What does going ‘headless’ mean and why has it become popular?

Robert Hazeleger
Headless CMS

Think of a platform as a cake with 2 layers. One layer is the backend, containing your content and database (content management system or CMS) while the second layer is the frontend where your customers interact with you. A traditional, monolithic stack is responsible for both the backend management of content, and serving that content to end users. A cake with 2 connected layers. In contrast, a headless CMS is decoupled from frontend interests, which frees developers to build rich experiences for end users, using the best technology available, similar to the top layer of the cake that can be decorated to look fantastic.

In the past the monolithic stack worked well for desktop users. Now, with the multitude of mobile devices in many locations there are different challenges around targeting content to customers across an omnichannel strategy. This results in a demand for more flexibility when serving content across mobile, tablet, in-store, wearables etc. There is a need for a more personalised approach to content and buying, as well as much faster serving of content and shopping experiences. Greater control for content customisation to stand out from competitors is one of the main drivers to switch to headless. A major benefit of using a headless CMS is that the same content can be published to a website, an app or anything connected to the internet.

By separating content management from frontend display, a headless CMS allows developers to use any technology to display content. Therefore, they are not forced to use the templating engine provided by the CMS. Content is then managed as a service, which simply means that content storage and delivery are handled by separate software. A headless CMS can make it easier to model, create and author content, organise content repositories and to improve workflow and collaboration.

Looking ahead, the headless approach has practical implications for the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence; in the short run, it can make managing content across different delivery formats much easier since the content isn’t bound to a predetermined structure. A headless CMS has only a content management backend and an API.

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