How does Next.js handle routing for nested pages?

How does Next.js handle routing for nested pages?

Next.js is a popular React framework that offers an intuitive page-based routing system, making it easy for developers to create both static and dynamic web applications. One of the framework's strengths is its handling of nested pages and routes, which allows for the creation of complex application structures with ease. In this article, we'll dive deep into how Next.js manages routing for nested pages, including the basics of its file-system-based routing mechanism, dynamic routing, and advanced techniques like shallow routing.

Understanding the Basics of Next.js Routing

Next.js uses a file-system-based routing approach, meaning that it automatically maps files in the pages directory to routes. For example, a file located at pages/about.js is accessible via the /about URL. This approach makes routing straightforward and eliminates the need for a separate routing configuration.

How Next.js Handles Nested Pages

Nested routing in Next.js is as simple as creating nested folders within the pages directory. The structure of directories and files you create under pages directly corresponds to the URL structure of your application. Here's how you can set up nested routes:

  1. Creating Nested Directories: To create a nested route, you simply add a directory inside the pages directory. For instance, if you want to create a nested route for blog posts, you might create a blog directory inside pages. Each file inside the blog directory then corresponds to a nested route under /blog.

  2. Example Structure: Suppose you have the following directory structure

    ├── index.js
    ├── about.js
    └── blog/
        ├── index.js
        └── [slug].js

    In this setup, pages/blog/index.js maps to the /blog route, and pages/blog/[slug].js is a dynamic route that can match any path under /blog/, such as /blog/my-first-post.

Dynamic Routing

Next.js supports dynamic routing, allowing you to create flexible paths that can match a variety of URLs. Dynamic routes are defined by adding square brackets to a file or directory name within the pages directory. This feature is particularly useful for nested routes where you might have variable path segments, such as blog post slugs or product IDs.

  1. Dynamic Route Example: The [slug].js file in the example above is a dynamic route. The slug part of the file name [slug].js is a placeholder that represents the variable part of the URL. When a user visits /blog/my-first-post, Next.js renders the component defined in pages/blog/[slug].js, passing my-first-post as a parameter to the page component.

  2. Fetching Data: In dynamic routes, you typically need to fetch some data based on the URL parameter. Next.js provides getStaticProps and getServerSideProps functions for this purpose. You can use these functions to fetch data at build time or on each request, respectively.

Advanced Routing Techniques

Beyond basic and dynamic routing, Next.js offers advanced features like shallow routing, which allows you to change the URL without running data fetching methods again, useful for pagination and filtering.

Leveraging Nested and Dynamic Routes in Next.js

As we delve deeper into the capabilities of Next.js for managing nested and dynamic routes, it's crucial to understand the full spectrum of possibilities and best practices. This not only involves creating and organizing routes but also efficiently loading data and optimizing user experience through advanced routing techniques.

Catch-All Routes

Next.js extends its dynamic routing capabilities with catch-all routes. By using the [[...slug]].js syntax, you can match multiple paths, making it incredibly useful for scenarios like displaying hierarchical content or handling unknown routes gracefully.

  1. Catch-All Example: Consider a file named pages/blog/[[...slug]].js. This setup can handle /blog, /blog/a-single-post, and even /blog/2020/march/a-detailed-post. The array of path segments is passed to the page component, allowing for dynamic handling of content based on the URL structure.

  2. Implementing Catch-All Routes: These routes are especially beneficial for applications that require flexible URL schemes without predefined paths. For example, a documentation site where content is nested in categories and subcategories can benefit from this approach.

Shallow Routing

Shallow routing allows you to change the URL without triggering data fetching methods like getStaticProps or getServerSideProps again. This feature is particularly useful when you want to update the URL's query string without re-rendering the page content.

  1. Use Case for Shallow Routing: An ideal use case is pagination or filtering, where the page content doesn't change dramatically. With shallow routing, users can navigate through different pages or apply filters without unnecessary data fetching, leading to a smoother and faster experience.

