What is headless?
In software development, ‘headless’ describes an architecture that separates the frontend (presentation layer) from the backend (the technical support responsible for the functioning of the system). In this type of software, communication between the visual part and the interior of the system takes place via API. This approach allows organizations to respond much faster to new requirements, build breakthrough experiences and introduce innovative solutions quicker and at lower costs. Currently, headless technology can be found primarily in content management systems (Headless CMS) or online stores (Headless Commerce).
What is headless CMS?
Content management systems (CMS) provide the infrastructure to upload, edit and publish various forms of content. The main difference between the traditional CMS model such as WordPress and the headless CMS is that the first is based on a rigid connection between frontend and backend, while headless software splits these layers. Traditional CMS systems, therefore, offer a complete set of functionalities for both content creation and presentation.
Headless CMS remodels the approach to the visual layer, by using an API interface to deliver content anywhere and in any form. The relationship between the frontend and the backend is separated, which gives developers freedom to choose any frontend technologies. This way businesses can build a completely separate view of an online store, mobile application, or any other touchpoint. This approach provides the best available experience for end-users, as it enables the use of unique presentation style for each channel and device.
What is headless commerce?
Similar to headless CMS, headless commerce allows developers to use a number of independent, specialized in their fields applications (micro-services) that cooperate within one API-based architecture.
Again flexibility that follows is one of the primary benefits of headless commerce. Due to the fact that the frontend and backend are not strongly related, the e-store has much more freedom to present content and build positive experiences for consumers in any way it wants.
What are the benefits of headless architecture?
Headless solutions ensure flexibility to adapt to the current and future market needs. Thanks to the headless approach, it is possible to easily adapt not only to the currently used communication channels but also be prepared for any new solutions that consumers will use in the future. The headless approach offers plenty of benefits for both business and development teams, here are some of them:
- Greater adaptability – solutions based on headless architecture are much more flexible and scalable. Changes to the visual layer do not affect the backend layer, unlike monolithic architecture where a change in one affects all the remaining parts of the system. Moreover, it is possible to create frontend layers tailored to individual sales channels.
- Faster speed – headless technology also positively impacts page load speed and system response time, which is one of the key factors determining customer experience and SEO. By using API calls to download content, resources are not shared, which is often a burden on systems in the traditional model. It is also possible to use the browser's memory to execute certain scripts, thanks to which development teams can reduce the number of queries sent to the database, which also guarantees better system performance. Also, headless systems perform better under heavy loads as they are designed to automatically scale up and down as demand peaks and dips.
- Better security – headless architecture ensures greater security compared to traditional systems. The separation of the frontend and backend layers means that website users have no direct contact with the internal system. Moreover, in most cases, these system elements are hosted on different servers, which further increases data security.
- Quicker time-to-market – headless approach means that enterprises gain the ability to customize the functionality of their platforms and create unique experiences for visitors across multiple channels. There are almost no restrictions in this respect. It is much easier to adapt to market trends by modifying or adding functionalities without having to think about how minor changes can affect other elements of the system. Thanks to the separation of the backend layers from the frontend, developers also get to use any language or framework, depending on their needs and preferences.
What are the main challenges of going headless?
Currently, the primary roadblocks that prevent businesses from going headless stem from resistance to change and lack of understanding, rather than operational costs or lack of time (source: MACH Alliance). However, there are also other micro issues that businesses should look into before going headless to make the transition smoother:
- Lack of ready UI – headless architecture often lacks a ready UI or WYSIWYG editor, which means that the development team has to build the frontend for both customers and business admin from scratch.
- Unpredictable pricing – most headless providers offer a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model which can make it difficult to estimate the pricing and your needs as you start.
- Reliance on third-party tools – headless approach means relying on multiple micro-services to perform at the top of their game at all times. This also means that you have more vendors to negotiate with and oversee.
- Longer trouble-shooting – using multiple systems instead of one may result in longer debugging and more complex troubleshooting.
To learn more about headless architecture, read this article.