tRPC vs Server Actions in Next.js

14 May 2024

tRPC vs Server Actions in Next.js

Ed Robinson, Lead Software Engineer

Understanding the Fundamentals

When it comes to building modern web applications with Next.js, developers have various options for handling server-side logic and API interactions. Two popular approaches that have gained attention in the Next.js community are tRPC and Server Actions. In this section, we'll dive into the fundamentals of these technologies and explore their key differences.

What is tRPC?

tRPC is a framework that enables type-safe end-to-end TypeScript APIs. It allows developers to define and consume backend APIs in a type-safe manner, leveraging the power of TypeScript. With tRPC, you can write server-side logic using TypeScript and automatically generate client-side code that matches the server's types. This ensures consistency and reduces the chances of errors during development.

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Make sure to also read the comparison of tRPC vs GraphQL in Next.js.

What are Server Actions in Next.js?

Server Actions, introduced in Next.js 13, are a built-in feature that allows developers to define server-side functions directly within their Next.js application. These functions can be triggered by client-side components and executed on the server, providing a convenient way to handle server-side logic without the need for a separate API layer.

With Server Actions, developers can write server-side code using JavaScript or TypeScript and take advantage of Next.js's built-in features and optimizations. Server Actions are defined within the app/ directory of a Next.js project and can be easily accessed from client-side components using the action prop.

Key Differences in Approach and Architecture

While both tRPC and Server Actions aim to simplify server-side logic in Next.js applications, they differ in their approach and architecture:

  1. Type Safety: tRPC generates TypeScript types for both the client and server-side code, ensuring end-to-end type safety. Server Actions, on the other hand, provide some level of type safety by allowing developers to define input and output types for server-side functions.

  2. Routing and Endpoint Management: tRPC uses its own routing system, where API routes and endpoints are defined within the tRPC router. Server Actions, in contrast, leverage Next.js's file-based routing system, with server-side functions defined in specific files within the app/ directory.

  3. Data Fetching and Caching: tRPC offers built-in support for data fetching and caching, including features like query caching, mutations, and invalidation. Server Actions do not have built-in data fetching or caching capabilities, requiring developers to integrate with other libraries or implement their own caching strategies.

By understanding the fundamentals of tRPC and Server Actions, developers can make informed decisions when choosing the appropriate approach for their Next.js projects. In the following sections, we'll explore performance considerations, developer experience, real-world use cases, and best practices to help you leverage these technologies effectively.

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Performance and Efficiency

When it comes to building high-performance web applications, developers often face the challenge of choosing the right tools and techniques. In the context of Next.js, two popular approaches for handling server-side logic are tRPC and Server Actions. Let's dive into a comparison of their performance characteristics and explore strategies for optimizing server-side rendering (SSR), static site generation (SSG), and leveraging caching and revalidation techniques.

Comparing the Performance of tRPC and Server Actions

tRPC and Server Actions both aim to simplify server-side logic and provide a seamless integration with Next.js. However, they differ in their underlying implementation and performance characteristics.

tRPC leverages TypeScript's type system to generate type-safe client and server code. It provides a unified way to define and consume APIs, ensuring type safety throughout the development process. While tRPC offers excellent developer experience and reduces the chances of runtime errors, it may introduce some overhead due to the additional abstraction layer and the need to generate and maintain type definitions.

On the other hand, Server Actions are a built-in feature of Next.js 13 that allows developers to define server-side functions directly within their Next.js application. Server Actions are designed to be lightweight and performant, as they leverage the existing Next.js infrastructure and do not require additional libraries or abstractions. They provide a straightforward way to handle server-side logic and can be easily integrated with Next.js's file-based routing system.

Optimizing for Server-Side Rendering (SSR) and Static Site Generation (SSG)

Next.js offers powerful features for optimizing the performance of server-side rendered and statically generated pages. When using tRPC or Server Actions, it's crucial to consider how they impact SSR and SSG performance.

For server-side rendering, both tRPC and Server Actions can be used effectively. tRPC allows you to define API endpoints that can be called from the server-side during the rendering process. Similarly, Server Actions can be invoked directly within getServerSideProps or other server-side functions to fetch data and perform necessary computations.

When it comes to static site generation, tRPC and Server Actions can be leveraged to fetch data at build time and generate static pages. tRPC provides a prefetch function that can be used to fetch data during the build process and store it as static JSON files. Server Actions can be invoked within getStaticProps to fetch data and generate static pages.

To optimize the performance of SSR and SSG, it's important to minimize the amount of data fetched and the number of API calls made during the rendering process. Techniques like data aggregation, caching, and incremental static regeneration can help improve performance and reduce the time taken to generate pages.

Leveraging Caching and Revalidation Strategies

Caching and revalidation strategies play a crucial role in optimizing the performance of Next.js applications, regardless of whether you're using tRPC or Server Actions.

