Headless CMS explained

What is a headless CMS?

A headless CMS is any type of backend content management system where the “body” content storage is separated or decoupled from the “header” presentation layer. Content stored in a headless CMS is delivered via an API so that it can be seamlessly displayed across multiple devices.
Some traditional CMS platforms offer a “headless API” that allows content to be sent to a separate presentation layer. This is called “headless” because the presentation layer is separate from the main content.

Headless CMS versus traditional CMS

Unlike a headless system, a “traditional CMS” is a piece of software that you must install and manage yourself or run in a managed server environment. Traditional CMSs are also known as “monoliths” because they pack all the features and requirements of the way you want to work into a single system. Traditional CMSs usually provide a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface for editing content, as they only display content in one box – usually a web page. The thing is, this is not limited to web pages.

A headerless CMS can deliver content directly to where you need it through the API. Thanks to the headless approach, the content can be used for iOS, Android apps and for every possible platform and technology, making it an effective option for mobile and web app developers.

What is Managed Content as a Service (MCaaS)?

Content as a Service is essentially an evolution in content management, storage and delivery. It is a service-based model in which a “service provider” delivers content to “service users” on demand via a cloud-based subscription service.

In a traditional CMS, content can be stored locally, on dedicated or shared servers and in the cloud. In addition, security updates and database backups are the responsibility of the company maintaining its CMS. With the advent of global distribution, content delivery networks (CDNs) and caching, cloud-based solutions are preferred for their security, reliability and speed.

How can I implement a headless CMS?

Implementing a headless CMS is similar to using a traditional CMS, except that you don’t have to worry about the front end. A headless CMS platform consists of three main components.

  • The content database
  • A back-end for content management
  • APIs for delivering content from the back-end to multiple front-ends

As a headless CMS is designed to be independent, the main thing to worry about is building your content so that it can be easily ported across different platforms and devices. A flexible headless CMS, such as the one offered by Optimizely, places no restrictions on front-end development. You can use any framework, including Angular, React or Vue; the content is not pushed from the backend, but is pumped (via the API) from various channels.