What is Headless CMS? How Does it Work

Adeeb Malik

Blog / What is Headless CMS? How Does it Work

Today, websites serve as the digital avenue for businesses. From users to potential customers, everyone checks a website first before trusting a business.

The drastic shift of customers, businesses, etc. to the digital front has created a diverse scope of possibilities.

Moreover, work operations have shifted towards digital-first, adding to the same. Websites of today’s world offer multiple features and functionalities to internal users, potential, and existing customers.

Digital expectations and needs are ever-growing. It should offer everything that is expected from a website, i.e. a great design, pages that talk about the brand, blogs, etc.

It needs to empower businesses, and engage visitors, thus, being more than a digital avenue: A 24x7 working employee!

Today’s digital landscape requires businesses, brands, etc. to deliver content to multiple channels and devices.

Websites, mobile apps, digital signage, and other digital platforms all require content construction, management, and delivery in different formats and contexts.

Why Do You Need a Headless CMS Solution?

To manage different types of content, across different platforms, websites use a CMS (Content Management System).

A CMS is a centralized content hub that enables the handling of different types of content effortlessly, all under one platform.

This is achieved with many CMSs like WordPress, Adobe

, etc. Hands down, these are highly popular and widely used platforms, but they have their limitations. Two of the most prominent limitations, which are also very crucial are; design and integration.

A CMS is easy-to-use, provides loads of features, functionality, and design options to content editors, publishers, writers, etc.

But have a limited set of features for designers and developers to have a great-looking website with integrations to different software and technologies.

This requires a modern CMS that is built with a futuristic approach, built on a modular architecture, and readily capable of integrating the latest technologies to provide a platform that solves all purposes and creates a digital destination for brands, businesses, and organizations.

Now. let's further understand what a headless CMS is and how it powers brands exponentially over the traditional CMS approach.

What is a Decoupled CMS?

A headless CMS is designed to provide content to multiple channels and devices, without being tied to a specific front-end or presentation layer.

Unlike a traditional CMS platform, headless CMS does not dictate a front-end or user interface. Instead, it focuses solely on content formation, management, and distribution.

It helps distribute content via APIs that allow developers to retrieve the content and integrate it into any front-end or application of choice.

Headless CMS platforms allow content creators to use a web-based interface to create and manage content. Developers can make content accessible with APIs and integrate it into any digital platform or device.

This decoupling of the front-end presentation layer from the content production and management layer allows for greater flexibility, customization, and scalability.

Thus, breaking all the limitations posed by monolith CMS, and taking websites to a different level altogether!

How a Headless CMS Works?

A headless CMS separates the content formation and management functionality from the front-end presentation layer. Here are the steps involved in how a headless CMS works:

Content Infrastructure and Management: Headless CMS allows content creators to build and manage different content types, such as text, images, videos, and other media. This content is stored in a database.

Content Delivery APIs: The CMS exposes APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow developers to retrieve the content from the database. These APIs can be used to retrieve content in various formats, such as JSON, XML, or others.

Presentation Layer: Developers use these APIs to integrate the structured content with the front-end presentation layer. This can be a website, mobile app, or any other digital platform.

Customization: Developers can use their preferred programming languages and frameworks to customize the front-end presentation layer to match their design specifications.

It also enables integration of technologies like CRM, ERP, etc. to be easily integrated into your website!

A headless CMS architecture enables content building and management to be separated from the presentation layer. Headless CMSs offer greater flexibility and control over how content is displayed and delivered.

Developers can use any technology stack they prefer and have complete control over the user experience.

Content creators can continue to use a familiar interface (CMS) of their choice to create, manage, and publish content, while developers focus on creating custom and personalized experiences for users.

Benefits of a Headless CMS

There are several benefits to using a headless CMS, including:

Flexibility: A headless architecture provides greater flexibility in terms of how content is delivered and displayed. Developers can use any technology stack they prefer, and can easily integrate content into different platforms and devices.

Customization: With a headless CMS, developers have complete control over the presentation layer and can customize it to match their design specifications.

Scalability: A headless CMS is highly scalable, as it can easily handle large amounts of content and traffic without affecting performance.

Security: Since a headless CMS doesn't restrict to a specific front end, there are fewer security risks associated with the platform.

