix them.
If you’re interested in learning Python for backend development you can check out our full Python course here.
However, it’s still a great option as a backend for your React app. Django offers a mature ecosystem and a wide range of built-in features such as authentication, ORM, and an admin panel. It also integrates well with React using RESTful APIs, which goes back to my point on decoupling. This allows your frontend and backend to be decoupled while still getting the benefit of Django’s backend capabilities.
Django also provides good security, scalability, and a strong community, making it suitable for complex React projects.
🔗 When should you choose Django as a React backend?
Django is a great choice for React projects that require standard CRUD backend features like user authentication, database management, and content administration.
At least in 2021, both Facebook and Instagram use a React-Django combination for some of their stuff. “The case for pairing the two frameworks would be to use React to handle the user interface, fetching data from the Django backend as necessary,” writes Richard MacManus for Newstack.
Golang, also known as Go, is a statically typed, compiled language developed by Google. It is known for its simplicity, efficiency, and ability to handle concurrent operations due to its unique goroutines. Go comes with a powerful standard library, which includes inbuilt support for web server implementation, meaning you won’t need a fully-fledged web framework like Express.js or Django.
Go is an excellent choice for creating highly performant backend systems, and if you’re interested in learning Go for backend development, check out our full Golang course here.
🔗 When should you choose Golang for a React backend?
Golang is an excellent choice when you require a backend that is computationally efficient because your application involves handling a lot of data or needs to perform real-time updates. Additionally, it’s also a good choice if you want a lightweight, efficient, and scalable server that can handle high traffic loads effectively.
Companies like Uber and Twitch use Go due to its superior performance and efficiency. If you’re building an application that requires high-performance and efficient resource utilization, Go can be a great fit. It’s also a good choice if you want to maintain a clean and easy-to-understand codebase, thanks to Go’s focus on simplicity and clarity.
🔗 Ruby on Rails
Ruby on Rails is a popular open-source web framework. It’s a great React backend option because, similar to Express.js, it emphasizes simplicity, productivity, and code elegance, allowing developers to build backend functionality quickly and efficiently.
Like Django, it’s especially good for integrating with React by providing APIs and delivering JSON responses. Rails has robust support for creating RESTful APIs, which allows that frontend-backend separation. The backend can respond to requests from the React frontend with JSON data, which is a common format for data exchange between the two.
What I love about it is that it offers a rich set of libraries and gems, reducing the amount of boilerplate code and making it a lot easier to maintain. Gems are Ruby libraries that can be easily added to a Rails project, providing additional features and capabilities, like Devise for user authentication.
🔗 When should you choose Ruby on Rails as a React backend?
I’d recommend Ruby on Rails for the same kinds of projects that you’d use Django for, but if you (or your team) has a preference for Ruby over Python. Both Rails and Django provide a ton of out-of-the-box functionality, so it really comes down to personal preference. The only time you’d want to avoid these technologies is if you’re building something that requires a lot of customization or does heavy computation.
🔗 Final thoughts on which backend is best for React
There are so many more backend options that go beyond this list of five, but hopefully, this provides a jumping-off point for your own research.
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember that the best backend for React depends on your specific project requirements, technology expertise, development workflow, scalability needs, security considerations, community support, and cost constraints.