Let’s go headless.

Headless CMSs cater for the ever-increasing need for flexibility, portability and accessibility.

Headless CMSs, or decoupled as they are also known, are certainly not a new kid on the block, but they have been growing in popularity for several years now for a multitude of reasons. One of the best aspects of Headless CMSs is that they help to cater for the ever-increasing need for flexibility, portability and accessibility. They help to future proof our systems for the ever-changing landscape of technology and associated platforms.

This is nothing new or revolutionary. The architectural pattern MVC was one of the first approaches used to describe and implement software constructs in terms of their responsibilities, and still continues today. This is the concept that each layer should be decoupled from another to remove dependency while being able to be easily replaced. Headless follows this practice by separating the functional layer from the presentation layer, which means you are no longer tied to the framework or CMS that you are using. WordPress and Drupal 8 are two of just many CMSs which are allowing users to take this approach without limiting them to this.

As with all things, this is no silver bullet and it has both its positives and negatives; so, let’s look at some of the reasons for:

Headless CMS Pros

Not limited by what or how

One of the big advantages of headless is that it opens us “as developers” up to varying languages and presentation options so we are not limited by what we can do or how we achieve it. Single page sites utilising javascript frameworks like AngularJS can improve both usability and accessibility of a site while giving designers the option of an open canvas with as much variation in screen sizes and orientation as needed. A great example that everyone will be familiar with is Facebook, which revolves around one page and the switching out of content elements as needed; which can both be highly beneficial to the user in terms of how they explore your content, while reducing server resources at the same time.

Simultaneous development

Other benefits include simultaneous development, allowing multiple developers to work on a project at the same time; effectively utilising individual’s knowledge and specific development skills to both develop and maintain the system. When your team starts to scale up with the project, this allows for specialists to focus solely on key areas. This follows on to the separation of responsibility and scalability. Each part of the system can be scaled up when required, resulting in the best use of resources where and when they are most needed.

Easily adaptable in the future

Other key factors are flexibility and portability. With the constant evolution of technology, it is very easy to be left behind in the modern world. What works now might not be easily adapted in the future. Headless gives you the option to have multiple presentation layers all controlled and running off one central system via an API. This could be an android App, an iOS App, a website, a mobile site, a program running on your wristwatch or your smart enabled TV. The options are endless but you’re safe in the knowledge that every one of those applications is running off the same dataset, all managed by one centralised CMS. This also gives companies the ability to deploy quickly to new technologies as they emerge with reduced lead times and associated cost savings.

Headless CMS Cons

Initial development time

There are some downsides, however, to this approach as well. One of which can be the initial time it takes to develop a website. When using a CMS, the lack of support from plugins and the need to build your own views from what could have been pre-existing templates adds to the development time. This can make it completely unsuitable for some developments; with eCommerce builds potentially being one of them as the time to build all of the custom views can be very costly as well as the ongoing maintenance of them.

Is a headless CMS the answer for you?

Headless is certainly not a one-stop-shop for every development project but, when used correctly, can open up endless possibilities. Drupal produced the following chart which can be translated into most CMSs. It gives you a great start as to which route could be right for you:

 

 

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