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What is a Headless Website: Modern Dev Approach

Discover the benefits and implementation strategies of headless websites. Uncover how this modern approach enhances flexibility, customization, and performance.

Written by RamotionApr 11, 202411 min read

Last updated: Apr 11, 2024

Introduction to Headless Website

A headless website is a website that separates the frontend presentation layer from the backend content management system (CMS). Website development agency often use this approach to build modern, flexible, and scalable websites.

Traditional websites have the frontend code and backend CMS tightly coupled in a monolithic architecture. A change to the frontend also requires changing code in the backend CMS.

The frontend presentation layer is handled separately from the backend CMS. This allows the front end and back end to be developed and managed independently.

Traditional CMS vs DeCoupled CMS vs Headless CMS. Image Source

The backend CMS for a headless website focuses solely on content management capabilities. It exposes all content via APIs that any frontend can consume. The frontend codebase fetches content from the API and renders the UI and UX. The front end and back end can use completely different technology stacks.

The critical components of a headless architecture are:

  • Headless CMS - Manages all content and data. Exposes APIs for frontend consumption.
  • Content APIs - APIs provided by the headless CMS for front-end integration. Enable content delivery.
  • Frontend application - Renders UI/UX and consumes content via APIs. Built using frontend frameworks/libraries.

Decoupling the presentation layer from the backend CMS is the core principle behind headless websites. This separation of concerns unlocks greater flexibility and scalability.

Defining Headless Website

The frontend is completely separated from the backend CMS in a headless setup. The CMS still manages content creation, storage, and APIs but does not control anything on the front end. This allows the front end to be built using any modern framework like React, Angular, or VueJS. The frontend simply consumes content via API calls to the headless CMS.

Image by Canva

The essential advantage is that the frontend codebase is wholly decoupled and can evolve independently. Developers have complete control over the frontend tech stack and UI without being limited by the CMS platform.

Frontend can be optimized for user experience and customized for different devices. The backend CMS focuses only on content management without having to render pages and handle front-end presentation.

Backend and front end can also use entirely different programming languages and frameworks and integrate seamlessly via APIs. For example, the backend CMS can use PHP, while the front end uses JavaScript frameworks.

This provides excellent flexibility compared to traditional WordPress sites where both backend and frontend need to work within PHP and WordPress theming conventions.

Overall, a headless architecture allows specialized tools to handle the CMS and front end separately, enabling more incredible speed, flexibility, and innovation. It is the modern way for companies to build web experiences.

Components of a Headless Website

A headless website separates the content management backend from the frontend presentation layer. This allows each component to be optimized independently. The key elements of a headless website architecture include:

Headless CMS

The headless CMS focuses on content creation, organization, and storage. It provides content creators with an interface to add, edit, and manage content. Popular headless CMS options include Contentful, Strapi, and Sanity.


Application programming interfaces (APIs) serve as the bridge between the headless CMS and the front end. They enable content to be transmitted in a standardized way. Standard API protocols used in headless include REST, GraphQL, and JSON.

Frontend Framework

A frontend framework or static site generator handles the presentation layer separately. This focuses purely on building an optimal user experience. React, Vue, Angular, and Gatsby are commonly used frontend frameworks for headless sites.

Separating these components enables developers to choose the best technologies for each function. It also allows more flexibility to update the frontend independently from the backend. This is the core difference from traditional monolithic CMS platforms.

Headless Website and Headless CMS in Details

Understanding Headless CMS

A headless content management system (CMS) is a backend content repository that makes content accessible via APIs for display on any device. Unlike traditional CMSs, a headless CMS separates the content from the presentation layer.

With a headless CMS, content is stored in a central repository and delivered via APIs to the front end, which handles presentation and rendering. The frontend can be a website, mobile app, IoT device, etc. The key difference from traditional CMSs is the decoupling of content and presentation.

Some critical aspects of headless CMS:

  • Content is accessed via RESTful APIs, not templates.
  • Content delivery is separated from content creation/management.
  • Any application on any device or platform can consume content.
  • It enables omnichannel content delivery.

Headless CMSs provide greater flexibility and omnichannel capabilities compared to legacy CMSs. They allow content to be repurposed efficiently for different devices and platforms. The backend CMS focuses solely on content management, while the presentation layer can be optimized separately.

