If you’ve entered the world of web development a while ago, it’s more than likely that you heard of or used a content management system before (CMS for short), yet you may still wonder what exactly is a headless CMS.
So if headless CMS doesn’t ring a bell, we will fix it.
First, let’s start with some definitions.
Traditional CMS vs Headless CMS
Let’s start with traditional CMSes.
Traditional CMS is a popular tool for web creation. In an easy manner, users can create and edit the content and store it on the back-end database. All those functionalities in one single system.
Choosing from multiple templates and themes, the appearance can be customized and the functionalities expanded with available plugins. Those CMSes often provide a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) experience, making them more user-friendly for non-technical people.
So typically, a traditional CMS consists of:
- a database for storing the content,
- an admin panel for management,
- API that joins everything together,
- a frontend layer for displaying the content.
What’s important to understand here is that the front-end and the back-end are coupled, they are linked together.
How is it different from headless CMS? Let’s find out.
In a nutshell – headless CMS is a back-end only content management system.
Remember that traditional CMS like WordPress or Drupal had the front-end and back-end tightly linked, right?
Headless CMS is the opposite – it decouples content management from the presentation layer. If “head” is the presentation layer (or the frontend) and “body” is the content repository – we chop the head off the body and hence the name “headless”. What we’re left with is raw content that we can access through API calls. Our CMS is now a content-only data source.
And since we no longer have a default front-end, we’re free to create as many “heads” as we wish and deliver our content to any device. That also means no restrictions on what framework or tools you use.
In addition, this decoupled approach makes a perfect fit for JAMstack builds.
What are the benefits of headless CMS?
- Flexibility – you have full control over the appearance of your content and you can work with your favourite frameworks and tools
- Enhanced security – since the content publishing platform is not bound to the database – the risk of malware attacks is lower
- Reusability – you can reuse and repurpose your content to serve any digital channel
- User-friendly – content delivered via API is easier to maintain and distribute, and it’s easier to edit for non-technical people
- Future-proof – since the presentation and logic layers are separate you can structure your content and make it adaptable to future modifications
Should you go headless? (or not)?
If you feel like traditional CMS is too limiting for you and you need a more flexible tool, then you should go headless.
If you want to create unique websites that can be displayed on any device, then you won’t profit from a predefined template.
Moreover, a traditional CMS offers you everything out-of-the-box, but as a side-effect, you’ll end up piling lots of unnecessary code.
That’s not the case with headless CMS where you can choose to integrate only the functionalities that you actually need.
And as mentioned before, it’s technology-agnostic, meaning you’re not restricted to a specific tech stack. It’s a developer-friendly solution. It’s perfect for use cases such as:
- sites made with a static site generator ( i.e. Gatsby)
- delivering content to multiple channels.
But if you don’t have the technical resources, or you don’t rely on developers to manage the content, it might make more sense to use a traditional CMS.
Especially if you’re working on a small project like a personal site or blog, it’d be easier and cheaper to use a template than build everything from scratch. So keep in mind that sometimes a traditional CMS might be the right choice for you.
Headless CMS platforms
Here’s a list of some of the most popular headless CMS platforms right now:
The future is searching for more and more interesting ways to delight users with their experience and Headless is one that is definitely the most interesting one at the moment.
I hope I helped you got more familiar with this subject and you are now more ready to give it a try.