Next.js provides built-in caching mechanisms, such as the Cache-Control header and the stale-while-revalidate directive, which allow you to control how long responses are cached and when they should be revalidated. By setting appropriate caching headers, you can reduce the load on your server and improve the responsiveness of your application.

Additionally, Next.js supports incremental static regeneration (ISR), which allows you to update static pages without rebuilding the entire site. With ISR, you can specify a revalidation interval for each page, ensuring that the content remains fresh while still benefiting from the performance advantages of static generation.

When using tRPC or Server Actions, you can leverage these caching and revalidation strategies to optimize the performance of your application. By carefully considering the caching behavior of your API endpoints and server-side functions, you can strike a balance between data freshness and performance.

Developer Experience and Productivity

When it comes to developer experience and productivity, both tRPC and server actions in Next.js have their strengths. Let's explore how they compare in terms of type safety, API design, integration with TypeScript, and tooling support.

Type Safety and Error Handling

One of the key advantages of tRPC is its strong emphasis on type safety. By leveraging TypeScript, tRPC ensures that the API contract between the client and server is well-defined and enforced at compile-time. This means that developers can catch potential type mismatches and errors early in the development process, reducing the chances of runtime bugs.

On the other hand, server actions in Next.js also support TypeScript, but the type safety is not as tightly integrated as in tRPC. Developers need to manually define and maintain the types for server actions, which can be more error-prone and require additional effort.

API Design and Organization

tRPC provides a structured and intuitive way to define and organize API endpoints. It uses a declarative approach where developers define query and mutation functions, which are automatically exposed as API endpoints. This makes it easy to understand the available API surface and maintain a clean and organized codebase.

Server actions in Next.js follow a more traditional approach, where developers define individual API routes and handle the corresponding logic within each route handler. While this approach is familiar to many developers, it can lead to a more scattered and less organized API structure as the application grows.

Integration with TypeScript and Other Libraries

tRPC seamlessly integrates with TypeScript, allowing developers to leverage the full power of static typing throughout the API layer. It also works well with popular libraries and frameworks such as React Query, which simplifies data fetching and caching on the client-side.

Server actions in Next.js can also be used with TypeScript, but the integration may not be as seamless as with tRPC. Developers need to manually handle type definitions and ensure consistency between the server and client code.

Tooling and Community Support

tRPC comes with a rich set of tooling and utilities that enhance the developer experience. It includes a powerful CLI tool that generates TypeScript types from the API definition, making it easy to keep the client and server in sync. tRPC also has a growing community and ecosystem, with various plugins and extensions available.

Server actions, being a newer feature in Next.js, may not have the same level of tooling and community support compared to tRPC. However, as server actions gain popularity, it is expected that the ecosystem around them will continue to grow and mature.

Real-World Use Cases

When deciding between tRPC and Server Actions in Next.js, it's essential to consider the specific requirements and characteristics of your project. Let's explore some real-world scenarios where each approach might be more suitable.

When to Choose tRPC

tRPC is an excellent choice when you have a complex API with multiple endpoints and want to ensure type safety throughout your application. Here are some situations where tRPC shines:

  1. Large-scale Applications: If you're building a large-scale application with numerous API endpoints, tRPC can help you maintain a clean and organized codebase. It allows you to define your API schema in a centralized location and generates type-safe client code automatically.

  2. Type-safe API Integrations: When integrating with external APIs that have well-defined schemas, tRPC can provide a type-safe way to interact with those APIs. By defining the API schema using tRPC, you can catch potential type mismatches during development and ensure a more robust integration.

  3. Shared Types and Validation: tRPC allows you to share types and validation logic between the server and client. This means you can define your input and output types once and reuse them across your application, reducing duplication and maintaining consistency.

When to Choose Server Actions

Server Actions, on the other hand, are particularly useful for handling server-side logic and mutations in a simplified manner. Consider using Server Actions in the following scenarios:

  1. Form Submissions and Data Mutations: Server Actions provide a straightforward way to handle form submissions and perform data mutations on the server. You can define server-side functions that process form data, validate inputs, and update your database or perform other server-side operations.

  2. Simplified Server-Side Logic: If your application requires server-side logic that doesn't necessarily fit into a RESTful API structure, Server Actions can be a good fit. You can define server-side functions that encapsulate specific actions or operations, making your code more modular and easier to reason about.

  3. Optimistic UI Updates: Server Actions allow you to implement optimistic UI updates easily. You can update the UI immediately after triggering a Server Action, providing a responsive user experience while the server processes the request in the background.

Hybrid Approaches and Mixing Both Techniques

In some cases, you might find that a hybrid approach, combining both tRPC and Server Actions, works best for your project. Here are a few scenarios where mixing both techniques can be beneficial:

  1. API Endpoints with Server-Side Logic: If you have API endpoints that require additional server-side logic or data manipulation, you can use tRPC to define the API schema and Server Actions to handle the server-side processing. This allows you to leverage the benefits of both approaches in a single endpoint.

