Build or Buy? A Look at User Management with Next.js: Part 1


In this article, you'll learn the pros and cons of developing or buying a user management system so you’re ready to make the right choice for your project.

User management is one of the most critical components of any consumer-facing application. Put simply, a user management system is responsible for creating, managing, and removing users. It provides users a way to authenticate themselves so they can use the application, and it offers admins a way to manage the user store. Any application designed to serve users must have a user management system, either developed in-house or bought from a third-party vendor. However, with the advent of modern software development and the rise of various security threats, a simple username-and-password sign-up and sign-in often isn’t enough. The dilemma faced when building an application is if you should build or buy a user management solution.

Features of a User Management System

A complete user management system comprises a multitude of different features. Here are some of the most important.


Authentication is an essential part of a user management system, as it acts as the entry point for your application. Although a simple username-password or email-password authentication is possible and works for small applications, there are alternative authentication mechanisms that can offer extra convenience and security. You can eliminate the need for passwords by using email magic links. Although magic links are 4.1x slower than using passwords, they can provide a seamless sign-in and sign-up experience, as well as prevent bot attacks and account takeover risks related to having a password that can be compromised. Single sign-on (SSO) is another important feature—one that’s 1.3x faster than using passwords. With SSO, users can use their existing account with a third-party service (e. g. Google, Facebook. etc.) to sign in to your application. In addition to being fast, SSO is the preferred method for authentication for 53% of users, resulting in higher conversion rates.

To offer the best possible experience for your users with social SSO, your application must support a wide range of social SSO providers: Google, Facebook, Twitter, GitHub, GitLab, and Discord are the most common. The more social SSO providers you support, the more likely it is that users can use their preferred provider to sign in to your application. Another recommended feature is automatic account linking—if a user signs in with SSO after creating their account with another form of sign in, a new account shouldn’t be created; rather, the SSO should be linked to the original account.

Another consideration is multi-factor authentication. It's a way to add extra security to your application by requiring users to enter their password and a second factor such as a security code, and is strongly recommended, especially for applications where users might store sensitive information.

Session Management

When a user signs into an application, a session is created, which saves the user from needing to log in with every request. This session must be maintained for the duration of the user's active period, and be destroyed when they sign out. A robust session management system must provide security features like XSS leak protection, CSRF protection, and session leak protection. In some instances, a multi-session feature can also be useful, allowing users to have multiple accounts and switch between them seamlessly, without having to log out and log in again.

User Profile Management

A centralized profile/settings page where users can edit their personal information, such as name, email, and profile picture, and security details, such as password, multi-factor authentication preferences, and connected accounts and devices, is another important component of a user management system.

User Interface

The user-facing side of the user management system is equally important. A poorly designed user interface or clunky user experience can turn potential users away. Whether you buy or build a user management solution, make sure that interfaces like the sign-in page, sign-up page, profile page, etc., are well designed and match the rest of the application.

Integrations with Other Components

Your user management system should be easy to integrate with the various parts of the application, and flexible enough to allow any future integrations. For example, if you're building a web app, it's quick and easy to build a user management system that is coupled tightly to the web app. But if you build a companion mobile app in the future, you’ll need to either separate the user management system into its own service that the mobile app can communicate with through APIs, or build a separate system for the mobile app—both time-consuming and costly solutions. So it's vital to start with a user management system flexible enough to handle both what you need right now, and what you might need further down the line.

Pros and Cons of Building a User Management System

In-house development of a user management system offers some advantages. First of all, you get a highly customized system for your application. The design can be tweaked to match your requirements exactly. You also have complete control over how it works and integrates with other components. You can make changes to it when needed, and roll updates whenever and however you want.

Building a user management system might be tempting because of the control that it offers. But before you start building, take a look at the disadvantages.

As you can see from the number of features listed above, a complete, future-proof user management system is incredibly challenging to build, and you'll need a diverse team to tackle it. Developers with expertise in different domains—including database security, cryptography, cybersecurity, system engineering, and of course, developers familiar with the ever-changing landscape of user management—are needed for in-house development.

