Web Design + Development
The Benefits of Headless CMS
Have you heard of the headless CMS? It sounds like a legendary creature that strikes fear into the hearts of web developers everywhere! But fear not, because we’ve learned that once you get to know the headless CMS, you’ll find it’s a really great way to build a website.
A traditional CMS-driven website is made up of a back end (the CMS and the database where content is stored) and a front end (everything the customer sees: images, styles, fonts and so on) that live in one place. That means that when updates are made to the back end, the front end gets updated along with it. When it comes time to redesign the front end, the back end often has to be redesigned with it. They're married together: When one breaks, the other breaks. When one is slow, the other is slow, etc.
Building a site with a headless CMS decouples the back end from the front end. The site’s back end still houses the CMS and file uploads, but the CMS doesn't control or inform the site's front-end layout. The front end is created on its own and pulls data in from the back end when and where needed.
Here are a few benefits to going headless.
Let’s be clear: There are things that go bump in the night. Like a bump in traffic to your website when some exciting news has driven new customers to learn more about your products and services.
With a headless CMS setup, you can employ the JAMstack to make sure your website stays up during a spike in traffic or under heavy user load. A front end built on a JAMstack boils down all of your back-end content into a set of super-fast HTML pages and puts them onto a CDN. These pages are loaded lightning-fast and, because they don’t need to use heavy server resources, your site can be displayed to more customers at once.
If you have a haunting fear of getting hacked, a headless CMS may be the solution for you. The problem with hosting your back end in the same place as your front end is that things like the login page to your CMS and your password reset page are hard to hide from attackers.
By putting your CMS on its own server, you could lock down the back end and keep hackers out. You could go as far as only allowing users to log in from a specific location or you can password protect the back-end server. At the very least, splitting up the back end from the front end makes it harder to find vulnerable pages.
If the front end of your website is created on a JAMstack, security is built in!
Like a werewolf during a full moon, the content in a headless CMS can take multiple forms. Decentralizing your CMS lets you simultaneously bring your content to your website’s front end, to a mobile app and as an API to integrate with other marketing services. With a headless CMS, you can do a complete redesign of the front end of your website and be confident your app and API integrations will not be affected by the changes.
A headless CMS also makes it easier to change the front end of your site. Whether it’s time to do a refresh of the design or you have major changes to to the functionality that require lots of changes to the front end, you can replace the front end of your site without making changes to the back end. This can result in a better development process and—in many cases—you can avoid a lengthy content migration process.
Creating a website using a headless CMS sounds like putting together Frankenstein’s monster, but as we start to get away from single-use content management systems and turn them into multi-use content management platforms, the headless approach begins to make sense for website owners.
FUN FACT: The term “headless” sounds gruesome, but it comes from the setup of running a computer without a monitor (the “head”) attached to it.
Will Browar is a web development supervisor who keeps DS+CO on top of emerging trends, user experience and what’s next for tomorrow’s digital space.