  2. Implementing Shallow Routing: Shallow routing can be implemented using the router.push or router.replace methods from Next.js's useRouter hook, with the shallow: true option. This tells Next.js to update the URL without calling data fetching methods again.

Prefetching Pages

Next.js automatically prefetches pages linked with the <Link> component that are in the viewport, making navigation feel instant and seamless. However, developers can also manually prefetch pages for even better control over the user experience.

  1. Manual Prefetching: You can prefetch pages manually using the router.prefetch method. This is particularly useful when you know the user is likely to navigate to a certain route next and you want to load the necessary data and code in advance.

  2. Strategic Prefetching: While automatic prefetching is powerful, strategically prefetching content based on user behavior or likelihood of navigation can significantly enhance the perceived performance of your application.

Optimizing Nested Routes with Next.js

Building on the fundamentals and advanced techniques of Next.js routing, developers can further optimize their applications by considering performance implications and best practices for structuring nested routes. This section explores additional strategies for enhancing the efficiency and user experience of applications built with Next.js.

Code Splitting and Lazy Loading

Next.js automatically performs code splitting for each route, which means that users only download the minimal amount of code necessary for viewing a particular page. This behavior is crucial for improving load times, especially in applications with deeply nested routes.

  1. Lazy Loading Components: For even finer control over performance, consider lazy loading components within your pages. Utilize React.lazy for component-level code splitting, deferring the loading of non-critical components until they are needed.

  2. Dynamic Imports with SSR: When using server-side rendering (SSR), dynamic imports can enhance performance. Components loaded dynamically with import() syntax are split out into separate chunks and only loaded when the page is rendered.

Static Generation vs. Server-side Rendering

Next.js offers two primary methods for pre-rendering pages: Static Generation and Server-side Rendering. The choice between these methods can significantly impact the performance and user experience of nested routes.

  1. Static Generation (SG): SG is the pre-rendering method that generates the HTML at build time. It's ideal for pages that can be pre-rendered ahead of a user's request and is highly cacheable. Nested routes, especially those not requiring real-time data, benefit greatly from SG, leading to faster load times.

  2. Server-side Rendering (SSR): SSR, on the other hand, generates the HTML for each page on each request. While this approach is necessary for pages that need real-time data, it can introduce latency. Use SSR judiciously for nested routes that require up-to-the-minute data.

Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR)

Incremental Static Regeneration offers a middle ground between SG and SSR, allowing pages to be generated statically on-demand, after the build time. This feature is particularly useful for nested routes with dynamic content that changes over time but not on every request.

  1. Use Case for ISR: For a blog with nested routes for categories and posts, ISR can regenerate static pages for individual blog posts when the content changes, without needing to rebuild the entire site.

  2. Implementing ISR: Enable ISR by using the revalidate property in getStaticProps. This property specifies how often (in seconds) Next.js should re-generate the static page.

Customizing the 404 Page for Nested Routes

Handling 404 errors gracefully is essential for enhancing user experience, especially in applications with complex nested routes. Next.js automatically serves a default 404 page, but customizing this page allows you to maintain consistency with your application's layout and provide helpful navigation options.

  1. Creating a Custom 404 Page: Simply create a 404.js file in the pages directory. This custom 404 page can include links to key sections of your site, a search bar, or even a sitemap, helping lost users find their way.

  2. Dynamic 404 Pages: While Next.js does not natively support dynamic 404 pages generated through getStaticProps or getServerSideProps, you can implement dynamic behavior by redirecting to a custom error page that fetches data client-side.


Efficiently managing nested routes in Next.js involves a combination of understanding the framework's routing capabilities and implementing performance optimization strategies. By leveraging lazy loading, choosing the appropriate pre-rendering method, utilizing ISR for dynamic content, and customizing the 404 page, developers can create fast, scalable, and user-friendly web applications. As you continue to explore Next.js, keep in mind these advanced techniques and optimizations to enhance your application's routing architecture and overall performance.

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