WordPress vs React for web apps: which one should you choose?
By Andres Monzant
11 Min read
This article explores what WordPress and React do, their differences, pros and cons, and the cases where one may be preferable over the other.
What is WordPress?
WordPress.org is a free, self-hosted, open-source content management system (CMS) released in 2003 and used to build websites of any kind. Originally released as a blogging platform, it has become the most popular CMS in the world, powering over 40% of websites on the internet.
WordPress is a customizable and flexible monolithic solution, meaning that it’s an “all-in-one” or “one-size-fits-all” platform where the backend and frontend are tightly connected to the point of being inseparable. The WordPress backend can’t work without the WordPress frontend and vice versa (unless you implement a headless architecture).
It has a large community of users, developers, and designers who create plugins, themes, and other add-ons to enhance the functionality of WordPress websites.
What is React?
At the heart of React lie components. Components are individual UI elements independent of each other. They are created in isolation and can be used and reused as often as necessary to build the website’s frontend. Every React-powered app must have a “root component” representing the internal application and containing smaller UI components.
In this sense, React applications are component trees where the root component is at the top and all other components “sprout” from it.
To visualize components, imagine the Facebook feed. It contains a navigation bar at the top, your profile information, and a feed with individual posts, and each post contains comments, like buttons, etc. Each of these elements can be React components created in isolation and mixed to create the UI you see.
Unlike WordPress, a monolithic solution, React acts like a decoupled frontend: the website’s frontend is separated from the backend. React takes care of rendering the view and making sure the view is in sync with the state, nothing more. Because of this, React requires other libraries to perform routing, make HTTP calls, and other actions.
Keep reading to learn the advantages and disadvantages of WordPress and React for web app development, coming closer to understanding which one may work best for your web app.
Advantages and disadvantages of WordPress for web app development
Advantages of WordPress for web app development
No tech expertise is needed for basic implementations
Users who don’t code can build basic websites using free themes or page builders such as Elementor, WP Page Builder, Spectra, Beaver Builder, and others. This removes a significant barrier to entry and makes WordPress an accessible CMS.
However, remember that you can’t get the most out of WordPress unless you code. While you can create websites without code, you’re more likely to be restricted by the templates provided by the page builder or free theme you use. Additionally, you don’t own your website’s source code and can’t control all aspects of your web app, leading to potential security and performance issues.
Rich content management
WordPress was initially built for blogging and still shines in this role. Additionally, WordPress has developed mature content management features that allow you to control your website’s content completely. Some of WordPress’ best content management features include the following:
Customizable content types. Such as pages, posts, products, and events.
Multimedia management. It’s easy to upload and manage multimedia content like images, videos, and audio files, which can be organized to create galleries.
Content scheduling. WordPress allows you to schedule content publishing, helping you plan content.
Content revisions. WordPress saves past versions of content, helping you revert to previous versions of your post, pages, etc.
Custom taxonomies. You can create custom taxonomies like categories and tags to group content, making content easier to browse.
Multilingual support. WordPress supports multilingual content, which is particularly useful for large sites that need to appeal to multilingual audiences.
A wide range of themes and plugins
WordPress has over 60,000 plugins and over 10,000 themes in its directory. This massive supply effectively grants developers endless options to extend and customize websites.
Easy plugin integration
WordPress is designed to scale and extend through plugins, so the installation, configuration, and integration process from the admin dashboard is streamlined and easy to follow.
Extensive support through a large developer community
WordPress offers access to perhaps the largest community of CMS-specific developers. With the community’s help, you gain access to development support and resources.
WordPress is built with SEO in mind, enjoying features like clean code, customizable permalinks, fast loading speeds, responsive design, Google Analytics integration, image optimization, and many SEO-focused plugins like Yoast SEO. Of course, it’s up to developers to express this SEO-friendliness, but they have all the necessary tools.
Flexibility and scalability
WordPress has the potential to power websites that receive millions of visitors per month while maintaining performance. However, this capability is only partially expressed by default, so developers must take deliberate steps to ensure websites are scalable.
