April 25, 2017
Headless CMS: A Simple Way to Power Web and Mobile Apps

When it comes to content management, sometimes less is more. While many CMS solutions have taken the “Web Experience in a Box” approach, building more and more functionality for content presentation and delivery, modern CMS applications blend both web experience capabilities and purely decoupled – or "headless" - deployment options. What exactly does "headless" mean and why is it necessary for modern web or digital experiences? 

Understanding Headless

Headless CMS is a key feature for modern CMS platforms that support delivery of content to external web and mobile applications. Headless simply means the CMS provides no front-end presentation tier to deliver content. The front-end is an external application or project that combines code with CMS-managed content.

Consider an online loan application. You wouldn't build this application using a CMS because it requires custom code and connects to backend systems that process the application. But web applications need managed content. Think about the labels, images, marketing messages, help text, localized content, and other content you may use in a loan application. You can create and maintain this content in your CMS and deliver it to the loan application through content delivery APIs. In the case of a loan application, the CMS is "headless" providing only the backend management of the content and way to deliver that content to the loan application.

Another example is a mobile application. You are building a custom mobile application for iOS or Android, but you have some text and digital assets that you want to be able to update frequently, such as a new daily featured article. A headless CMS is the best place to create and manage this content because it enables you to apply proper content management capabilities such as workflow approvals, taxonomy and publishing dates. With a headless CMS, you can connect your mobile application to the CMS content API and pull in relevant content on demand.  

Beyond Applications

Headless scenarios go beyond applications. Many modern websites are composite projects that include traditional content pages plus application pages. A modern CMS should be able to support both these deployment scenarios within a single site. 

A great example here is a bank website. On a banking website, you have a number of web pages that talk about the services the bank offers in detail. This content is managed within the CMS. The website also provides mortgage and credit card calculators, loan applications and online banking. These features are not built in the CMS but are custom application pages. Some of these pages may also include text that is managed in the CMS.

Other examples where a headless CMS offers value are kiosks and digital signage solutions. 

The Difference Between Headless and Decoupled CMS

The terms headless and decoupled are often used interchangeably. But there are slight differences. A Headless delivery strategy uses an API to return requests for content. You can think of it as a game of Pong. With Headless, a web or mobile application serves first. A request comes to the CMS application from a web or mobile app, and the CMS returns service with a reply that includes the content requested. This volley goes back and forth until a session is ended. 

In a decoupled delivery approach the CMS serves fist. It sends a package of content, typically as a file push, to a website, application, or development project. The CMS will render the content in a format appropriate for the application or site: HTML for the web, perhaps JSON or XML for an application.

Learn more about the advantages of a headless CMS by downloading our whitepaper, "The Advantages of a Decoupled CMS." 

Support for Dev Ops Programs

Headless is also important for organizations that have defined Developer Operations (Dev Ops) programs where content and code are built from repositories like GitHub or Mercurial and then propagated across development and production servers. Dev Ops is an interesting topic as it relates to headless CMS, so expect to hear more about that in a later blog post. 

The Value of Headless CMS

The value a headless CMS provides to web and mobile applications, and composite websites is numerous. Some of these benefits include: 

  • You can build and deploy your web application using your technology frameworks and development operations programs. The CMS does not dictate your development stack or approach.
  • Marketing can make content changes without needing to change the source code of the application or rebuild an application. Developers are free from making text and other content changes.
  • You can have content management support without the need to install the CMS application on the delivery server. 
  • You can use your CMS for a range of websites and applications, each built using different technology and published on various channels or devices. 

Power Your Web and Mobile Apps with a Headless CMS

Many content management vendors are starting to think about headless options. These vendors are beginning to understand the use cases and demands from companies across all types of verticals. Headless is a critical feature of any forward-thinking CMS vendor.

For Ingeniux, headless has been an approach we've offered from day one. The Ingeniux CMS provides both a headless and decoupled option and a delivery tier using its Dynamic Site Server (DSS). Our customers can build their web and mobile applications using the technologies of their choice while ensuring their content is securely managed within our CMS. 

We invite you to check out Ingeniux CMS to see how it can deliver the content with our headless API, decoupled publishing, or dynamic content delivery.  

For more information about the different types of content management software, download our white paper Advantages of a Decoupled Architecture

Posted by Dave Hillis
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