Headless CMS explained in 5 effective minutes
This article will cover the basics of what a headless CMS actually is. You will learn about the main differences between a headless CMS (eg. Storyblok, Contentful, Prismic, …) - and more traditional CMS like Adobe Experience Manager, Wordpress, and Sitecore.
What is a headless CMS?
A headless CMS is a back-end only content management system (CMS) built from the ground up as a content repository that makes content accessible via a RESTful API or GraphQL API for display on any device.
The term “headless” comes from the concept of chopping the “head” (the front end, i.e. the website) off the “body” (the back end, i.e. the content repository). A headless CMS remains with an interface to manage content and a RESTful or GraphQL API to deliver content wherever you need it. Due to this approach, a headless CMS does not care about how and where your content gets displayed. A headless CMS has only one focus: storing and delivering structured content and allowing content editors to collaborate on new content.
The counterpart of a headless CMS is often called monolithic, regular or coupled CMS; We’re going to use those terms later on.
Let’s have a look at a Monolithic CMS and its feature set:
- A database for the content to read and write to.
- An admin interface to let editors manage the content.
- An integration of reading and writing.
- The actual front-end that combines the data from the database with HTML.
To convert that into a headless CMS we remove the templating feature (4.) from the stack as that is the head of that CMS - the actual website. With that done, we can replace it with an RESTful or GraphQL API that is accessible by other systems to access the data that was managed in the Admin UI.Et voilà: you now have got yourself a headless CMS.
Other than by using a regular/monolithic CMS, a website can’t be built only with a headless CMS. A headless CMS separated the head from its stack and therefore lacks this point by design. Therefore, the developer must craft the website by themself and use the provided REST or GraphQL APIs of the headless CMS to access the content.
Creating the whole website on their own seems like a big task on the list, but by decoupling the CMS from the front-end a developer can choose any technology they are already familiar with and do not need to learn the technology for that specific CMS.
Another big bonus is the fact that one developer can also focus on their own work without handling the bugs of an already existing stack of technology - therefore it is easier to optimize pages for pagespeed and webvitals and even relaunch parts of the website or make breaking technology decision without worrying about losing the existing content.
Do I need a headless CMS?
The answer to this question is quite simple, but it won’t help you much right away: It depends on your requirements. There are use cases where one CMS outstands the other and vice versa. To help you decide, let’s have a look at the benefits really quick:
|Traditional CMS||Headless CMS|
|Replaceable technology stack||-||Yes|
|API first approach||-||Yes|
Use cases for Headless CMS
- Separating your content from the tech stack of your website to give be able to move faster.
- Websites created with static site generators such as Jekyll, Gatsby or Middleman.
- Native Mobile Apps (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)
- Enrich your ecommerce Stack (BigCommerce, Commercetools, Hybris, Magento2, or others) with a proper CMS for your marketing team.
- Use it for feature flags of your own product to schedule releases of new features.
- As a configuration interface for your home automation solution.
- Or to manage content for your intranet.
Point is: It is not limited to websites
A headless CMS can deliver your content through an API directly to where you need it. Because of the headless approach the content can be used on an iOS app, Android app as well as any platform and technology you can think of and is therefore a powerful option for mobile and web developers.
Headless CMS Options
In an earlier article we wrote about that WordPress and Drupal already trying to work their way to at least offering an API approach. Both of these options try to make the CMS work in a way that they were not initially designed for. Here are some headless CMS options you might like to have a look at to find your best fit: Storyblok, Contentful, Prismic, Sanity. There are also other options out there, but looking at the features and concepts - those are the platforms you should have a look at.
Storyblok: Headless CMS
Storyblok has its main focus on the API including the overall performance, querying capabilities, nested components, documentation, consistent support, and upgrades. Storyblok provides clean and structured JSON for developer mixed with services like:
- Content and Asset CDN
- Image Service
- Command Line Interface
- Custom Content Types
- Nested Repeatable Components
Choose your own technology to get started from our technologies overview page.
As you see there is no 100% right way and CMS for every use case - but we think that chopping off the presentation layer of your content and make it accessible for more than just one platform if needed is the approach we should aim for! Not just to reuse your content more easily, but if you every want to change your technology stack you don’t have to worry about your content.
Want to learn more?
Our team is more than happy to help you with your transition to a headless CMS.