Andre Landgraf smiling into the camera

Andre Landgraf

A tech enthusiast and student who loves to develop fullstack software solutions.

Why Remix is not a React framework but a full stack web framework

It's intuitive to compare Remix to Next.js and Gatsby and to treat it as a React framework. The team behind Remix has done its best to objectively compare Remix to Next.js in this blog post. However, the Remix team also stresses that Remix is not a React framework but a 🌟 full stack web framework 🌟 - an important distinction. In this post, I want to summarize my own thoughts about why I believe that Remix deserves the title of a full stack web framework.

There are a lot of great tools out there, and people have great careers all around web dev! When it comes to React-land, Remix, Gatsby, and Next.js are all great tools to build applications. On top of that, there are so many other tools that I won't mention here due to my lack of awareness and experience. My goal with this blog post is to articulate some of the nuances that make me so excited about Remix. In this spirit, just a quick disclaimer that this blog post is biased based on my own experiences and preferences.

Remix is a web framework

There are a couple of reasons why Remix is best described as a web framework. For one, Remix tries to be frontend library/framework agnostic and aims to support Preact, Vue, and other React alternatives in the future. However, I don't think that's what it's about.

The main reason I believe Remix is a web framework is its deep embrace of the web platform. Remix's goal is to enable "fast, slick, and resilient" user experiences by using the platform. Search parameters, cookies, meta tags, HTML forms, HTTP headers, and the web fetch API are all first-class citizens in Remix. Remix's conventions, levers, and primitives are thoughtfully designed abstraction layers of existing web APIs and standards. This sets Remix apart from other popular frameworks that feel more decoupled from the web platform.

🎯Remix embraces the web platform and provides thoughtfully designed conventions, levers, and primitives for existing web APIs and standards.

React still plays an important role in Remix. After all, Remix comes from the same folks that created React Router - Ryan Florence and Michael Jackson. Remix aims to leverage everything great React has to offer. For instance, Jacob Ebey and the rest of the Remix team are currently working on a deferred API to take advantage of React 18 streaming. However, when working with Remix, React only feels like one puzzle piece of the bigger picture of creating fast, slick, and resilient user experiences. Remix pushes me to think about HTTP caching, session cookies, the URL bar, the network tab, and so much more. Remix is a web framework.

I want to emphasize that the core team of Remix has been an integral part of the React community for many years (longer than I have been in tech honestly). However, there is more to web development than utilizing a frontend library - a backend for instance.

Remix is full stack

Remix also describes itself as full stack. Now it gets a bit tricky. What makes Remix full stack? Next.js renders React applications on the server and includes API routes; does that mean Next.js is full stack? I would argue that Remix plays in its own league here but let's start from the beginning...

If anything, I want to express how HUGE Remix is for this whole frontend/backend divide. There are so many different perspectives to this, and I want to make sure to address as many as possible.

The PHP/Rails perspective

Web developers have always worked on both the client and the server. Think LAMP stack or Rails: you build your business logic in PHP or Ruby (server side) and add some JavaScript to make your site dynamic (client side). Unfortunately, the integration between client (JavaScript) and server (PHP/Ruby) is limited by the language divide. In Remix, both your server and client code are just JavaScript/TypeScript. Reusing types and utility functions between client and server code becomes trivial. Additionally, Remix's router has a client and a server-side part to it, meaning that it can close the network gap and enable progressive enhancement, prefetching, and a rich SPA-like experience out of the box. This sets Remix apart from PHP, Rails, and so on.

Developing with Remix also has some similarities with PHP and Rails development. I remember having PHP files that included HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, and PHP code. I would invoke database queries from within HTML. Straight-up madness that leads to crazy spaghetti but nicely co-located code. In Remix, API endpoints and request handlers (loaders & actions) live in the same file-based route modules as the routes' components (files in the /routes folder), giving me that same feeling of proximity of everything important. Not to mention that Remix promotes the usage of form elements to trigger data mutations. Much PHP vibes, very old school. Funny enough, this gave Remix the stigma of being a boomer framework. I would much rather phrase it this way: from a PHP/Rails perspective, Remix feels familiar but comes with all the advancements of the JavaScript ecosystem.

