Everything you need to know about choosing the right CMS architecture

Headless CMS illustration
CMS architecture guide

CMS architecture guide

The landscape for CMS architecture options has expanded, offering a variety of solutions from CMS vendors each purporting to have the optimal approach for modern digital needs. To help you cut through all the clutter, we've developed guides to explain the differences between the main types of CMS platforms, including coupled CMS, decoupled CMS and headless CMS, as well as the pros and cons for each. So begin your journey with our comprehensive CMS selection guide to navigate through the complexities of choosing the right CMS for your needs.

cms architecture diagram

A hybrid CMS system represents a versatile fusion of decoupled CMS and headless CMS architectures, catering to multifaceted digital experiences. This approach empowers organizations and publishers to combine various presentation or front-end options. By adopting a hybrid CMS architecture, users can deliver diverse experiences to browsers or devices, integrating the benefits of both decoupled and headless CMS architectures.

At Brightspot, we believe in front-end freedom of choice—to be able to choose the architecture that best suits each individual organization’s unique needs. That’s why we’ve designed Brightspot CMS to operate as a traditional, decoupled, headless or hybrid CMS solution.
Image of Brightspot founder and CEO, David Gang
David A. Gang, President & Founder, Brightspot

A headless CMS solution eliminates the presentation layer, delivering content as data outputs, often in the versatile JSON format, suitable for various content delivery networks. It functions solely on the back end, providing an editorial interface without an end-user view. Content creators using a headless CMS, such as Brightspot, can preview the layout and user experience before publishing it live. The absence of a presentation layer offers complete front-end freedom, as there are no restrictions on the delivery environment or programming language required. Moreover, starting with a headless CMS simplifies migration to another platform.

Decoupled CMS architecture provides enhanced flexibility over the traditional coupled CMS, adapting seamlessly to content distribution demands. It separates the content and presentation layers, enabling developers to make changes to the back end without directly impacting the front end. This separation allows for parallel updates and easier maintenance, resulting in faster launch times. A decoupled CMS also facilitates deployment and reduces reliance on the development team to introduce new experiences. Although the back end and front end are disconnected in this system, the front end typically relies on a specific content delivery programming language, such as React, to establish seamless integration between the two.

Traditional CMS offers an end-to-end solution for managing content and web applications. It governs the entire content library and web properties, dictating the technology used throughout the process—from content creation and storage to content presentation. While a traditional CMS offers an all-in-one solution, it presents limited technical flexibility due to the coupling of data management and presentation layers. If you choose a traditional CMS, it is important to consider that migrating to a new system in the future would require rebuilding your entire site.

Continue reading to delve deeper into each CMS architecture, exploring their features, benefits and considerations for each.

Hybrid CMS

Decoupled and headless architectures have paved the way for the latest in CMS—the hybrid model. With a hybrid CMS architecture, organizations and publishers can mix presentation or front-end choices. A hybrid CMS architecture combines the best of decoupled and headless and may be the best option for complex content delivery workflows. For example, a business might choose a decoupled approach for its online site experience but use headless to power the native iOS and Android apps it offers the marketplace.

Learn more about hybrid CMS

Decoupled CMS

decoupled cms graphic

A decoupled CMS offers more flexibility than a traditional CMS—a coupled CMS, in other words—as to how your content is delivered, but there is a clear separation between the content and presentation layers. In other words, developers can make changes to the back end that will not directly impact the front end.

A quality implementation will allow developers to make changes to the back end content in parallel to the front-end distribution. The result makes it easier to update and maintain and faster to launch. A decoupled CMS also enables easier deployment than the traditional style and requires less reliance on the development team to launch new experiences.

While the back end and front end are separated in this system, the front end is usually locked in to a specific content delivery programming language (for example, React). This allows the back end and front end to connect and function as one entity.

Learn more about decoupled CMS

Headless CMS

headless cms promo graphic

A headless CMS offers complete content freedom by removing the presentation layer entirely. Instead, a headless CMS delivers content as data outputs, usually via JSON. The system is back-end only, meaning it has an editorial interface, but no end-user view. (Note, this relates to where the content is consumed on the front end; content creators using a headless CMS like Brightspot do have the ability to preview the layout and user experience before publishing to a live site.)

The absence of a presentation layer opens up to complete front-end freedom—there’s no specific delivery environment or language needed to distribute content. Finally, starting with a headless CMS system makes migration to another platform much easier.

Learn more about headless CMS

Traditional CMS

traditional cms illustration diagram

A traditional CMS manages your entire content library and web application end to end, and usually dictates the technology used throughout—from the creation and storage of content, to the presentation of that content on your web properties.

While this type of CMS offers a full-stack solution from content management to output, it offers little technical flexibility. As the data and presentation layers are tightly bound, there’s often less freedom to distribute content elsewhere. If you’re considering a traditional CMS, it’s important to note that any future migrations to a new system would require a complete site rebuild.

Learn more about traditional CMS

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Hybrid CMS architecture

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