Headless CMS vs Traditional CMS

Headless CMS Traditional CMS
Content accessed via APIs Content accessed via templates
Separation of content and presentation Content and presentation coupled together
Optimized for omnichannel content delivery Optimized for websites
Flexible content consumption Limited content repurposing
Focuses only on content management Combines the content management systems and presentation
Easier to scale Less flexible scaling
Greater developer experience Caters more to content editors
Microservices architecture Monolithic architecture

So, headless CMS provides greater flexibility, omnichannel capabilities, and scalability by decoupling the content layer from the presentation layer. Traditional CMSs couple content and presentation together, limiting flexibility.

Advantages of Going Headless

General Benefits

A headless website architecture provides several benefits over a traditional monolithic CMS. Some key advantages include:

  1. Flexibility and agility - With the front end decoupled from the backend; developers have much more flexibility to use different technologies and frameworks on both ends. This makes iterating and experimenting faster.
  2. Omnichannel experiences - Headless makes it easy to reuse content across platforms like web, mobile, IoT, etc. The same backend content can be rendered in multiple ways.
  3. Performance and scalability - Separating concerns makes it easier to scale and optimize different parts of the architecture. The backend CMS can focus on content delivery, while the front-end can use CDNs and caching.
  4. Specialization - Frontend and backend developers can focus on their expertise areas. Frontend developers have more control over UI and UX.
  5. Future-proofing - With a decoupled architecture, you avoid vendor lock-in and can swap out stack parts more easily as needs change.

Specific Advantages in E-commerce and Web Development

For e-commerce sites and web development projects, some particular advantages of headless include:

  • Better SEO - The frontend can be optimized for search engines without coding restrictions from the CMS platform. Pages can be statically generated.
  • Personalization - Real-time personalization and testing of experiences is easier with frontend control.
  • Progressive enhancement - Apps can use structured content from the CMS as a base for progressively enhancing experiences across device capabilities.
  • Web and mobile apps - For developers building web/mobile apps, headless provides an excellent content backend to hook into.
  • Integrations - Headless makes integrating with third-party services like payments, analytics, ads, etc easier.
  • Migrating legacy systems - For those with legacy systems or technical debt, headless allows gradual transitioning to new technologies over time.

Headless Website Implementation and Use Cases

When getting started with a headless website, there are a few key steps:

Choosing a Headless CMS

The first step is selecting a headless CMS that meets your needs. Some popular options include:

Consider features, flexibility, pricing, and ease of use when evaluating headless CMS tools. Your content model and workflow requirements will help determine the ideal choice.

Integrating with a Frontend Framework

Next, you must integrate your headless CMS with a frontend framework like React, Vue, or Angular to build the presentation layer. The headless CMS will provide content APIs that the frontend can consume and render.

Set up the integration by following the instructions for your chosen CMS and framework. Make requests from the frontend to the content APIs to get data. Display content from that content dynamically in components and views.

Developing APIs

In addition to leveraging the default content APIs from your headless CMS, you can develop custom APIs for specific use cases.

For example, you could create APIs to aggregate data, customize the response payload, or integrate with external services. Use Node.js, ASP.NET, Python, or the platform your CMS provides.

Document your custom APIs and make them available for the frontend application. Test them thoroughly.

You'll have a solid foundation for your headless website with the right headless CMS, frontend framework, and optionally custom APIs.

Use Cases and Choosing the Right CMS

When implementing a complete headless web architecture, choosing the right headless CMS is essential based on your specific use case and requirements. Here are some of the top use cases for headless websites and critical factors to consider when selecting a headless CMS:

1. E-commerce

For e-commerce sites, a headless architecture provides greater flexibility to deliver omnichannel experiences across web, mobile, and other touchpoints. When choosing a headless CMS, e-commerce teams should ensure it provides:

  • Product information management
  • Order management capabilities
  • Integration with payment gateways
  • Flexible APIs for custom storefronts

2. Content Sites

For content-focused sites like blogs, magazines, and news sites, a headless CMS allows you to manage content across platforms efficiently. Important factors include:

  • Powerful authoring environment
  • Content modelling and workflow features
  • Content delivery and localization capabilities

3. Mobile Apps

Headless enables content sourced from a CMS to be rendered natively in mobile apps. Consider a headless CMS with:

  • Native mobile SDKs
  • Real-time content updates
  • Offline content support

When evaluating options, consider developer experience, scalability needs, and total cost of ownership.

Here's a sample code snippet to integrate a React app with a headless CMS using GraphQL:

import { ApolloClient, InMemoryCache } from '@apollo/client';

const client = new ApolloClient({
  uri: 'https://api.examplecms.com/graphql',
  cache: new InMemoryCache()

  query: gql`
    query GetProducts {
      products {
}).then(result => {

This allows you to query content from the CMS directly and use it within your React components.