🎯Remix is a healthy combination of what works (the web platform) and new ideas, trends, and technologies.

The JavaScript perspective

There are a lot of different approaches and stacks in JavaScript-land. I want to compare Remix with the things I know and have used myself: single-page applications (SPAs), the MERN (MongoDB, Express, React, and Node.js) stack, and Jamstack.

From SPAs to Remix

Create React App has been my go-to starting point to create rich client-side applications. However, I had to learn the hard way that SPAs come with some significant downsides. Among other things, SPAs might negatively affect search rankings, often mess with scroll positions when using the browser's back and forward buttons, and produce spinner-gedon due to client-side fetch waterfalls. Moreover, SPAs might slow down the initial page load times due to big bundle sizes and the time it takes to execute the JavaScript on the client. Since SPAs render on the client, they also aren't interactive until the JavaScript has fully loaded. From an SPA perspective, Remix might seem like just another pendulum swing in the never-ending back and forth between server-side and client-side heavy apps. However, I believe Remix is the next evolutionary step that addresses the pain points of SPAs but still enables me to create modern web apps.

🎯Remix addresses the pain points of SPAs and still lets me build modern web apps.

Both Remix and Next.js aim to solve the pain points of SPAs by utilizing the latest improvements in React and taking advantage of server-side rendering (SSR). From an SPA perspective, I believe this blog post by Ryan Florence is the best starting point to compare Remix and Next.js. In my opinion, Remix's focus on progressive enhancement, the reduction of the client bundle size, and the provision of levers to increase page loading times make Remix very appealing - also to bigger organizations.

For bigger organizations, the rise of SPAs has certainly made the divide between frontend and backend bigger by separating the frontend and the backend code into two separate applications. Instead of using PHP to render the website and using JavaScript to enhance the experience, one now renders the application on the client with JavaScript. Moreover, organizations use enterprise backend technologies such as Java Spring to create scalable systems. Inherently, different teams are now working on the frontend and backend code. A full vertical divide across the stack.

I personally use Remix for both my frontend and backend logic. In most of my apps, I query my databases right from my loaders and actions. However, I think for most complex systems, Remix will not be used as a backend server that connects to databases, but instead, is used as an SPA replacement to solve existing SPA pain points. Remix apps thrive in microservice architectures where they fetch and aggregate data from different backends on the server and implement the business logic before returning the data to the client (avoiding over-fetching as well). Moreover, Remix apps can easily forward client requests to other backends and act as adapters without the complexity of client-side fetching - resilient error boundaries included.

Data aggregation is a huge topic and one of the main reasons that GraphQL is so successful. I would argue that if you are just developing a website/web app and thinking about using GraphQL to aggregate data, use Remix instead. If your organization is using GraphQL, you can also easily integrate with GraphQL in Remix's loaders and actions without shipping a heavy GraphQL client to the user's browser.

🎯Remix is the perfect replacement for an SPA and works well in microservice architectures as it can aggregate data on the server and avoid overfetching.

From MERN stack to Remix

I worked with MySQL, PHP5, and jQuery for a year or so, but I really got started with web development in college. I had a bunch of innovation/prototyping courses and the MERN stack was the go-to suggestion to use for our imaginary startup ideas. The mantra was: "MERN is great for rapid prototyping". We would spin up two apps: one Create React App frontend application and one Express backend application. If I scroll through my GitHub projects, there is a long list of long-forgotten uni projects that all consist of two separate repositories with the following naming convention:

  • [cool-startup-name]-frontend
  • [cool-startup-name]-backend

Yes, everything is JavaScript but what does it help when the JavaScript lives in two separate repositories? Monorepo support has significantly improved in the past few years with tools like pnpm. Alternatively, you can use git submodules and other shenanigans to re-use code between your Express app and React app. However, in both cases, there is a lot of custom tooling and boilerplate code involved to make everything work nicely. From a MERN-stack perspective, Remix's biggest plus is the increased developer experience. Remix provides the glue between the frontend and backend code; Remix brings your frontend and backend code together.