Cost-Effective: Headless CMSes can be more cost-effective in the long run, as they allow for greater functionality, control, and scalability, which helps businesses save money on development costs and improve their return on investment.

Moreover, there are many popular open-source headless CMS to choose from. You also have the option to pick a proprietary headless CMS!

Headless CMS vs Traditional CMS

Traditional CMS

A traditional CMS is a monolith platform, i.e. a singular, large computing network with one code base, self-contained, and independent from other applications.

A monolithic architecture that connects the front-end and back-end of a website in a neat, tidy, unified manner.

This singular platform contains everything, right from the database for content to the presentation layer. This makes it easy for quick content updates and changes to websites.

Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the Monolithic system:

Pros of traditional content management system

  • The whole site is managed, edited, and updated from a single system.
  • Content management is easy.
  • Front-end design control with theme and templates.
  • Constant support and resources from large communities.
  • Minimal technical barrier to learning and applying.

Cons traditional content management system

  • Content is built for websites only. (The same content can’t be easily served up on other devices).
  • It often poses a roadblock in terms of scalability.
  • Requires skilled developers specializing in the particular CMS.
  • Flexibility is limited, especially in terms of cross-device content, support, integrations, etc.
  • Traditional CMS is singular and the code is interconnected for front-end and back-end. It often results in more expensive and time-consuming maintenance, enhancements, feature additions, updates, etc.

When to Use a Traditional CMS

Traditional CMSs are hands down fantastic systems that work for a variety of use cases and still hold a great place in today’s time.

If you’re looking to build a website for yourself, a small business, or a large enterprise that doesn’t need to share content digitally, then traditional CMS makes great sense.

You get a fast, manageable, and controlled CMS that can be managed from a single source. If you don’t need to maintain content across different platforms or just want to stick to blogging for the brand, company, or business, traditional CMS is the way to go!

Headless CMS

A headless CMS differentiates in a lot of ways except having no connection to the front end at all. A traditional CMS is a single source to manage and handle content and front end, but a headless CMS deals strictly with managing your content.

With headless CMS, the content is published via an API (Application Programming Interface), and that’s all there is to it. It will not affect the front end in the slightest.

This provides users the flexibility for content editing and getting their content published in different ways and methods irrespective of how it's presented!

For example, think of a headless CMS like an author. Whatever content the author writes, can be easily published in different formats like an e-book, flyers, PDFs, articles, etc. The medium through which content is presented or consumed changes but the content is consistent.

Pros

  • Publish and showcase content across any device.
  • APIs enable developers to focus more on presentation instead of how content is managed. Empowering them to unleash best practices to create compelling designs.
  • An independent front-end that allows developers the freedom to choose their preferred framework, tools, etc. without being dependent on content or its different types.
  • Content Managers, authors, and writers get the freedom to create content without worrying about different technologies or using a single system that contains everything.

Cons

  • There is no content preview available. It can be done but is subjected to building an integration that comes with an additional overhead cost.
  • It requires more effort for integrating/configuring in the initial phase.
  • Creating two websites: head/client. The head is the display side and the client is the content side of it. So, the maintenance is of two sites, not one!

When to Use a Headless CMS

  • Regardless of how amazing and feature-rich headless CMS sounds, it doesn’t mean it’s the best choice out there. Here are some of the cases where one can use a headless CMS:
  • Websites/web apps that use JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular, or VueJs.
  • Native mobile apps
  • An environment that requires content publishing across multiple platforms at once.
  • When generating static sites.

What Should You Pick?

A headless CMS provides a flexible, customizable, and scalable solution to content repository and management, with APIs that allow developers to integrate content into any digital platform or device.

With the increasing demand for digital content, a headless CMS is becoming an increasingly popular choice for businesses and organizations of all sizes.

However, it's important to note that a headless CMS may not be the best choice for all businesses. Businesses that require a tightly integrated front-end and back-end may find that a traditional CMS is a better fit for their needs.

In conclusion, a headless CMS provides a flexible and scalable solution to content creation and management, with APIs that allow developers to integrate content into any digital platform or device.

Businesses that require greater control and flexibility over their content delivery may find that a headless CMS is the right choice for their needs.

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