AQUARING global strategy

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2019.11.15Column

Going Headless

The way we build websites is changing. The days of signing up for a hosting plan, provisioning servers, and maintaining CMS installs is going away.

Introducing the Headless CMS

The future of content management systems is headless. A headless CMS is a CMS that doesn't bundle content management with presentation of the data. When you set up a standard Wordpress install, Wordpress will store blog post and its main goal is to output the text and photos uploaded by users into Wordpress-specific templates. A headless CMS, on the other hand, will give content editors a traditional CMS user interface to enter text and upload photos, but it does not generate HTML pages using any specific templates. In many ways, a headless CMS is the only pure content management system.

You might be wondering, "how do I build a website then?" That's entirely up to you. A web developer can build the user-facing frontend of the site (or mobile app, smart watch, or even a smart fridge) and pull in that stored data, and use it however is necessary. One could leave the data as is, outputting it as just an API.

Enhanced Security

When you no longer have a server running for your CMS, you take away one public-facing attack vector. Since your headless CMS is not connected to your website directly, it is not possible for a malicious actor to visit admin and try to sign in to the CMS dashboard. There won't be any clues as to where your data is stored, or how it's being accessed. You also avoid security issues that can arise and become well-known because of the pervasiveness of the CMS itself. This extra bit of security is sure to be welcomed by both your team and your clients.

Technological Freedom

Another important benefit that comes from headless CMS is the decoupling of data and presentation. By separating the two, your team (and ultimately your clients) gain a monumental amount of flexibility. When the parts that need to be tested are smaller, it becomes easier to test them individually, reducing the number of bugs. If a problem does come up, the smaller codebases make it easier to fix issues.

When your data is separate from its presentation, you gain the ability to choose whichever tools you would like to use. When you build a Wordpress site, you are stuck using Wordpress templates. With a headless CMS, you are free to build simple HTML pages, an SPA, or create a faceless API that just returns JSON data. The CMS is only responsible for modeling your data, not spitting out templates.

Having separated data and presentation will encourage your frontend team to build more modular frontend components. They will be more reusable, speeding up future development. These reusable components are especially useful when it comes to internationalization—no matter how many languages you have to support, you can have one component/template responsible for the presentation—your team just needs to update the text content in a more easily manageable format. This reduces the chance of mistakes happening, and decreases the amount of repetitive translation that is often necessary.

Wrap-Up

By now you should have a good understanding of what a site built using a headless CMS on the JAMstack would look like. Decoupling your data from its presentation give you and your customers more flexibility. Sites composed of prebuilt markup are faster, more secure, and less expensive to maintain. CDN deployment is particularly beneficial for companies with customers overseas. Your customers will love how fast your site is and your team will love how much easier to support the site becomes.

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