Remix brings many quality-of-life improvements to the table. Out-of-the-box support for server-side React rendering, error and catch boundaries, prefetching, progressive enhancement, and file-based API and document request routing significantly reduce the amount of code needed to solve those complex problems. Just think about all the Express router and React Router boilerplate code you can get rid of by using Remix's file-based routing for both your API and document routes.

🎯Coming from MERN, Remix provides insane quality-of-life improvements and a better user experience out of the box.

From Jamstack to Remix

In 2020, I built my first real website with Gatsby. Coming from MERN, the speed of the initial page load blew my mind! The philosophy behind Jamstack has changed over time but Gatsby's approach is to server-side render React at build time - this is known as static-side generation (SSG). Jamstack heavily promotes the separation of frontend and backend.

"Jamstack is an architectural approach that decouples the web experience layer from data and business logic, improving flexibility, scalability, performance, and maintainability."jamstack.org

For my first website (a pilates course platform), I chose Gatsby because I perceived the course data as static. However, for my business logic, I also required a backend to process payments and provide admin functionalities. Coming from MERN, I chose Express, MongoDB, and Node.js and created a second application. Since then, Gatsby and Next.js have both added serverless functions to accommodate the need for server-side logic. Either way, one Gatsby application now consists of three environments: the client-side SPA, the serverless/lambda functions or the custom backend, and the build environment which runs on the server once during build time.

Remix and Jamstack have different philosophies about web development and aim to achieve different things. Remix is about providing levers to optimize for what's most important to you. One could definitely use Remix with a Jamstack mindset: add a CDN in front of your Remix website and add very long-lasting cache headers. Then bust the CDN cache during redeploy, and you've got yourself static-site generation. Use Remix's server-side environment to aggregate data from different places and just use it as a "web experience layer".

I was at Reactathon this year, and Ryan Florence gave a great talk about "When To Fetch". Please watch the talk if you haven't. It really shows how much thought the team behind Remix puts into its APIs that allow you to use Remix to prioritize the key performance indicators of your choice. Not to say that the people behind Next.js and Gatsby don't do that, but then we go back to the "web framework" part and my previous statement: Remix feels less decoupled from the web platform. There are a lot of different things to optimize your website for and Remix is all about providing levers so that we can choose what to optimize for. For me, this sets Remix apart from Jamstack.

🎯Remix is about providing levers to optimize for what's most important to you.

Remix runs everywhere

Remix is full stack but it is also capable of running in places where your typical MERN stack, LAMP stack, or Jamstack website cannot run. Remix runs with Deno, Node.js, Netlify, Vercel, Cloudflare Workers and Pages, and much more. Remix runs everywhere.

Remix runs on long-running servers, serverless environments, and the edge. This alone provides so much flexibility. Remix can adapt to your use case much better than other frameworks. For instance, I believe Remix is currently the easiest way to deploy a simple REST API to the edge. Speaking of the edge, I believe the edge is one of the areas where Remix is currently accelerating a trend by making it so accessible.

🎯Remix's ability to run anywhere adds to its flexibility. Remix's adapters let you choose a platform and environment based on your own requirements.

API-first

To add to Remix being full stack, I truly believe that Remix could be used to create standalone APIs. At the very least, Remix provides the means to create applications that consist of both API endpoints and document routes. In contrast to Gatsby and Next.js, Remix's API routes live in the same routes folder as the route components, which creates this feeling of proximity and co-location. Remix is a full stack web framework that creates one app in one programming language for the web.

Conclusion

Remix is a full stack web framework that both embraces web fundamentals and cutting-edge technologies. Remix takes advantage of the latest advancements in React 18 but it is more than a React framework. The goal of Remix is to make you build better websites. Remix embraces the web platform and provides thoughtfully designed conventions, levers, and primitives for existing web APIs and standards.

It's great to see how far Remix has come since its launch, but its future is even more exciting. The team behind Remix frequently emphasizes that it has great plans for the future of Remix. I believe that Remix is greatly positioned to drive the future of the web, and I hope that I was able to convey my enthusiasm in this blog post.

Take care & happy coding!