With advancements in technology, content management systems have evolved from being a traditional frontend-dependent platform to a more presentation-agnostic content framework.
A traditional CMS allows users to create or edit content to a database using an HTML-based What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editor. While doing so, the user interface is handled in a predetermined frontend or a graphical presentation layer. One challenge with such a framework is that the content remains tightly coupled with the presentation layer without supporting portability. As a result, there are complexities in displaying content on any other frontend other than the one designed for it.
A Headless CMS is designed to address this challenge by focusing on making CMS a content-only data source, without considering how the presentation layer will look. This allows users to decide what frontend platform or technology to use as a presentation layer.
The term headless refers to the exclusion of the frontend or the presentation layer as opposed to a traditional CMS. A Headless CMS has no predetermined or default frontend system to define how it presents the content to the end-user. The content you create and store on a Headless CMS is in its raw, no-frills format either as JSON or XML, which can be published further using the frontend framework.
A Headless CMS’s frontend is designed to communicate with its backend through an API. At its core, a backend’s key elements consist of :
Data retrieved from the backend is fetched and delivered through an API to the frontend. An API is a modular programming interface with in-built methods and protocols used to specify content types and fragments required to be served in the presentation layer. This decouples the frontend and backend layers, preventing direct communication.
There are several popular CMSs, some of which are open source while others are either paid or freemium platforms. Open-source Headless CMSs are under open-source licenses and allow developers to modify the CMS code to meet their needs as needed. For open-source CMSs, support for new-time users usually comes from the online community of experienced developers.
On the other hand, Paid or Freemium CMS platforms are SaaS offerings that do not allow developers to modify the underlying code. Instead, organisations pay for a license key. Such services allow users easy and seamless options by letting them focus on building applications rather than platform maintenance, customisations, and updates.
Here is a list of the most popular Headless CMS:
One of the most popular, SaaS-based headless CMS as per the recent industry trends. Contentful is a freemium service with:
Contentful is a cloud-native, performant solution that various industry leaders have used for use cases ranging from mission-critical applications to marketing drives.
2. Butter CMS
Another SaaS, API-based Headless CMS that provides a content API to query content into a frontend of your choice besides allowing content modeling, revision histories, localisation, and scheduling. Also supports webhooks for alerting applications of content changes.
Butter CMS plans include :
Keystone offers a Headless CMS built on Node.js, that lets you build applications instantly through an extensible Admin UI and GraphQL API. This lets KeystoneJs to work with a wide variety of front-end frameworks while giving users the benefit of choosing a framework of their choice. Besides the front-end frameworks, KeystoneJs allows configuring your own cloud-native framework including the choice of selecting a database.
Jamstack offers a Headless CMS that leverages CDN caching to offer enhanced scalability and load capability while serving content. Through Pre-Rendering, Jamstack generates markups in advance of when it is required to build. This enables web servers to pre-process data prior to a user request – thus enabling a super-fast content delivery without choking the server.
StoryBlok is a SaaS Headless CMS with a visual editor that enables editing content with an in-context preview. For enterprises, StroryBlok offers a paid service that provides the platform to create and manage content using the enterprises’ StoryBlok UI or Management API.
6. Graph CMS
Graph CMS is a freemium SaaS, GraphQL-based Headless CMS with a free pricing tier for small-scale projects, a paid one for larger teams, and a custom solution for enterprises. Graph CMS uses GraphQL; an open-source query language that provides a clear description of the data in an API. By doing so, it uses a GraphQL Native API that provides three APIs for managing content – A content API, a mutation API for batch updates or deletions, and a management API for managing models and schemas.
Considered as the leading open-source Nodejs Headless CMS that gives developers the freedom to work with their favorite frameworks and tools in their implementations. Along with a free plan, Strapi also offers paid tiers with additional support features like the helpdesk, product training with specialists, and a solutions engineer for support.
Traditional CMSs are bloated and are known to offer limited flexibility with the presentation of content. Headless CMSs address this need by creating a platform that allows organisations to manage their content as a data source without coupling it to the presentation layer.
An organisation should base its decision concerning the choice of Headless CMS to implement on a thorough analysis of its content management needs, a definition of core scenarios the platform should support, the consideration of onsite infrastructure, and an evaluation of its developer ecosystem.
By choosing Headless CMSs that are best suited to their content needs, organisations can benefit from the fast, flexible, platform-agnostic, and cost-effective content management paradigm that these platforms provide.