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HomeNewsExpert NoteThe Pros and Cons of Headless Architecture

The Pros and Cons of Headless Architecture

An article by Viacheslav Lushchinskiy, Software Architect at ELCA

Headless architecture is a popular concept of building web applications that are based on a content management system (CMS) where the CMS is used solely as a source of data, while the user interface is created separately by developers. The term “headless” refers to the decoupling of the frontend (or “head”) of a website or application from its backend (or “body”).

Traditional CMS systems typically have an integrated frontend, where developers use the CMS’s built-in templates and themes to create the user interface. This approach has its advantages, but it also limits developers in terms of design and functionality. As web development technologies have evolved, developers have sought ways to separate the frontend from the backend, giving them greater control and flexibility.

 

Even though the term Headless architecture in the context of CMS has been known for some time, it started gaining popularity just recently, when, from the one hand, more and more CMS introduced the capability of providing its data via REST API and, from the other hand, the gap between CMS driven UI and JavaScript driven UI became more and more obvious in terms of performance and usability.

Headless Architecture Benefits

By decoupling the frontend from the backend, developers can use any technology they want to create the user interface, including popular frontend frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue. This allows developers to create custom, high-performance user interfaces that are optimized for the specific needs of their application.

 

At the same time developers can save significant time by using an existing backend and database solution especially for their e-commerce platform that CMS provides. Developing a backend for an e-commerce platform can be a complex task that requires a range of skills, including security, database configuration and performance management, caching. etc. From the other hand the backend functionality for many online shops is similar and can be efficiently handled by using any modern CMS. Some CMS solutions, usually open-sourced ones can be customized should their REST API endpoints happen to have some limitations.

 

All CMS products offer user management, authentication, user profiling and other common features that most of the project would require. E-commerce solutions also provide robust REST API support for managing transactions and customer data. For example, the Salesforce Commerce Cloud API provides endpoints for managing products, prices, orders, promotions, and customer data, as well as supporting integrations with third-party payment gateways and shipping providers. The full list of Salesforce REST API endpoint for building headless e-commerce solutions can be found here.


It is quite extensive and can satisfy the needs of many customers thinking about going online with their products.

 

The decoupling of the frontend and backend allows developers also to easily extend existing solutions to new devices and platforms, as they can create new frontends that utilize the same backend logic and data management layer. For example, a web application built using headless architecture can be extended to mobile devices by developing a mobile app that uses the same backend, reducing development time and cost.

 

Headless architecture can be also used effectively with a microservices approach because it enables the development of independent frontend and backend services that can communicate through APIs. This approach allows for greater flexibility and scalability, as each service can be developed, deployed, and scaled independently of the others. Additionally, a headless architecture with microservices can simplify maintenance and updates by making it easier to isolate and update individual services without affecting the entire system. For example, the e-commerce platform can work with product catalog using one CMS and fulfilling orders and shipments using the other CMS or custom backend while keeping frontend user experience smooth and uniform.

 

Headless architecture also drives the agile development practices in a way that it enables teams to work in parallel on different aspects of a project. With a headless architecture, frontend and backend developers can work independently of each other, which can speed up the development process and allow teams to iterate and improve the system faster. It can also help teams respond more quickly to changing requirements and user needs. By separating the frontend and backend layers, teams can make changes to one without affecting the other, making it easier to adjust the system as needed.

 

Overall, headless approach allows to build professionally looking website as if they are developed by the professional software developers but at the same time to save cost and time by focusing on the frontend part only and leaving backend to the respective CMS.

Headless Architecture Challenges

While headless architecture has many benefits, it also presents some challenges. One of the main challenges is that it requires more development work to create the user interface. Developers need to create custom code that can communicate with the CMS’s API to retrieve and display content. This can add extra time and complexity to the development process.

 

It requires more technical expertise of the software development team. Since developers need to create the user interface from scratch, they need to have a deep understanding of frontend technologies, such as JavaScript, HTML, and CSS as well as a gut grasp on one of the JavaScript frameworks.

 

One of the biggest challenges of headless architecture for e-commerce solutions is SEO optimization. With a traditional CMS, the platform typically includes built-in SEO tools, such as meta tags, sitemaps, and URL optimization, which can help improve search engine rankings. With headless architecture, however, developers need to ensure that these features are implemented correctly on the frontend, which can be a complex and time-consuming process.

 

When using headless architecture frontend developers need also to have a good understanding of authentication technologies, especially OAuth2 to manually configure third party logins via Google, Facebook and other social networks.

 

There also could be some technical challenges like image and video optimization, caching that usually come out of the CMS box but requires some skills to be implemented manually.

Conclusion

A headless architecture is well known approach that started gaining momentum in the past few years. It allows building websites and applications where the frontend user interface is separated from the backend content management system. This allows for greater flexibility, scalability, and customization in the development process.

 

The main benefits of a headless architecture include:

 

  1. Flexibility: Developers can choose the best tools and technologies for each layer of the architecture, without being limited by the constraints of an all-in-one CMS.
  2. Scalability: Headless architecture allows for greater scalability, as the frontend and backend can be scaled independently based on traffic and usage patterns.
  3. Customization: Headless architecture allows for greater customization, as developers can design and implement their own frontend user interface, rather than being limited by the pre-built templates and designs of a traditional CMS.
  4. Improved performance: Headless architecture can lead to improved performance and faster page load times, as the frontend can be optimized specifically for performance.
  5. Better control: Headless architecture allows for greater control over the content management and delivery process, as developers can build their own custom workflows and integrations.

 

We see that Headless architecture is extensively used in media and publishing domain, as it allows for greater control over content delivery and presentation. It is also a popular approach for e-commerce web sites as it allows for greater flexibility and customization in the design and functionality of the frontend user interface. But in general, headless architecture is the universal approach that can be beneficial for any online solution regardless of the business domain.

Read article also on medium.com here: The Pros and Cons of Headless Architecture

Viacheslav Lushchinskiy

Software Architect

Meet Viacheslav Lushchinskiy, our Software Architect specializing in Frontend / Web. Contact Viacheslav to discuss how he can help propel your software architecture initiatives forward.

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