Headless content management system

A headless Content Management System, or headless CMS, is a back-end-only content management system that acts primarily as a content repository. A headless CMS makes content accessible via an API for display on any device without a built-in, front-end or presentation layer. The term “headless” comes from the concept of chopping the “head” (the front-end) off the “body” (the back-end).[1]


Whereas a traditional CMS typically combines the content and presentation layers of a website, a headless CMS comprises just the content component and focuses entirely on the administrative interface for content creators, the facilitation of content workflows and collaboration, and the organization of content into taxonomies.[2] As such, a headless CMS must be combined with a separate presentation layer to handle design, site structure and templates.[3] That combination generally relies on stateless or loosely coupled APIs.[4]

One advantage of this decoupled approach is that content can be sent via APIs to multiple display types,[5] like mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, alongside a website.[1] A disadvantage, however, is the requirement to maintain two separate systems for a single site, which can require more resources.[6]

Cloud-first headless CMSes are those that were also built with a multitenant cloud model at their core and whose vendors promote software as a service (SaaS), promising high availability, scalability, and full management of security, upgrades, and hotfixes on behalf of clients.[7][8] Similar to how headless CMSes focus on creating content in the back-end to be displayed on front-ends via APIs, headless commerce uses the same setup to separate back-end product management and navigation from the front-end of a website or other display types, like IoT.[9]

Headless CMS is similar to but distinct from the use of widgets or plugins on a site, like adding an Uber Eats menu or online ordering plugin to a restaurant website.[10]

Common featuresEdit

Most headless CMS platforms employ a version of these features:

Coupled CMS vs. Headless CMSEdit

Most monolithic content management systems are “coupled,” meaning that the content management application (CMA) and the content delivery application (CDA) come together in a single application, making back-end user tools, content editing and taxonomy, website design, and templates inseparable.[11] Coupled systems are useful for blogs and basic websites as everything can be managed in one place. However, in a coupled CMS, CMS code is tightly connected to any custom code and templates, which means developers have to spend more time on installations, customizations, upgrades, hotfixes, etc. They cannot easily move their code to another CMS.

There is a lot of confusion around the differences between a decoupled CMS and a headless one because they have a lot in common; a headless CMS is a type of decoupled architecture.[12] Like a headless CMS, a decoupled CMS separates the CMA and CDA environments, typically with the content being created behind the firewall and then being synchronized and pushed to the delivery environment. The main difference between a decoupled CMS and a headless CMS is that the decoupled architecture is active—it prepares content for presentation and then pushes into the delivery environment—whereas a headless CMS is reactive—it sits idly until a request is sent for content.

The decoupled architecture allows for easier scalability and provides better security than coupled architecture, but it does not provide the same support for omnichannel delivery. Plus, there are multiple environments to manage, hiking up infrastructure and maintenance costs.[13][14]

Another simpler way to understand the difference between a decoupled CMS and headless CMS is on the basis of the inclusion of the front-end in the offering. Decoupled CMS would always have a front-end included in the offering though connected with an API, hence following the decoupled architecture. On the other hand, a headless CMS does not offer the front-end at all but an API using which content is served.

Criticisms and disadvantagesEdit

A headless CMS can also present challenges[15] or drawbacks for teams and organizations, like:

  • A heavier technical proficiency requirement.[16]
  • Management of multiple systems, which can be challenging and a team’s knowledge base must cover all systems.
  • Fewer or no templates or out-of-the-box solutions.
  • Lack of channel-specific support. Since pure headless CMSes don’t deal with the presentation layer, developers may have to create some functionality on their own, such as website navigation.
  • Content organization. As pure headless CMSes do not typically provide the concept of pages and web sitemaps, content editors need to adapt to the fact that content is organized in its pure form, independently on the website or other channel.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Garcia, Veronica; Writer, Staff (2021-02-15). "Should your content management system go headless?". The American Genius. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  2. ^ Davis, Kim (2021-04-13). "The rise of headless and hybrid CMS: Tuesday's daily brief". MarTech Today. Retrieved 2021-04-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Edwards, Roy (2021-02-05). "Contentstack unveils its project Venus – enhanced headless CMS -". Enterprise Times. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  4. ^ "Headless CMS explained in 1 minute". Contentful. Contentful. Retrieved 25 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Headless CMS explained in 5 effective minutes". www.storyblok.com. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  6. ^ Lamoureux, Chris (2019-07-04). "What Is Headless CMS? Pros & Cons of Decoupling Your CMS - Veriday Blog". Veriday. Retrieved 2021-04-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Petr Palas. "Why 2017 Is the Year of Cloud-First Headless CMS". Retrieved 2017-01-30.
  8. ^ Stephen Griffin. "Cloud-First Headless CMS: What It Is and Why You Should Use It". Retrieved 2017-02-07.
  9. ^ Levitz, Michael (2021-02-10). "3 Ways Covid Changed E-Commerce Forever: Your online store is now your flagship. Here's how to make it pop". Inc.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Mortazavi, Alireza (2020-09-14). "Headless CMS vs WordPress vs Custom Solution [Tech Debates]". Medium. Retrieved 2021-02-25.
  11. ^ Mixon, Erica (2020-10-28). "Headless CMS powers personalized, omnichannel e-commerce". TechTarget. Retrieved 2021-02-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. ^ Heusser, Matt. "An overview of headless architecture design". SearchAppArchitecture. Retrieved 2021-04-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Deane Barker. "The State of the Headless CMS Market". Retrieved 2017-02-08.
  14. ^ Brent Heslop. "A History of Content Management Systems and the Rise of the Headless CMS". Retrieved 2019-01-12.
  15. ^ "9 Challenges of Scaling a Headless CMS". CMSWire.com. Retrieved 2022-04-06.
  16. ^ Kaya, Ismail. "Do You Need a Headless CMS? Maybe, Maybe Not". CMSWire.com. Retrieved 2021-04-19.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External linksEdit