  2. Gradual Migration: If you have an existing Next.js application that heavily relies on API routes, you can gradually migrate to tRPC or Server Actions. You can start by introducing tRPC for new API endpoints while keeping existing API routes intact. Similarly, you can incrementally adopt Server Actions for specific server-side operations.

  3. Flexibility and Modularity: By using both tRPC and Server Actions, you have the flexibility to choose the most appropriate approach for each part of your application. You can use tRPC for complex API definitions and Server Actions for simpler server-side logic, promoting modularity and separation of concerns.

Community Insights and Best Practices

When it comes to choosing between tRPC and server actions in Next.js, developers often rely on the experiences and insights shared by the community. Let's explore some valuable perspectives and best practices from experienced developers who have worked with both approaches.

Opinions from Experienced Developers

Many developers who have hands-on experience with tRPC appreciate its type safety and comprehensive feature set. They find that tRPC's integration with TypeScript helps catch potential errors early in the development process and provides a more robust API layer. On the other hand, some developers prefer the simplicity and lightweight nature of server actions, especially for smaller projects or simpler use cases.

Lessons Learned and Pitfalls to Avoid

When working with tRPC or server actions, developers have encountered various challenges and learned valuable lessons along the way. One common pitfall is overcomplicating the API design when using tRPC. While tRPC offers a lot of flexibility, it's important to keep the API structure clean and maintainable.

Another lesson learned is the importance of considering the project's scalability and future requirements. If the application is expected to grow in complexity, starting with tRPC from the beginning can save time and effort in the long run. However, if the project scope is well-defined and unlikely to expand significantly, server actions may be sufficient.

Recommended Patterns and Conventions

To make the most out of tRPC or server actions, developers have established some recommended patterns and conventions. When using tRPC, it's beneficial to organize API endpoints into logical groups and leverage tRPC's built-in versioning capabilities. This helps keep the codebase structured and allows for smooth API evolution over time.

For server actions, it's recommended to follow Next.js' file system-based routing conventions and keep the server-side logic focused and modular. Developers should also be mindful of the separation between client-side and server-side code to maintain a clear distinction and avoid potential security vulnerabilities.

Here's an example of a well-structured server action:

// pages/api/user/[id].ts
import { NextApiRequest, NextApiResponse } from 'next';

export default async function handler(req: NextApiRequest, res: NextApiResponse) {
  const { id } = req.query;

  if (req.method === 'GET') {
    // Retrieve user data based on the provided ID
    const user = await getUserById(id);
  } else {
    res.status(405).json({ message: 'Method not allowed' });

By following these recommended patterns and conventions, developers can create maintainable and efficient APIs using either tRPC or server actions in their Next.js applications.

Future Outlook and Potential Developments

As the Next.js ecosystem continues to evolve, both tRPC and Server Actions are expected to play significant roles in shaping the future of server-side development. Let's explore the potential developments and outlook for these technologies.

Evolving Ecosystem and Integration Possibilities

The Next.js ecosystem is constantly growing, with new features, plugins, and integrations being introduced regularly. As tRPC and Server Actions gain popularity, we can expect to see more seamless integrations with other libraries and tools commonly used in Next.js projects.

For example, tRPC may further enhance its integration with popular state management libraries like Redux or MobX, allowing developers to easily manage server state and client-side caching. Similarly, Server Actions may evolve to integrate more closely with other server-side libraries and frameworks, enabling developers to leverage their existing knowledge and tools.

Addressing Current Limitations and Challenges

While both tRPC and Server Actions offer powerful capabilities, they also have their own limitations and challenges. As the community continues to provide feedback and share their experiences, we can expect these technologies to address these limitations and improve over time.

For instance, tRPC may introduce more advanced caching mechanisms or optimize its performance for larger-scale applications. Server Actions, on the other hand, may expand their feature set to include more granular control over server-side execution or provide better error handling and debugging tools.

Predictions for the Future of tRPC and Server Actions in Next.js

Looking ahead, it's clear that both tRPC and Server Actions will continue to play important roles in the Next.js ecosystem. As more developers adopt these technologies and contribute to their growth, we can expect to see the following:

  1. Increased Adoption: As awareness of tRPC and Server Actions grows, more developers will likely incorporate them into their Next.js projects, leading to a larger community and more real-world use cases.

  2. Convergence and Interoperability: While tRPC and Server Actions currently serve different purposes, there may be opportunities for convergence or interoperability between the two. This could lead to hybrid approaches that combine the strengths of both technologies.

  3. Continued Innovation: As the Next.js framework itself evolves, tRPC and Server Actions will likely adapt and introduce new features to keep pace with the changing landscape. This could include support for new rendering strategies, improved performance optimizations, or tighter integration with other Next.js features.

In conclusion, the future of tRPC and Server Actions in Next.js looks promising, with plenty of room for growth, innovation, and community-driven improvements. As developers continue to push the boundaries of what's possible with these technologies, we can expect to see even more powerful and efficient server-side development patterns emerge.

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