JS Frameworks, REST API, and WordPress as a Headless CMS

Published - 12 Dec, 2017

Content Management Systems (CMS) have been a staple in developing websites for quite a while. It has become an excellent option for businesses especially those creating their websites. The efficient back-end management makes it easy for administrators to post dynamic content. Additionally, the thousands of ready-made themes eliminate the need to develop front-end interfaces from scratch.

W3Techs reports that as of this year almost half of existing websites on the Internet use some type of content management systems. Leading the pack is WordPress which 60% of websites with CMS are using. Following are Joomla, Drupal, and Magento which are popular systems as well.

As web technologies evolve and innovate, CMS improve along with it. Recent years have seen new things such as frameworks, UI/UX concepts, and tools. There is an emerging discussion about headless CMS lately. What exactly is a headless CMS? How does it differ from a regular CMS?

What is Headless CMS?

A traditional content management system is commonly structured to have three parts: database, create-read-update-delete interface (CRUD content management), and user-facing interface. The “head” is the user-facing interface which implements themes.

Headless or decoupled CMS removes the “head.” Hence, the “headless” name. So, how can users consume content when there’s no user-facing interface? Headless CMS would have an API that returns data straight from the database. Typically, most would implement a REST API and return JSON which can a third-party object may use.

Why Use Headless CMS?

Without the user-facing interface opens the CMS to a lot of flexibility. There are no changes in the CRUD interface for the admin of the website. That means, it is still easy to manage your website’s data behind the scenes. The potential lies in the front-end side of things.

Custom static sites, web applications, and single page applications can use data from the CMS. Native mobile apps can even user headless CMS. This is advantageous for developers, specifically on client-side, as they are not bogged down with back-end and database development and set-up.

Current Technologies

The potential for faster development using headless CMS opens new possibilities to developers. Web pages can easily integrate date from the API. This allows the front-end to be “truly free” from the CMS. In the past, if you want to have a customized user-facing interface, you will have to learn how to develop a child theme. Usually, this comes with learning under the hood of the CMS. The headless CMS eliminates the need to study how it works.

Moreover, it allows front-end developers to develop their user interface with the tools they already knew. The functions and conventions of the CMS will not limit them anymore. Thus, they can speed up their site as the CMS and front-end interface are now in two places.

However, the true power of using headless CMS is when web applications utilize it. Javascript frameworks have taken web development by storm in the past decade. Countless libraries are available to develop highly dynamic apps. Angular JS, Backbone, React, Embre, MeteorJS, Vue, and Polymer are just a handful of popular frameworks today. It will not be surprising if newer ones will emerge in the future.

The combination of headless CMS, REST API, and Javascript frameworks allow the developers to create truly interactive experiences. The efficient, responsive, and rapid development flow makes it much easier to create applications in both web and mobile.

New updates of more prominent CMS have included measures to include the possibility of headless CMS. Both Drupal and WordPress have embraced the modern decoupled architecture.

WordPress As a Headless CMS

WordPress is arguably the most famous content management system around. It is inevitable for WordPress to adapt headless CMS eventually. Slow steps in each version have been implemented, but finally, the latest WordPress version comes with REST API. The integration of JSON REST API to WordPress marks its evolution from a massively extended CMS to a fully-featured application platform.

By combining the API to powerful JS frameworks, it puts importance on robust development using Javascript and less on learning another language for the backend. Front-end developers, theme designers, and app creators who are familiar with the likes of Angular JS or React may now consume data from the database without worrying much beyond the front-end.

Additionally, Javascript has been used to develop native mobile applications using technologies like React Native and NativeScript. Mobile app developers who use JS frameworks may now add more dynamic experience and content using the REST API. Moreover, the same data is used in different delivery platforms without having to touch the CMS every time.

So, what’s the future look like for WordPress? The current REST API is still an ongoing improvement. However, developers have begun to take advantage of the headless CMS. WordPress has the potential to power the most popular applications in the future. More and more applications in different platforms may be rooted in WordPress headless CMS. Personalized interactive content using the headless CMS will be developed a lot faster. Only time will tell what innovations may come up in the future.

Final Thoughts

The new changes in WordPress and other CMS signifies a much more flexible future for the platform. Developers now have more control over where their projects are heading. CMS may lead to exciting innovations in the future. Different user experiences will be more dynamic and interactive due to more focus on front-end.

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