Headless content management system
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A headless content management system, or headless CMS, is a back-end-only content management system that acts primarily as a content repository. A headless CMS makes content accessible via an API for display on any device, without a built-in front-end or presentation layer. The term “headless” comes from the concept of chopping the “head” (the front end) off the “body” (the back end).
Whereas a traditional CMS typically combines the content and presentation layers of a website, a headless CMS comprises just the content component and focuses entirely on the administrative interface for content creators, the facilitation of content workflows and collaboration, and the organization of content into taxonomies. As such, a headless CMS must be combined with a separate presentation layer to handle design, site structure and templates. That combination generally relies on stateless or loosely coupled APIs.
One advantage of this decoupled approach is that content can be sent via APIs to multiple display types, like mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, alongside a website. A disadvantage, however, is the requirement to maintain two separate systems for a single site, which can require more resources.
Cloud-first headless CMSes are those that were also built with a multitenant cloud model at their core and whose vendors promote software as a service (Saas), promising high availability, scalability and full management of security, upgrades and hotfixes on behalf of clients. Similar to how headless CMSes focus on creating content in the backend to be displayed on frontends via APIs, headless commerce uses the same setup to separate backend product management and navigation from the frontend of a website or other display types, like IoT.
Most headless CMS platforms employ a version of these features:
- RESTful API
- Microservices architecture
- Multi-channel publishing
- Editor interface
- Roles and permissions
- Content modelling
- Asset library
- Content types and taxonomy
- Visitor segmentation
Coupled CMS vs. headless CMS
Most traditional or monolithic content management systems are “coupled,” meaning that the content management application (CMA) and the content delivery application (CDA) come together in a single application, making back-end user tools, content editing and taxonomy, website design, and templates inseparable. Coupled systems are useful for blogs and basic websites as everything can be managed in one place. However, in a coupled CMS, CMS code is tightly connected to any custom code and templates, which means developers have to spend more time on installations, customizations, upgrades, hotfixes, etc. and they cannot easily move their code to another CMS.
There is a lot of confusion around the differences between a decoupled CMS and a headless one because they have a lot in common; a headless CMS is a type of decoupled architecture. Like a headless CMS, a decoupled CMS separates the CMA and CDA environments, typically with content being created behind the firewall and then being synchronized and pushed to the delivery environment. The main difference between a decoupled CMS and a headless CMS is that the decoupled architecture is active—it prepares content for presentation and then pushes into the delivery environment—whereas a headless CMS is reactive—it sits idly until a request is sent for content.
Decoupled architecture allows for easier scalability and provides better security than coupled architecture, but it does not provide the same support for omnichannel delivery. Plus, there are multiple environments to manage, hiking up infrastructure and maintenance costs.
Another simpler way to understand the difference between a decoupled CMS and headless CMS is on the basis of inclusion of front-end in the offering. decoupled CMS would always have a front-end included in the offering though connected with an API and hence following the decoupled architecture. On the other hand, a headless CMS does not offer front-end at all but an API using which content is served.
Criticisms and disadvantages
This section needs additional citations for verification. (March 2021)
A headless CMS can also present challenges or drawbacks for teams and organizations, like:
- A heavier technical proficiency requirement.
- Management of multiple systems, which can be challenging and a team’s knowledge base must cover all systems.
- Fewer or no templates or out-of-the-box solutions.
- Lack of channel-specific support. Since pure headless CMSes don’t deal with the presentation layer, developers may have to create some functionality on their own, such as website navigation.
- Content organization. As pure headless CMSs do not typically provide the concept of pages and web sitemaps, content editors need to adapt to the fact that content is organized in its pure form, independently on the website or other channel.
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