Understanding Headless: What does it mean?
Headless might seem like just another buzzword, but it represents a significant shift in how websites, online stores and apps are built. The main idea is that you separate your business logic and data (pages, users, orders, etc) from how you display that online.
To understand what this means in practice it helps if you have a decent grasp of how traditional dynamic websites are built.
This is part 1 in our series Understanding Headless:
The way we used to make websites
Traditionally you would build a website on top of a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress, Drupal, Sitecore or an all-in-one ecommerce software like Magento. These systems usually consist of a database, a cache, an admin interface, templates, images, other assets, user management and everything in between.
It might seem like a lot of moving pieces just to display some content on the Internet. But you need each and every part in one way or another.
A lot of the time you also need to customize the CMS by adding plugins or by directly modifying the source code in order for it to meet your needs. This makes your specific setup unique, which can make it hard and time consuming to maintain. If you neglect this you risk having your site hacked. This means you either need to maintain all of this yourself or you have to pay someone else to look after it for you.
Headless is faster, simpler, cheaper and safer
Headless sites don't use the templates and front-end that comes bundled with most traditional CMSs. Instead sites are built as small standalone apps outside of your CMS and use standardised formats to fetch and display your content. This is also where the term “headless” comes from, the figurative removal of the “head” (aka front-end) of the CMS.
Building a site this way lets you separate your data (pages, users, orders, etc) and the associated business logic from how that data is displayed online. This makes it easy to eventually replace your site down the line without having to migrate all that data somewhere else. You can also just as easily build an app or another site that can make use of the same data. This gives you a lot of extra flexibility that traditional CMSs usually fail to provide.
Headless sites can also be set up to load faster and tend to perform much better since they can be built with the latest frontend technologies. This also makes them less complex to build and maintain, which reduces cost.
Finally, thanks to the lower complexity headless sites are also much safer. In short, there isn’t much to hack. All of the complex stuff (and their associated security risks) are managed elsewhere. If you use a SaaS CMS it’s not even your problem.
Save time and money with SaaS
When you can access all your content using standardised formats you no longer need to maintain your own CMS. There are several great headless CMS options available in a SaaS (Software as a Service) format that you can use instead. These systems are extremely easy to use and most of them are free to get started with.
Using a SaaS CMS means you no longer need to worry about servers, software updates, plugins breaking, or getting hacked. In most cases this leads to a significantly reduced total cost of ownership compared to building and maintaining everything yourself.
If you’re not ready to make that move just yet, most traditional CMSs also allow you to build a headless site on top of them. This means you still get all the other benefits of increased security and performance as well as the UX improvements that come with modern front-end technology.
Are you looking to build a new website or online store?
We have been building headless websites for years and would be happy to help you with your project.
Written by Jonatan Svennberg, Elin Sundberg