What is Headless CMS?

In most traditional CMSs, content management and presentation is so tightly bound that changes in one can impact the other. However, this structure limits the scope of both and burdens the developers to split their time toward both. Here’s when Headless CMS comes in handy.

Headless CMS is a CMS without the “head”, i.e., the presentation layer. It provides all the backend tools that are needed to create and publish content via APIs. But it leaves the frontend tasks for the developer, providing a clear separation between content management and presentation.

Because of its headless nature, Headless CMS gives the development team the liberty to use the best-in-breed technology to develop the frontend, and content managers create content without worrying about how it would be displayed.

Traditional vs. Decoupled vs. Headless CMS

When choosing a CMS, it’s important to understand the differences between various architectural approaches used by other CMSs.

Traditional (Coupled) CMS

The Traditional (or coupled) CMS architecture tightly binds the frontend and the backend. It combines everything related to an application: the application code, the content repository, the user interface for content managers, and the design templates. Due to its tightly bound nature, it is difficult to introduce any change in one component without affecting the other.

This option is particularly favorable if you intend to design a simple web page, given its simple set up procedure and ease of use.

Decoupled CMS

As the name suggests, this CMS architecture decouples the backend and frontend into two separate systems: content management and data consumption and presentation.

Once content is created in the backend, this frontend agnostic CMS architecture retrieves content via web services and APIs and delivers them to any frontend on any device or channel. Even though the backend and the frontend function independently, the frontend component has a defined frontend or a specific presentation environment. Thus, making them separate components yet tightly linked to function as one.

A decoupled CMS has an optional presentation layer, i.e., the user can choose according to its will to use the front-end of the CMS for display or not.

Headless CMS

A headless CMS is frontend agnostic, which means that a headless CMS works without the frontend. When dealing with a headless CMS, you can create, manipulate, and update your content but cannot publish it directly. Here, APIs come to service. You can deploy your content anywhere using APIs.

A Headless CMS and a Decoupled CMS have almost all the same benefits. It retrieves and delivers content to any platform or device through its Application Programming Interface (API). Thus it makes the presentation layer more flexible by eliminating the frontend system.

Headless CMS is the best choice if you intend to support multiple channels.

The table below highlights some important differences between the three:





Backend + Frontend

Backend + API + Frontend

Backend + API


Has a built-in, supported frontend

Has an optional frontend

Has no frontend at all

Content Delivery

Stores content within the coupled pages

Stores content within pages, but also has the ability to deliver content via APIs

Content can be delivered to any systems or applications through APIs

Frontend flexibility

Frontend is customizable

Frontend is customizable

Developers has the flexibility to choose any frontend tools or framework

Frontend channels

Limited (web, mobile)

Content can be delivered to more channels than a traditional CMS

Truly omnichannel (web, mobile, smart watches, digital kiosks, digital displays, etc.)

Overall Flexibility

Limited; developers, editors have limited customization options

More flexible than traditional CMS

Very flexible; developers and editors can choose any technology of their choice to create a great experience


Personal blogs; basic sites with limited pages

Can be used for multi-channel content distribution

Larger companies who wants to provide an omnichannel experience to customers; content can be distributed to any channel through a single backend


No/minimum dependency on developers

Less dependency on IT/developers as it comes with an optional frontend

High dependency on developers for initial setup

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