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Christian Peters
Christian Peters

Posted on • Originally published at auraqule.Medium on

What is a headless CMS & when should I be using it?


A headless CMS is a content management system that provides a way to create, edit, and deliver content to one or several frontends. Instead of having your content tightly coupled to a particular frontend (like a website or mobile app), it provides your content as data over an API to be served to any frontend.

A headless CMS is a backend-only content management system, making content accessible via an API for display on any device, without a built-in front-end or presentation layer.

It is a content management system that delivers content as data to any platform or device via API, rather than having it tightly coupled to a specific website or mobile app. In practice, this means that teams are able to use a single content repository, or CMS, to deliver content from a single source to endless frontend platforms via API, such as websites, mobile apps, TVs, etc.

While the idea of a Headless CMS has been around for a while, they have only recently become the popular approach to handling content due to the spreading diversity of platforms that need content, the improved developer experience, and overall faster app load times. The headless approach to content management allows for your teams to publish content faster and iterate their digital presence with greater efficiency, making content delivery flexible via APIs rather than web page rendering.

Most commonly used CMS.

  1. SANITY is an open-source headless CMS and unified content platform based on JavaScript and React.js. It features a WYSIWYG rich text editor, which allows marketers to embed editable data in running text and defer markup to render time. Another interesting feature is the Sweet Query API that enables developers to cache multiple queries on a single request. Sanity aims to “power better digital experiences”. It offers many useful features for marketers, including tools for real-time collaboration, live previewing and content versioning.
  2. CONTENTFUL offers an API-driven headless CMS. The RESTful API gives developers full control of content, digital assets and translations. Caching techniques and CDN integrations enable the delivery of API payloads in the sub-100ms range. It has the ability to display JSON snippets, a rich-text editor and content modeling features that enable marketers to arrange individual fields and content modules, such as text, images and calendars.
  3. STRAPIis a next-gen open-source headless CMS built on Node.js. It enables developers to build and manage multiple APIs for distributing content. Unlike many other platforms, Strapi takes a developer-first approach, offering a lightweight, highly customizable system for managing content that can be delivered anywhere. The front-end agnostic platform features an extensible and customizable admin panel, plugins, asset management and several security layers, including CSFR, CORS, P3P and XSS.
  4. HYGRAPH is the federated content platform that allows true composability of your stack. Integrate all your services with our unique content federation approach and distribute content from anywhere — to anywhere using a single, powerful GraphQL API.
  5. GraphCMS is an API-first CMS that was launched in 2017. It’s based on the GraphQL data query language, which some developers consider to be the successor to REST. GraphCMS allows developers to create a hosted GraphQL back-end for their applications. This can be used to define the relations, structures and permissions of the application data. The system also comes with a number of tools to create and manage content, including text editors, asset management, workflows, user roles and multilingual support.
  6. PRISMIC is a SaaS-based headless CMS that comes with a visual editor, custom type builds, multi-language support and full revision history. It also offers a powerful API for fetching and managing content. As well as native integrations with e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify and Magento, Prismic comes with a scheduling and project management tool to enable collaboration and workflow management. Prismic offers SDKs that allow developers to work in their preferred framework or language, increasing productivity and giving developers more control.

Benefits of Headless CMS.

  1. Superior Flexibility Headless CMS offers the freedom to build your frontend with whatever language, framework, or tool you want. As Headless CMS is API-driven, it lets you choose what fits your business. It also gives a free hand to developers to work without any development constraints. Also, a single piece of content can be reused with multiple presentations, which helps in the faster completion of projects. And the integration of third-party tools and other technologies is easy, which makes it more flexible.
  2. Well structured data Working with clearly defined data allows for your development team to know where to pick up, instantly. Most content infrastructure clearly defines the operations (queries, and mutations) supported by the API.
  3. Future-proof content A headless CMS allows for your content to be modified immediately and as-needed by your content creators. Minimize the impact of redesigns, product changes, and migrations with a decoupled content solution.
  4. Security and Scalability As the presentation layer is not connected to the database, users do not have to worry about the security issues of one layer affecting the other. Besides that, the security is high as CMS is only used internally within the organization. Whereas due to the separation of both layers, the area of attack is quite negligible. Thus security is another advantage of headless CMS over any other CMS.
  5. Easily Scalable The frontend and backend layers are kept separate from each other. Due to this reason, if there is any issue or maintenance requirement, the website does not face downtime or any performance issues. Headless CMS offers the advantage of managing content from a single point and changing developer tools and frameworks at any time. The hosting options and deployment environment in Headless CMS are infinite. Thus headless CMS benefits in scaling quickly and fulfilling the changing requirements.

When Should I use a CMS?

You should use a Headless CMS if:

  • You have a diverse set of platforms and need a central content hub to pull the data from.
  • A unique design is needed to display your content.
  • You have front-end development resources available.
  • Your project is multi-device and multilingual.
  • You want to use your preferred languages and frameworks.
  • Content is regularly added or updated.

You may not need a Headless CMS if:

  • Your content doesn’t need to be updated often.
  • Your team doesn’t have sufficient development resources internally.
  • Speed and scalability are not important factors for your projects.

In Summary.

A Headless CMS is a “Content Repository” that makes content accessible to any platform via an API. Unlike a traditional CMS such as WordPress, a Headless CMS does not dictate where or how content is shown. A Headless CMS enables teams to deliver omnichannel experiences at scale, globally, without restrictions like templates, devices, or pre-defined technologies. A Headless CMS allows brands and companies to engage with users on any device and format. A Headless CMS fits into any preferred tech stack or framework, including popular ones like React, Nextjs, Svelte, Angular, and Vue. Headless CMS provides better ROI since they are cloud-based, security and backups are handled by the vendor, and they are easily scalable all while reducing time-to-market when delivering projects. You do require certain technical resources available to migrate to a Headless CMS.

I hope this content was helpful, drop your comment below 👇

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Top comments (1)

endymion1818 profile image
Ben Read

Great discussion! You mentioned some of my favorite SAAS Headless CMS platforms. I did a YouTube video a couple of months ago discussing some of the open source Headless CMS out there, hope it's helpful.