A Quick Introduction to Drupal’s Headless CMS

What you get with a headless CMS, the benefits, and how it can affect your website.

Headless content management systems (CMS) have been around for a few years now but it’s only within the last year or so that they've gained enough popularity to come to the attention of people outside of the developer community. Drupal, in particular, has announced that they will be focusing on the continued development of their headless capabilities in the future.

In this post, we’ll explain what a headless CMS is, how it’s used, who’s using it, and potential drawbacks and benefits.

What is Drupal’s Headless CMS?

Think of a Drupal CMS divided into two parts. On one side is the back-end which includes content, data, and anything else you use to directly manage your website. This is the side site visitors never see. On the other side is the front-end, which your user does see and interact with.

Drupal CMS provides an administrative back-end capable of making changes that display on the front-end of your website in HTML. This is essentially what all CMS platforms do: provide an administrative suite to non-technical website managers.

The idea of a headless Drupal CMS is you keep using the administrative back-end, but the front-end and presentation can take many forms. For example, a javascript framework like React might be used instead to present the front-end.

An example of a website's frontend and backend


What is Drupal’s Headless CMS Being Used For?

The benefit of Drupal’s headless CMS is that by disconnecting the frontend from the backend, you can still take advantage of the backend’s content editing and data-storing capabilities while having content styled and served by your choice of application or framework.

A headless CMS is great for building an incredibly custom UX, mobile apps, or a website capable of interacting with virtual assistants (like Alexa or Google Home).

You don’t necessarily need a headless Drupal CMS in order to have a custom website. We’ve built dozens of websites with custom web designs, user experiences, and layouts that are fully supported by Drupal’s front-end framework.

Who is Currently Using Drupal’s Headless CMS?

Here’s a list of websites already using headless Drupal. The list includes websites such as:

What are the Benefits of a Headless CMS?

  1. Historically, content management systems output HTML for websites. With a CMS that can output many content formats from XML, JSON, or over API calls. It means your user experience can be unique and better serve your business—it's no longer all about web pages.

  2. Increased page load speeds. By separating the two, your website is no longer responsible for delivering everything from the frontend and backend together at the same time. For example it might serve content to a mobile application that stores it and present it.

  3. Headless content management systems can be used to create more than just websites, they can also be used to manage content for mobile apps or built in-browser applications that create real-time interactions between your user and your website.

Are There Any Disadvantages With Drupal’s Headless CMS?

Imagine a system where content is input by an editor, and that content is consumed and presented via a 3rd party built android application. In a "web only" world, you have good control on page layouts, and the appearance of what you produce your website. You can still produce content in Drupal’s backend, but the page layout, user navigation, and page creation capabilities might be managed in a UX you don't control (this also might be viewed as a major advantage).

Because the frontend has been redefined, how your content is being styled on the page is entirely dependent on what your developers have created. Making adjustments to design elements and layouts on your website, mobile app, or browser app will require frontend developers.

What Drupal’s Headless CMS Means for the Future

Drupal has always been known as the developer’s preference when it comes to CMS platforms. It's easy to customize, upgrade, and manage, not to mention it's incredibly secure and supported by a thriving community. Drupal has always been known as one of the most flexible platforms available.

Drupal strives to be “future-proof,” to keep up with changing internet technology in order to stay relevant for the people and businesses who rely on it. Similar to Drupal’s modular structure and open source build which allow administrators to easily integrate it with APIs, Drupal’s headless CMS is a move forward in anticipation of changing trends. Acquia stated that Forrester and Gartner “highlighted so-called headless and decoupled architecture as a core requirement of future digital experience platforms in early 2016.”

What Drupal tries to be is a platform capable of supporting any kind of website strategy.

Headless Drupal Resources