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What is decoupled CMS and is it worth trying?

Olena Teselko

If you're on your journey to digital transformation, chances are you'll pick the ideal technology stack for your company right away. With so many different solutions and concepts to choose from, it's easy to get lost in the definitions. The CMS market is no exception, with novel approaches like headless and decoupled systems. But what's the difference between decoupled and headless CMS? 

First of all, let's figure out the basic concept of the decoupled CMS. 

You can call the content management system decoupled when its front-end (presentation layer) is separated from the back-end (database) and communicates via API. However, the front-end level is still present, and you can use it or not. That sounds too similar to headless, right? Still, these two types of CMS are not the same.

You might be surprised, but to fully understand the difference between decoupled and headless, we need to start from the basics and dig into the details of the content management infrastructure.

Or you can jump directly to the part where we discuss the pros and cons of decoupled CMS.

Section titled How does monolithic or traditional CMS work?

You might already know that monolithic CMS has the back and front ends connected. That means they influence each other, and the change in one affects the other. But what are the other pieces of the puzzle making traditional systems work as they do? 

Image explaining monolithic or traditional CMS architecture

Monolithic or traditional CMS architecture

The database is the core of the monolithic system, storing all information about the page structure, navigation, templates, content, and component types. With the back and front ends linked, traditional CMS can deliver content from the database straight into the UI. Combining the predefined components, users assemble the pages like a constructor in the WYSIWYG editor. 

On the technical side, these pages are stored in the database and reassembled at the business logic layer before being transmitted to the presentation layer or "head." This method works effectively if you only need to provide content to one or two channels. Meanwhile, the challenge occurs when you want to manage more channels, as they might require content that simply doesn't exist in the traditional CMS or is way more complex.

And now, we are in a situation where all the odds go to the headless CMS.

Section titled How does the headless CMS work?

Image explaining headless CMS architecture

Headless CMS architecture

In contrast to the traditional ones, the back and front ends are not connected in headless systems, as they communicate via API (application programming interface). Moreover, there is no particular front-end that you must use, and developers can choose whatever technology they require. Consequently, the absence of predefined content types, templates, or pages allows users to model custom content types according to their demands and provide a much better consumer experience across all channels. 

Section titled What is decoupled CMS and how it differs from headless CMS?

The name "decoupled CMS" suggests it has a similar architecture to headless because the back and front ends are decoupled or not as tight as in a monolithic system. But what sets them apart?

The decoupled architecture typically occurs when a traditional content management system attempts to go headless. With the rise of headless and its obvious benefits, some vendors have begun to change their architecture to be more like headless in order to expand their capabilities. Typically, they replace the templating layer with an API that wraps all of the objects in the business logic layer and the database layer's predefined content types. This creates a decoupled CMS structure where the back and front ends are no longer directly connected.

Image explaining decoupled CMS architecture

Decoupled CMS architecture

This decoupling, however, does not create the headless architecture because the predefined content types remain. This is especially noticeable when the content must be delivered to multiple channels and does not "fit" in any of them. Besides, if you need to generate more complex content types, you can only do so from the ones already in your CMS.

Section titled Headless vs decoupled CMS: What to choose?

One of the decoupled CMS examples is headless WordPress, which implemented the REST API into its architecture, allowing writing the front-end part with JavaScript frameworks or libraries. The main reasons for choosing this type of infrastructure are improved performance and security compared to regular WordPress websites. 

However, this approach has lots of pitfalls. First of all, decoupled CMS often doesn't support complex features, such as eCommerce, so if you want to create something more than a simple single-page site, it won't be enough. Apart from that, you lose the ease of working with code as some front-end libraries require the knowledge of more complicated languages compared to HTML and CSS. The handy WYSIWYG editor doesn't work in the decoupled version, either. 

On the other hand, with headless solutions, you can build a project of any complexity, be it a website or native mobile application, without sacrificing performance or security. In the meantime, developers can choose the technologies they already know and focus on their work instead of learning and onboarding new ones. This flexibility also helps as you can integrate the latest technologies without the need to rely on outdated code and maintain it all the time. Due to its agile architecture and API-first approach, headless content management systems allow you to integrate complex solutions such as eCommerce platforms, create omnichannel experiences, support localization, and much more.

Storyblok is a content management system that combines all the benefits of a typical headless solution but also offers unique features. While the majority of headless systems are more oriented toward developers and tailor all the features to their needs, Storyblok also empowers content creators. Our Visual Editor and the system of reusable components allow non-technical users to create and manage content without any help from the developers. Marketers and other teams can integrate CRMs, automation software, conversion optimization, and other third-party solutions. The system offers a variety of collaborative capabilities, making the work with content even more smooth and effective without the constant need to ask developers for help. 

Want to learn more about Storyblok?

Contact our team to discover Storyblok’s powerful content management capabilities.

Section titled Conclusion: why headless CMS is a better solution

Now that you know the technical difference, advantages, and disadvantages of monolithic, decoupled, and headless content management systems, we hope it's easier to decide which solution is best for you. Still, we encourage businesses to go headless, as this approach allows building complex and scalable projects and helps teams to collaborate effectively. 

Interested in what Storyblok can bring to your company? Check out resources for marketers, content editors, or developers. Apart from that, you can request a consultation from our team to discuss how our system might work for you.