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What is the "headless'' approach in software development?

What is the "headless'' approach in software development?

A headless CMS – what is it?

To stay ahead of competitors and remain successful, it’s imperative for companies to stay on top of all the latest technologies and trends that are relevant to their industry. But with the fast pace at which technologies change and the difficulties that system updates and overhauls can bring about, it’s easy to see how companies can fall behind.

This need to evolve and adapt with the industry is just one of the reasons why more and more companies are turning to the headless approach for all their e-commerce needs.

But what's the meaning of headless architecture in software development?

A headless CMS separates the back-end functionality of a website — the “body,” where most of the vital components are — from the front-end user experience and visual presentation — the client-facing “head” of the website. When you consider the details of how a headless system works, how it differs from other types of website architecture, and the benefits your company stands to gain by switching to one, there’s a lot to know. Luckily, our article is here to help you figure it out!

What does "headless" mean?

In simple words, what a headless website is is determined by the way it was built. Essentially, headless architecture is a way of putting together the final product by combining two completely separate layers.

The first one is the body, or the back-end functionalities. Just as the human body is comprised of many essential organs, the back-end functionalities of a website include important and distinct components that are responsible for key website features, such as inventory management, order processing, and customer database management.

The second one is the head, or the front-end interface. This is what your website visitors see, interact with, and “speak” to as they navigate your website. The front-end interface is able to make use of information contained within the back-end components, but they’re built separately.

This separation is accomplished by assigning the management of all website logic and functionalities to a network of application programming interfaces. Essentially, an API enables the communication between two applications. In the case of the headless approach, the front-end of your website is reading and making use of a number of back-end application programming interfaces to function.

Most websites are made up of several such interfaces, all of which retrieve and integrate information. For example, if a company wants to embed their Twitter feed in their website’s homepage, they would use an API to do that.

Headless CMS websites also store data independently from any specific front-end interface, allowing you to access and repurpose this information as needed.

Why is it called "headless”?

If you hear the term “headless” and immediately think of ghostly horsemen or guillotined queens, you aren’t too far off the mark. The name is a nod to the severing of one's head from their body. When it comes to software development, you sever the front-end of a website from its back-end.

Although "headless" is the oldest and most widely used name for these kinds of software systems, they are also sometimes referred to as composable commerce for the way they enable businesses to pick and choose the application systems that ultimately make up their websites.

Headless systems vs. monolithic systems

Systems with fully integrated front-end and back-end functionalities are also known as monolithic, coupled, or regular systems. In spite of the fact that headless CMS solutions are considered to be the new and improved norm, monolithic systems are still widely popular.

Monolithic websites use all-in-one systems that store, manage, and present your business’s content and information. They’ve been around for a long time and many businesses are familiar with them. The way they integrate every aspect of a website might appeal to some as the simpler, and therefore the better option.

Despite this notion, however, monolithic systems are not always the best solution for a business’s e-commerce issues.

This outdated approach often forces businesses to:

  • Pay for superfluous features they didn’t want and will never use.
  • Settle for the best of what’s available even if it’s not the absolute best for their business needs.
  • Rely on developers indefinitely when it comes to their website management needs.

Top 4 reasons why businesses are choosing the headless approach

The rising popularity of headless software systems for businesses can be attributed to several factors. Let's start with a headless website’s greatest asset. Compared to other options, headless systems provide the most adaptable and versatile functionalities. As a result, these systems can effectively aid businesses in increasing their productivity and boosting their profits.

In the following section, we will outline all the reasons why more and more business websites are losing their heads.

1 - Increased flexibility & adaptability

Compared to other systems, a headless CMS is likely to offer nearly unparalleled flexibility and malleability. Whether you need to perform a more substantial overhaul or tweak a few aspects of how your system works, a headless system makes it infinitely easier because of the existing disconnect between features. Each API that your website is made out of can be edited or swapped out without disrupting the way the rest of the body works.

With the rising popularity of e-commerce options, such as in-app shopping, you can expect e-commerce software to grow impressively in its convenience and efficiency. As a business owner, you probably expect that change to come in the blink of an eye. The flexibility of headless systems is going to enable your business to adapt to changes in technology, no matter how fast they come.

2 - Freedom to build the best possible version of your website

Headless software systems present virtually unlimited options for building a website that meets your specific goals, addresses the challenges you're facing, and fulfils your business needs. When you go headless, you unlock a wide range of options for customizing both ends of your website.