Comparative Analysis and Decision Making

A headless website decouples the front end from the back end, focusing purely on the front-end presentation layer. A headless commerce website takes this further by decoupling the e-commerce platform from the other frontend presentation layer attached.

Both headless websites and headless commerce provide greater flexibility and omnichannel capabilities. However, there are some key differences:

Headless Website Headless eCommerce Website
Focuses on decoupling content from presentation Focuses on decoupling both content and commerce functionality from presentation
Allows use of any front-end framework Allows use of any front-end framework and integration of any e-commerce platform
Suitable for content-focused sites and applications Optimized for e-commerce with built-in commerce capabilities
Enables omnichannel content delivery Enables omnichannel digital content and shopping experiences

In general, a headless approach makes sense when you need:

  • The flexibility to deliver experiences to any device, channel, or platform
  • Faster iteration and innovation in the presentation layer
  • The ability to leverage different front-end frameworks
  • Seamless omnichannel content and/or commerce

A headless commerce implementation specifically shines for e-commerce use cases where you need to:

  • Support complex commerce needs and integration
  • Frequently update the shopping experience and front-end
  • Deliver a consistent experience across web, mobile, in-store, etc.
  • Easily add new sales channels and touchpoints.

So, in summary, while headless websites provide content flexibility, headless commerce adds ecommerce capabilities for actual omnichannel digital experiences everywhere. Evaluate your needs to determine if a headless or headless commerce approach is best.

Headless Website vs. Headless Commerce Website

Headless and headless commerce websites share some similarities but also have key differences. Here is a comparison:

Feature Headless Website Headless Commerce Website
Content Management Focused on content creation and management through headless CMS. Optimized for content authors. Provides content management along with product information management, order management, etc. It is optimized for both content and commerce.
Architecture Decoupled frontend and backend. Frontend consumes content via APIs. Decoupled frontend and backend. Frontend consumes content, products, orders, etc. via APIs.
Use Cases Content sites, blogs, documentation sites. E-commerce sites, online stores, marketplaces.

A headless website is optimized primarily for content management and delivery, making it ideal for sites focused on publishing content, like blogs, online magazines, and documentation sites.

A headless commerce website builds on top of headless web development by adding commerce capabilities through integrations with e-commerce platforms, payment systems etc. This makes it suitable for creating online stores, marketplaces, and other transactional sites.

The core decoupled architecture is similar, but headless commerce adds e-commerce-specific functionality for managing products, inventory, orders, etc. The frontend consumes this data via APIs to display products and enable purchases.

So, headless websites focus purely on content, while headless commerce websites focus on content, products, and transactions. Choosing between them depends on the specific use case and project requirements.

When to Opt for Headless

Opting for a headless architecture makes the most sense for specific websites and applications where flexibility and iterative development are essential. Some of the main scenarios where headless shines include:

Complex, Innovative UIs

A headless approach gives you maximum front-end freedom if you want to create a highly interactive and dynamic user interface that seamlessly blends different elements. Without the constraints of a traditional CMS template, you can leverage different frameworks and JavaScript libraries to craft innovative experiences.

Omnichannel Content Needs

Headless enables actual omnichannel publishing for companies needing to manage content across multiple channels, platforms and touchpoints. You can reuse the same structured content APIs to feed web, mobile, IoT devices, etc. This streamlines omnichannel content workflows.

Frequent Iterations

Headless architectures make it easy to iterate on the front-end presentation layer continuously. Decoupling the front and back ends allows you to frequently release new features and quickly incorporate user feedback,


Headless website separates the front end and back end of a website into two separate entities. This decoupled architecture provides greater flexibility, scalability, and performance.

Some key takeaways about headless websites:

  • Headless websites have the frontend wholly separated from the backend CMS. This allows the frontend to be highly customizable without relying on the CMS.
  • They utilize APIs to retrieve content from the headless CMS and render it client-side. This makes the frontend very lightweight and fast.
  • Headless CMSs are content-focused and optimized for APIs rather than page rendering. They make content easily consumable.
  • Going headless has many advantages, like omnichannel content delivery, better performance, and ease of integration.
  • Headless websites work great for content-heavy sites like blogs, online magazines, and e-commerce stores. They allow greater flexibility and innovation on the frontend.
  • The decoupled nature does add some complexity. Headless requires expertise in APIs, JavaScript frameworks, and headless CMSs.

Headless architecture offers immense flexibility and scalability benefits for the modern web to optimize user experiences everywhere. For content-focused sites with dynamic frontend needs, headless websites enable developers to build customizable, high-performance user experiences.