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Headless Architecture: What It Is and Why It Is So Popular?

Posted in Tech on November 12th 2018

Multichannel publishing is becoming more and more relevant in today’s digital world. Suppose you’re a part of a leading brand and want to publish the content to a handful of channels. What will you do? You can’t just keep publishing your content repeatedly on new channels such as blog, website, your app, your e-commerce platform, or even devices such as VR headsets, smartwatches, smart home assistants, etc.



With headless, content can be published across a plethora of devicesImage via Computerworld

You need to find the most effective multichannel publishing solution, and this is exactly what a headless architecture can offer. Yes, you may have heard Magento or Adobe talking about this “headless” guy, but what is it exactly and is it a good solution for you? Before diving into the technical aspects of headless architecture and its benefits, let's have a look at what it is exactly.

The interest in headless CMS is rising considerably over the past 5 years (Source: Google Trends)

In simple terms, headless architecture is aimed at publishing dynamic content to any type of platforms such as websites, apps, WeChat mini-programs - even IoT (Internet of Things) devices in the most efficient way possible. The headless architecture facilitates content workflows and collaboration between content creators as it stores content in the pure format, which can be published to different channels. Although it’s a bit complicated to say exactly when the headless architecture came into existence, we can say that it was born because of today’s dynamic demands, the need to have different systems with different functionalities and filling different purposes and their needs to work together, providing a seamless experience for users. For instance, you might need to have a device pulling information from a ticketing system, as well as a content management system and an e-fapiao system. You would want your user interface to be seamless for the end user. This is one of the multiple reasons why headless came to fruition.

These days, the headless architecture is widely used by creators of digital experiences who are seeking for an optimized choice of multichannel content publishing. According to a survey by Kentico conducted on March and April 2018:

  • 86% of respondents were positive about the idea of using headless architecture.
  • Motivating factors of using headless architecture were “one place for content for various application” (48%) and higher flexibility (47%).

The craze for headless architecture is no joke.

To give you an all-round knowledge of headless architecture and how to leverage it in your digital project, we will be writing a series of articles, covering all the most important aspects that define this technology.

Let’s start with an overview of headless architecture to explain the basic concepts and what has made the headless architecture become so widely adopted in recent years.

Headless Architecture - How does it work exactly?

Determining the right technical architecture is the first and foremost step when building any set of digital assets. According to Techopedia, website architecture is the “planning and design of the technical, functional and visual components of a website - before it is designed, developed and deployed”. As mentioned in the beginning, multichannel content publishing has become crucial, and headless architecture has been prioritized for the majority of digital assets.

The term "head" is referring to the front-end that is generated by the CMS, OMS or frameworks that is tightly coupled with the back-end. Having a tightly coupled front-end and back-end is actually not a bad architecture and has been the default way for years. However, this architecture lacks the flexibility to use content with different systems. When headless architecture is applied, there’s no by default front-end system that defines how the content is presented to the end users, effectively decoupling content creation and content presentation. In this case, the content is raw and can be published anywhere, through any framework or device.

To explain the headless architecture more technically, we can say that the content is not rendered by the same tool used to manage it, rather we have a separation of responsibilities where this operation is delegated to the end consumer application. Instead of generating the whole content displayed to the end user on the server directly, the content is published through an API or web service that is capable of pushing content to different devices. Furthermore, these devices are able to present the content in a different way. Basically, a headless CMS provides content to the presentation tier as a service in JSON or XML format. In technical terms, it’s known as Content as a Service (CaaS). The content is written and published once, but it does not mean that it cannot be requested and presented multiple times by different channels and consumers. That's what headless can definitely do. As you get rid of front-end delivery, managing content across different delivery formats becomes much easier. Furthermore, since the content is not bound to any predetermined structure, the front-end developers are free to build as many heads as they like.

This image will help you get a clear understanding:

Traditional CMS: The content is accessible via normal HTTP requests as templated pages. Any device or application can pull this content and only display as responsive pages.

Headless CMS: The content is accessible via API as raw data. Any device or application can pull this data and display it as preferred.

Recap

With the rise of various smart devices, the need for effective multichannel content publishing has been rising steadily. This is where headless architecture shines, providing an optimized solution for digital experience creators to produce and manage their content while ensuring a seamless experience across channels. Now you got a basic idea of how headless architecture works, but then other questions may have arisen: How is it different from traditional architecture? What are the benefits of using headless? Is it the right one for my digital projects? Stay tuned for the second part of our Headless series!



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