What do you need your CMS to be: Headless? Decoupled? Or both?

If we told you that an API-first CMS approach is a good idea because it provides you with a well-defined interface with the outside world, are you totally sure you ‘get’ why that’s a good thing?

Headless is a newer technology in the field which has similar benefits to decoupled—you could see it as a subset. Here, there is no defined front end at all: you just have a back end and an API. The API can serve any number of front-end clients or use cases, so you get complete freedom. Then, because of that well-defined API, it's easier to migrate to another CMS because you've already got an API you can just reimplement in your new CMS.
image of Brightspot employee Brennan Ebeling
Brennan Ebeling, Lead Software Developer, Brightspot

Don’t be too hard on yourself if not. Right now, there’s a lot of complex terminology in the content management world and it can be easy to nod along with statements like this, but not ultimately see why an API-first CMS is worth having. (Believe us, it is—but stay with us here as we explain.)

Brightspot is here to help real-world clients create excellent digital experiences, improve brand storytelling and to support media publishers, global corporations and non-profits alike to improve their online presence. And, as a CMS software company built on the foundations of trust and transparency, we don’t want any customer to be confused about their options, or to choose anything they aren’t convinced is right.

Our latest webinar shares a developer's perspective on today’s most essential CMS capabilities, and how that ought to guide your organization's current, but also future, CMS plans.

By Mark Hoover
April 18, 2023
Learn the difference between traditional (or coupled) CMS, decoupled CMS, and headless CMS architecture, as well as the pros and cons for each.
1 Min Read

Is a hybrid, decoupled/headless CMS the secret of ultimate CMS flexibility?

Traditional is the older technology, where the back end and front end are tightly coupled… There are some advantages to that and it's simpler to implement, but your CMS is going to dictate your entire technology stack so you might be limited, based on what it offers. And if you end up needing to move to a different CMS, there’s a good chance that will probably require a full cycle build.
image of Brightspot employee Brennan Ebeling
Brennan Ebeling, Lead Software Developer, Brightspot

Delivered by Brightspot’s Lead Software Engineer Brennan Ebeling and assisted by Brightspot Software Engineer Basima Zafar, the presentation (view it in detail in the video playlist above) details the three main CMS options available in today's market.

These are traditional, decoupled and headless. A traditional CMS consists of a database for managing and storing content—a back end—and code and design templates for displaying your content—a front end.

A decoupled CMS is a back-end content repository connected to a front end that delivers content out to channels, while headless means the back end is connected to an API which then pushes your content out to whatever channels you want to deliver it to.

The main point here is that decoupled brings a clear separation between the data and the presentation system, which allows for parallel development of the front and back ends. This makes it easier to update and maintain than the traditional approach, as well as promoting improved code reuse and better overall flexibility.

Headless has many similar benefits to decoupled (and can even be considered a subset of it), but as it has no locked-in presentation system, it offers users complete front-end freedom.

A key consideration here is how easy it will be to move between the different architectures in the future. With traditional architecture, a migration to a different CMS would really require a full site rebuild, Brennan stresses. But with headless, it’s really easy to migrate to another headless CMS whenever needed. The API element is the basis for this—as long as you keep the API the same, any part of your back-end CMS can be swapped out without impacting anything else.

A good decoupled implementation will allow parallel development of the front end and the back end, making it easier to update and maintain, as well as improve code reuse and flexibility. However, in this model there are generally still technology restrictions on how both your back and front ends are built.
image of Brightspot employee Brennan Ebeling
Brennan Ebeling, Lead Software Developer, Brightspot

Having outlined these options, Brennan and Basima examine the advantages of a SaaS solution for any CMS project. They also explain how best to future-proof your CMS, as well as the usefulness of no-code and low-code CMS customizations. These explanations are demonstrated using step-by-step walkthroughs of the Brightspot system.

The result is an in-depth look at why a hybrid, decoupled or headless CMS allows ultimate flexibility and convenience. A theme that emerges is that a fully flexible and hybrid CMS architecture is what's needed to give you, the CMS user, as much freedom as possible.

An example of this flexibility comes with something like creating webhooks, which let you rapidly and automatically update APIs to share data with outside systems. You can see Brennan demonstrate how quick and easy it is to build a webhook add-on in Brightspot, so that it updates an external system when content is published or updated. (See below at the 00:03:00 mark.)

Play Now
Future-proofing your CMS with a SaaS solution

With Brightspot, you get the benefits of both approaches

Depending on your use case, decoupled might be what you need—in which case you can pick a Brightspot-rendered front end. Alternatively, a headless approach might suit you better, in which case you can use GraphQL API and then utilize whatever front ends you need.

Brennan makes the case here for a hybrid approach, noting: "With Brightspot, you get the benefits of both approaches, and you pick and choose what makes the most sense for you."

Whether you’re an editor, a brand owner or a developer who wants to see how advances in CMS architecture can save you time and stress, watch this webinar to learn more about the approaches and features that are right for your specific business needs.

Start building in a free trial environment, see a demo or talk to an expert—select one of these paths and start however you would like to!

Edward Murray
About the Author
Edward Murray is a freelance journalist and business content writer. He has more than 20 years of experience writing for a broad selection of publications. These include specialist trade publications as well as regional and national newspapers. He also writes for a wide variety of clients, ranging from start-ups to multi-national corporations producing white papers, opinion pieces, online content and event and webinar summaries. He is based in the UK and writes for clients worldwide.

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