Headless CMS illustration

What is headless CMS?

First introduced in 2015—the year that the GraphQL CMS specification was developed—headless CMS architecture has picked up speed year over year as companies realize the benefits it can bring in terms of flexibility, speed-to-market and future-proofing for their business. Learn more below about some of the more common questions people ask when it comes to headless CMS.

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS platform provides organizations with an architecture with front-end flexibility, whether that is a website, mobile application, TV or any end-point that uses APIs to connect with the content repository.

What does headless CMS mean?

In terms of architecture, headless CMS is a subset of decoupled CMS architecture. Both have a content management and storage back end and deliver content from that database through a web service or API. The difference stems from the presentation layer: unlike a decoupled CMS, a headless CMS does not have a defined front-end system or presentation environment.

How does a headless CMS work?

With respect to a Brightspot headless CMS implementation, the view system delivers content via a JSON API to a consuming application; that application processes and transforms the content using its own logic. In headless CMS Brightspot implementations, two scenarios are common:

  • Delivering APIs to mobile applications
  • Delivering APIs to JavaScript frameworks (React, Angular, or others)

Brightspot leverages GraphQL, a query language for APIs and a runtime for fulfilling those queries with existing data, for its API architecture. Two APIs support a headless CMS implementation: a Content Delivery API and a Content Management API.

First developed by Facebook in 2012, headless CMS architecture is the solution of choice for many content business platforms these days. GraphQL is the programming language that enables flexible connection with programming APIs that support headless CMS integrations like the one offered through Brightspot.

When not to use a headless CMS?

Despite the popularity and front-end freedom of a headless CMS, it isn’t without its drawbacks. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution; how you approach it and which hurdles you’ll run into depend on factors such as what type of web application you’re building, the dynamics and skill sets on your team, and the use cases and requirements you have to implement.

A headless CMS solution’s lack of a built-in presentation system comes at a cost. The freedom that you enjoy when using these systems means that you are responsible for writing, debugging and maintaining everything that your rendering system requires.

Modern headless content management system platforms can give you the flexibility you need to change—but there are four things to consider first.

How do I choose between headless CMS and decoupled CMS architecture?

Which of these CMS architecture types you’ll want to choose will depend on your specific use case.

Even though traditional content management systems have many restrictions that may limit users unnecessarily, there may be a particular one that has better UI, integrations, support, documentation and features than another CMS that is decoupled or headless. A specific, prioritized functionality may make the restrictions worthwhile in your particular case.

More often than not, a decoupled CMS will be a good bet for content-heavy websites, such as a news site, while a headless CMS will work well for single page applications (SPAs), such as e-commerce or social media sites.

Making the determination about which solution is best-suited to your business can feel overwhelming. In our work with clients and in webinars, we field plenty of questions about the various types of CMS architecture.

Learn the difference between traditional (or coupled) CMS, decoupled CMS, and headless CMS architecture, as well as the pros and cons for each.

How is Brightspot Headless CMS different from other headless CMSs?

The Brightspot Content Business Platform naturally works in headless or hybrid mode to provide the ease of use and full benefits of an evolved CMS platform.

  • Brightspot Content Business Platform is naturally headless and API-first.
  • Brightspot shortens time to value with pre-built components and integrations that save valuable development time.
  • With proven tools and experiences, Brightspot enables users to create custom applications at least 50% complete.
  • Editorial UI, Data Visualization Tools, Java APIs, and GraphQL APIs are all automatically generated for you for rapid development.
  • Extend, change and enhance any pre-built module to serve your enterprise needs.
  • Brightspot provides GraphQL APIs for content management and content delivery to other external systems including third-party syndications.
  • Enterprises have the option to publish headless, decoupled or hybrid, all from the same environment. It is the only platform that offers this flexibility.
  • Brightspot headless platform supports any business logic, integrations, content types and workflow.
  • Brightspot provides prebuilt connectors for business-critical services such as CRM, ERP and DAM applications.

When to use a headless CMS?

Even though headless CMS platforms share all of the core benefits of decoupled CMSs, the biggest difference between the two is that a decoupled CMS has a fixed or predetermined front end, whereas headless does not. This allows your development team to create a custom front-end framework that works for your project, your brand, your company and your end users. Making headless CMS options almost limitless.

In creating this front end, developers are able to use any of their favorite frameworks and tools and are not limited by the development language and platform linked to the back end of your CMS. Keep in mind, though, if you don’t have an experienced developer/designer (or a team), headless is definitely not going to be the right platform for you.

In our work with clients and in webinars, we field lots of questions about headless and decoupled CMS architecture. Here are answers to some of the most common.

How is a headless CMS different to a decoupled CMS?

Headless CMS is a subset of decoupled CMS. Decoupled CMS architecture separates—or decouples—the back-end and front-end management of a website into two different systems: one for content creation and storage, and another system, one or more, are responsible for consuming that data and presenting it to the user through some interface. In a decoupled CMS, these two systems are housed separately.

Once content is created and edited in the back end, decoupled CMS’ front-end agnostic approach takes advantage of flexible and fast web services and APIs to deliver the raw content to any front-end design on any device or channel.

Even though the back-end and the front-end application function independently of one another, the front-end CMS architecture is predetermined with a specified delivery environment (for example, React or React Native). Thus, the two systems are tightly linked and can function as one. This is where headless CMS architecture departs from decoupled CMS architecture, as headless CMS does not intersect with the presentation layer.

How is a headless CMS different to a traditional CMS?

In a traditional—or coupled—CMS, the traditional CMS architecture tightly links the back end to the front end. Content is created, managed and stored—along with all digital assets—on the site’s back end. This is also where website design and customization applications are stored. This content management back end and database is bound within the same system that delivers and presents content to devices and end users on the front end.

Usually with a traditional CMS, editors and content producers are writing and publishing on the back end of the same system where website visitors are viewing this content. Blogging platforms, such as WordPress, Squarespace and Wix, are examples of traditional CMS architecture.

Unlike the above, a headless CMS offers greater flexibility in terms of how and where your content appears, increasing opportunities to publish to different and emerging channels. A headless CMS also provides more flexibility and security with respect to third-party integrations.

Is Brightspot a headless CMS platform?

No, Brightspot Content Business Platform is naturally headless, but users determine how they want to use the platform to create digital content experiences. Brightspot provides the only evolved CMS platform that is front-end agnostic with an extensible architecture that is API-first so that users can publish how they want—headless or decoupled—all within the same environment.

Are other headless providers an API-first CMS platform?

No, most headless CMS platforms on the market are API-only platforms. This means that the burden of developing the features and capabilities to create, develop and publish content rest squarely with the user.

In today’s digital economy, Brightspot recognizes that all businesses are content businesses—all organizations must communicate and reach audiences by creating and publishing unique content. In that sense, while not all businesses may see themselves yet as a content business, all businesses leverage content as a vehicle for communicating and engaging with their stakeholders—customers, partners, employees, and shareholders.

An API-first CMS provides the advantages of headless CMS—API-only—with rich capabilities like workflow, search and content delivery. With an API-first platform, businesses have the option to use a number of pre-built integrations to save valuable development time and effort.

More headless CMS resources

By  Brightspot Staff
August 11, 2020
Modern headless content management system platforms can give you the flexibility you need to change—but there are four things to consider first.
By  Brightspot Staff
July 23, 2020
As a technical leader, finding the right content business platform for your organization will require flexibility, and that isn’t always easy for some platforms.
By  Brightspot Staff
September 17, 2020
With today's always-on technology, a headless CMS approach offers the benefits of flexibility, speed and scalability for digital and editorial leads at media companies.
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