Front-end– While monolithic systems will provide you with very few options for customizing front-end technology, headless systems let you choose and implement the UI and UX technology that’s best for you. This is because just about any front-end application can read and present the information contained within your APIs.

Back-end – Headless systems offer endless freedom on the back-end, letting you make use of what’s called “best-of-breed” software solutions. You can pick and choose best-of-breed APIs, meaning headless software allows for the creation of specialized back-end systems that will aid you in creating a website you will love. This gives you access to the most refined functionality tailored to your very specific niche, including your business’s:

  • CMS
  • Payment options
  • E-commerce platform
  • Search functionality

3 - Enhanced customer experience

Headless content management systems are great when it comes to the ease and speed with which you can integrate new customer touchpoints and end channels. From a business perspective, this allows you to:

  • Stay current on the latest e-commerce trends that make online shopping enjoyable for the customer
  • Run new programs on existing APIs, ensuring consistency and functionality

4 - Increased security, compliance, and more

Headless systems can also manage additional back-end functions related to protecting your customers and your business. Headless systems offer options for:

  • Inventory management
  • PCI compliance
  • Security protections
  • Fraud management

What’s more, these systems can easily connect and interact with other aspects of your business’s technical infrastructure, like point-of-sale systems and enterprise resource planning systems.

Traditional vs Headless CMS comparison

Is a headless system right for your business?

With so many benefits worth bragging about, it’s easy to understand why headless architecture is so appealing. They offer unlimited choices, increased functionality, and greater opportunities to please customers. However, there are also a few drawbacks to consider when ultimately making your choice:

  • The development process usually takes longer – On the one hand, headless e-commerce solutions are preferred because they allow for customizable flexibility. On the other hand, it requires more time and expertise to develop these complex systems. Headless developers often have to write custom code to tie the various APIs together seamlessly.
  • It’s harder to maintain the projects post-development – Because of the increased coding intricacies, headless content management systems and their plug-ins cannot be immediately updated with the simple click of a button. It typically requires technical maintenance performed by an experienced developer. On the bright side, though, many developers offer maintenance contracts for the products they build for you.

Headless content management systems are often more expensive – Between a longer, more in-depth development process and ongoing maintenance requirements, it’s only logical that the total price tag will be higher as well. However, with headless systems, you’re paying for a flexible product that can adapt to your needs over time, which ultimately saves you money in the long run.

If you’re thinking about moving to a headless CMS, here are some things you should consider:

  • Customer touchpoints – do you want the ability to introduce new customer interfaces to your system?
  • Application options – will you want or need to make changes to the various components and functionalities available on your website?
  • Easy updates – do you want to be able to quickly and conveniently update small segments of your website, rather than having to relaunch the entire system?
  • Scaling – do you anticipate growth that will demand more of your website?

A monolithic approach may seem suitable for where you currently are in your growth trajectory, but a headless system allows you to keep moving forward and transition smoothly as your needs and the available technologies evolve.

Traditional CMS
Headless CMS
Device compatibility
Responsive by design
Developer experience
Higher load times
Lower load times
Long cycles
Rapid development

Adchitects - digital solutions for any brand

When it comes to keeping up with the rapidly evolving e-commerce market, you’ll want to partner with industry experts that live for the latest technologies. We hope this blog post allowed you to update your knowledge and learn more about headless content management systems.

And despite our headless approach, we have a good head on our shoulders.

We’re committed to building world-class digital products that help brands establish, maintain, and grow their online business and presence. That’s why we offer premium end-to-end digital solutions that are perfect for any brand.

There’s nothing we can’t build for you. Whatever your business needs are, we can work closely with you to develop:

  • Mobile & web applications – work with a dedicated team of experts to design, draft, and launch mobile and web applications that are in line with your business goals.
  • Custom online stores – we can help you build an online store that will maximize your customer’s shopping experience and reflect your brand’s unique voice.
  • Responsive websites – we combine world-class design and responsiveness with a focus on user experience to deliver a stunning, conversion-driven website that makes a great first impression.
  • Brand cohesion – we focus on who you are as a brand—that’s how we know what each platform or application needs. It’s also how we can ensure that your brand identity is present in every detail of the digital products we build for you.

The best way to stand out in the ever-growing digital world is by streamlining your approach to digital and e-commerce solutions—and we know the best ways to do it. Ready to take your brand to the next level? Get in touch with us today!

Robert Krawczyk

Head of Development

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