Guide: Headless CMS: Quick Guide and Tips

A headless CMS is a content management system (CMS) that is separated from the front end. In others words, it’s a CMS that only delivers content through the API, either using the RESTful or GraphQL. The term “headless” comes from the concept of removing the “head” (front-end) from the “body” (backend or CMS) that provides the content. If you are familiar with WordPress or any other traditional monolithic CMS such as Drupal or Joomla this is guide will be easy for you as we will be creating the front-end through their templating system, usually using their built-in functions and the same language the CMS is built on. Let’s start.

Why build Headless CMS?

Before entering the guideI would like to emphasize the many benefits of building your site with the Headless CMS configuration. First, Headless CMS allows you to hide the backend used on the site. Since the backend is unknown or barely discoverable, this can prevent your site from being targeted by an attack such as a brute force attack, which is common if you are using open-source CMS like WordPress. Second, Headless CMS can help with the fast loading speed of your site as it only makes a request to the API and displays the content directly instead of reloading the whole page when the user navigates to a new page. Third, the developers may be able to break free from the CMS restriction in rendering the content. For example, if the API allows editing the content, the developer may be able to build a front-end tool for quick editing. And last but not least: with Headless CMS we can easily deliver content to various media other than the web, such as; mobile and desktop app, IoT and IFTTT, etc. The developers can also use any language to display the content. Thus, it can improve the overall experience for both the developers and the users. (All icons by Icons8)

Headless CMS drawbacks

As good as it sounds, the installation of Headless CMS also has its drawbacks that you should also consider before disembarking. First of all, there can be a high barrier to entry due to the technological knowledge required to run the Headless CMS installation. You need two different domains to host the backend and the front end, both domains also have an SSL certificate installed, and a third party service integrated into the mix, and so on. Second, if you’re using a traditional CMS like WordPress, many plugins may not work out of the box. You have to figure it out yourself so that the plugin data can be accessed through the API. Luckily with the huge community in WordPress there are plugins available to address this drawback, for example ACF to REST API to add custom field data with ACF to the API, and WP REST Yoast Meta which will add the metadata generated by Yoast SOE plugin for the REST API.

How to Build a headless CMS?

There are numerous choices today to build a Headless CMS configuration. Contenful, dotCMS and ButterCMS are prominent names in Content API. These services only provide the API and the interface to manage the content. It is up how you want to present the content. These types of services usually provide an SDK for different programming languages ​​so that developers can easily connect and use the API. Plus, according to, there are now about 50 of both open source and closed source CMS around you up with Headless CMS configuration. The list doesn’t include traditional CMS such as WordPress, Drupal and Magento, which now have a built-in content API.

Using WordPress as a headless CMS

WordPress has built in REST API since version 4.4. The API provides endpoints to get the message list and the content of each message and edit the message. Once you have this API, you can start creating a Headless installation. In this guide, instead of starting from scratch, we’ll be using Headless WP Starter with everything already set up up for us. It includes both the WordPress installation and the front-end setup that renders the content with React.js.

Install Docker for Mac Install Docker for Windows

mkdir wp-headless && cd $ _ git clone docker-compose up -d This process downloads and runs various Docker images from the Docker registry up the containers, which can take quite some time.

When it is done, we can access the site from the localhost: 3000 as we show below.

Final thoughts

I think Headless CMS is preferable if the CMS theme or template is not enough to create the front-end experience you would like to have, or if the content is distributed through different channels besides the web. For a simple site, I think using a monilithic CMS is still the easiest way to go. Anyway, I hope you find this article helpful in getting into Headless CMS.

Headless CMS: Quick Guide and Tips: benefits

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