what they are and how they differ from traditional CMS

We call 'CMS' (content management system) any type of web content management software that runs on a server. Surely, although the term may not sound familiar to you, you know some: Wordpress, Prestashop, phpBB, Mediawiki, Moodle ... They are some of the most popular, but the list is huge.

Now, in recent years we have been able to witness the emergence of a new class of CMS, the 'headless CMS'. Certainly, the term translated into Spanish is not very explanatory ('CMS without head'), so we are going to explain a little what they consist of.

Off with his head!

The expression 'headless' refers to the idea of ​​separating the head (the 'front-end', what the user sees) of the body (the 'back-end', the administration space in which webmasters create and manage content); As opposed to this model, the rest of CMS are called 'monolithic' or 'coupled' CMS.

Let's think about Wordpress for a moment: if you have ever installed it by hand in a hosting, you will know that the same directory structure that the front-end allows the user to serve is the one that allows access to the front-end. Thus, Wordpress handles everything, from writing in the database to templates on the web.

Do you consider yourself a frontend or backend programmer?

Conversely, a headless CMS provides only one administrative interface from which to manage the content repository to be published, as well as a REST API which, using JSON technology, allows connecting said content with one or more user interfaces.

Thus, a company can have a single headless corporate CMS from where publish content in a multichannel way: both in mobile applications and in blogs, simultaneously or separately.

And is that this change may not be a breakthrough for the owner of a personal website, but in corporate environments these CMS are being welcomed by improve the scalability, flexibility and security of your online channels.

Traditional Vs Headless Cms

This is how Contentstack (one of the most popular headless CMS) explains the difference between its model and traditional CMS.

Front-end and back-end options

But what are these new CMS? Among the most prominent we can point out Storyblok, Prismic, Cloud CMS, Contentful, Directus, Contentstack, or Strapi. They are very different from each other, in use, focus, functionalities and costs, so we encourage you to carefully analyze each option if you are looking to choose one for your project.

But then, where would the front-end be now? What software will now be responsible for connecting the headless CMS with the user's browser? Well, there are several solutions, two of them are:

  • Use technologies that extract the contents of the headless CMS and put them online using static web generators. In this sense, it is common to find users who add Contentful to the combination of GitHub and Netlify, which we already discussed here as a way to publish websites for free.

Screenshot 27

Example of the Contentful content creation interface.

  • Program your own web application so that, using REST, extract the contents of your headless CMS and apply the template you prefer.