To build a user management system from scratch also requires you to invest a significant amount of time, money, and engineering power. Devoting resources to the development and ongoing maintenance of a user management system means fewer resources for critical business operations and the development of the core application features. Unless you have manpower to burn, you're probably better off having your developers and resources focused on developing the core application.

A user management system must also be secure enough that users are comfortable entrusting their data to your application. While hashing and salting passwords with an algorithm like Bcrypt is standard, the security measures shouldn't stop there. Standards like NIST 800-63B should be followed to ensure the highest possible security standard. Proper protection against brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, and credential stuffing attacks, as well as using a service like HaveIBeenPwned to prevent the use of previously leaked passwords, is a must. You’ll also need to rate limit the endpoints to protect the system from DDoS attacks. Automated logging and monitoring of all activities must be implemented, and alerts for suspicious activities should be set up to prevent data breaches.

Since the user management system provides the entry point to your application, it needs to be highly available, and must scale in response to increasing load—it can’t crash because too many users are attempting to log in at once.

Even after successfully building a user management system, the hassle doesn't end there. You need to constantly monitor, audit, and improve the code to ensure security. Failure or delay runs the risk of the application being compromised. You'll need an experienced DevOps team to deploy and maintain the user management system to ensure it stays up and running.

Pros and Cons of Buying a User Management System

Buying a user management system alleviates many of the challenges of user management systems. You don’t have to worry about the scalability or availability of the system, since the service provider will handle them. The security concerns are also lifted from your shoulders, and best practices are already implemented. Reputable vendors, such as Clerk, supports almost any available social SSO providers. They also offer libraries for different programming languages and frameworks such as Next.js, as well as prebuilt UI components. This means you can quickly integrate the user management system with your codebase. You'll also get full technical support from your service provider if you run into any issues.

Though buying a user management solution makes user management easier, there can be some downsides. The biggest concern lies in the fact that you don’t have complete control over the service. You can evaluate different service providers and choose the one that works best for you, but it may be hard to find one who meets all of your requirements. You can always provide feedback or request new features, but implementation is ultimately up to the service provider.

The service provider is also in control of your data, and it can be difficult to verify their level of security before entrusting valuable user data to them. To ensure your data is in good hands, you’ll need to evaluate the policies and practices of the service providers you’re considering. For example, Clerk has a secure-by-default philosophy and a responsible vulnerability disclosure policy, which ensures that all the data is properly protected.

The possibility of vendor lock in is another concern. Once your application is tied to a particular user management system, it becomes difficult to switch to a new vendor if the need arises. You'll have to manage the change of vendor without breaking your application.

Build or Buy?

Now the advantages and disadvantages of each approach are clear, let's answer the title of the article. Should you build or buy? The answer is it depends.

You might opt for building a user management system if:

  • You only require basic features, like username-password authentication. You can build this yourself using libraries like next-session. For a very simple project, you might be able to use one or two social providers and get away without a username/password database.
  • You need a highly customized solution tailored to your needs, and can’t find a service provider that can meet the requirements.
  • You have an expert team of highly experienced developers, and you have enough resources to continue developing core business features.
  • You're on an extremely tight budget. Although authentication providers like Clerk are free for 500 MAU and only cost $10/month after that, sometimes budget restrictions might force you to make a compromise between buying a user management system and buying some other essential service.

For almost all other cases, it's preferable to buy a user management system. It's the sensible choice when:

  • You want to get your product to the market as quickly as possible.
  • You want a robust, future-proof user management system.
  • You want to save on costs, and don't want to waste resources on reinventing the wheel.
  • You don’t have a team of developers who are well versed in the technologies required to create and maintain a user management system.
  • You want to focus the organization's resources on the core business operations.
  • You have a small userbase that can fall under the free tier of your provider.


To build or to buy—that's the age-old question of the software development world. Since user management is a crucial part of applications, it makes sense to have a comprehensive, robust system. In this article, you explored the various features of user management systems and looked at the pros and cons of building and buying user management systems.

In the next part of this series, you'll follow a hands-on tutorial to build a user management system from scratch with Next.js, as well as see how to use Clerk to achieve the same result.

Aniket Bhattacharyea