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David Boland

Blogging about web, mobile, and whatever other tech stuff I come across. I work a lot with content management systems. I am an Episerver MVP, and a Contentful certified developer.


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What is Headless CMS? Benefits of Accessing Content Anywhere

February 25th, 2021

originally posted at nansen.com

The popularity of headless content management systems (CMS) has exploded over the past several years. But what’s all the hype about? We wanted to talk about what we at Nansen see as the advantages of going with a headless CMS.

What is Headless?

First, it's important to make sure we are on the same page when we say "headless." CMS originated as a way to edit content for the web. In recent years, the need for content outside of the context of a website, like mobile apps, digital displays, etc. has grown. People need a way to edit content once and use it everywhere.

From this need, headless was born. It provides a content repository (the body), without being tied to the head (website). The content can then be accessed anywhere through a RESTful API.

While all headless CMS will share this description, each will have its own additional features. Once you decide that you want to go headless for your next project, these features will help you determine which CMS to choose. We'll go over some of our preferred headless CMS options below.

Decoupled Architecture

Because the content layer is not tied to any one presentation layer, it provides a lot of flexibility. While working with a traditional CMS implementation, it might require developers to write their presentation layer in specific languages like php or .NET.

When all content is accessed through RESTful APIs, the decoupled architecture gives developers the flexibility to work in any programming language. Not only that, it makes it easy to continually update to the latest frameworks and standards without having to worry about how those changes affect the content layer.

Omnichannel

Another benefit that comes from having separation between presentation and content layers is the ability to have multiple channels for your content. Similar to the way that developers can write using any programming language, they can also build for any platform.

This is essentially how we defined headless at the start of the post. It's important to call it out again, because omnichannel functionality is usually the primary reason people move towards a headless implementation. With web, mobile, and IoT, organizations want their content to be ready for any scenario.

It's important to note that while headless is omnichannel, how we architect our content models in the CMS affects how easily we can add new channels for consuming our content. If you are interested in learning about content modeling, we describe some of our tips for doing it successfully with one of our partners, Contentful.

Security

With a headless architecture, all your channels are consuming content via RESTful APIs. In most cases, APIs will never need to write back the CMS. This allows the CMS to provide read-only access, which is more secure. In contrast, a traditional CMS would typically have the ability to edit content on your site through some editor interface that is tied to the site. While these editor interfaces are by no means insecure, any points of access are potential vulnerabilities.

Another added security benefit is the fact that most headless CMS come with a content delivery network (CDN). While the main goal of the CDN is to serve up content to your channels faster, they also usually come with features to help mitigate DDOS attacks.

SaaS Model

Most headless CMS these days provide a cloud service architecture, meaning you can log in to a web portal where you manage your content. And they will provide the hosting and an endpoint for accessing the content. This is considered a software as a service (SaaS) model.

The benefit of this type of model is that a lot of the maintenance overhead is handled for you. Scaling, updates, security, and other maintenance issues you would need to worry about if you were hosting your own server are taken care of. SaaS models can also come with other features like service-level agreements (SLAs) and CDNs. And most of all, usually it's set up as a multitenant system, meaning that resources, while siloed, are shared amongst clients. This can help reduce the overall costs of your implementation.

Final Thoughts

Most people who are considering a headless CMS are initially drawn to its omnichannel functionality. A lot of traditional CMS implementations are trying to implement something similar by adding in RESTful APIs for accessing content. They refer to it as a "headless add-on" or a "hybrid headless" implementation. While they have their own advantages, it's not considered truly headless.

We at Nansen see headless CMS as a means of accessing content anywhere. Check out how we've helped the United States Polo Association with their content management system or get in touch if you're ready to get started today.