To achieve scalability, professional WordPress developers focus on backend efficiency: specific database calls, assets optimized for size, and straightforward code are some of the main focus points that help build a scalable base. Without these, no amount of server improvements will ever keep up with increased website traffic.
WordPress is also remarkably flexible, allowing developers to use its many plugins, themes, custom post types, API integrations, and other features to create any website.
Disadvantages of WordPress for web app development
Some theme and plugin integrations can cause performance issues
While the array of available plugins and themes makes WordPress very flexible, it can also lead to compatibility issues. Plugins and themes can cause compatibility or performance issues when:
They’re coded inefficiently or have redundant code that makes pages load slower.
There are too many of them.
They conflict with plugins and themes.
They’re poorly configured by admins.
Their file sizes are too large.
Constant need to update software components
The WordPress core files, themes, plugins, and PHP versions must be constantly updated to keep up with functionality improvements and security patches. As WordPress web apps grow larger and more complex, updates are more likely to introduce incompatibilities that affect performance.
Being the most popular CMS, WordPress is a common target for hackers, leading to a constant battle between developers and bad actors. Outdated software components, in particular, are one of the most common ways hackers break into WordPress websites, as older versions that are no longer maintained have a higher chance of suffering from security vulnerabilities.
Some of the main security vulnerabilities WordPress developers and admins have to account for are XSS attacks, SQL injections, brute force attacks, weak passwords, and CSRF attacks. Security plugins dedicated to countering these vulnerabilities have become a necessity.
Maintenance costs can be high
While WordPress is free and open-source, it’s also self-hosted. This means you must pay for web hosting and domain registration. Theoretically, those are the only two mandatory expenses, which sometimes amount to as cheap as below $50 per year.
However, the more complex your web app becomes, the more costs start to rack up in the form of specialized managed hosting services, premium themes and plugins, SSL certificates, and hourly development costs if you hire a freelancer or a WordPress agency.
Advantages and disadvantages of React for web app development
Advantages of React for web app development
When the state of any React component changes, React compares this state with past states and only updates the recently changed component. It also changes a small section of the real DOM rather than updating it entirely to account for the new change and keep both DOMs in sync.
Traditionally, updating the DOM causes performance issues, but React keeps a virtual DOM and only updates UI elements that changed, significantly enhancing performance. Hence the “React” name: React reacts to specific component changes and updates only those rather than re-rendering the entire DOM.
As explained above, React components are created in isolation and can be reused indefinitely. This means components can be reimplemented in different applications, which reduces development time and makes UIs more consistent, which can be an excellent branding move for large businesses with multiple apps.
React’s virtual DOM and one-way data binding make React applications lightning-fast, which is excellent for user experience.
Gentle learning curve and large community
React is considered easy to learn for frontend developers, which has boosted its popularity and fostered a large community. Such a large and active community provides a wealth of resources for new developers, with enough online tutorials and free courses for anyone to learn the fundamentals.
Disadvantages of React for web app development
It’s not as SEO-friendly as WordPress by default
Some of the SEO issues React apps face are:
Long load times and longer periods for the page to become interactive in single-page applications (SPAs).
Faulty status code reporting on SPAs.
Using an HTML <div> or a <button> to change the URL on SPAs with a hash (#). Search engines generally don’t see anything past the hash.
Traffic performance problems caused by search engines that can’t access content when said content is injected into the DOM as a user clicks or hovers over an element (something very easy to achieve with React).
It’s not as user-friendly as WordPress
It may require additional modules or libraries to operate
Which one should you choose?
While you can build web apps with WordPress and React, there may be some cases where you’d prefer using one over the other. These are some of the cases where one of them may be preferable to the other.
Use WordPress if…
You want to become a full-stack developer who must master frontend and backend development.
You need to build a basic blog or similar content-based web app.
You need rich content management tools for your web app.
You want to easily extend your website’s functionality with plugins.
Use React if…
You want to create components you can reuse in future frontend projects.
You want to speed up the process of building complex UIs with lots of user interaction.
You want to take advantage of the blazing-fast performance provided by the virtual DOM.
You want to develop marketable skills that can net you job opportunities as a frontend developer in companies leading the tech industry.