What developers need to know to get started with Contentful

BLOG WhatDevelopersNeedtoKnow-01
March 16, 2020


Contentful’s own developer evangelist, Amelia Winger-Bearskin, has been programming computers since she was a child. She got a Commodore 64 from her dad at age 5, and that path led her all the way to a masters degree from NYU in Interactive Telecommunications, and eventually to sharing her passion for technology with other developers at Contentful.

Amelia was recently interviewed on the podcast Contentful Creators about building apps with Contentful. The podcast isn't produced by Contentful but Marcelo Lewin — a senior eLearning manager and certified Contentful professional. He posts weekly interviews with content architects, designers, web developers, creators and others who use the Contentful content platform to create digital experiences.

Amelia sat down with Marcelo to talk about the ins and outs of Contentful’s capabilities. Here’s a summary to start you off. Then to the rest of the episode!

What is Contentful, from a developer’s perspective?

Contentful is a content platform — an API-first CMS, content hub and editor tool. This means that as a developer, you can decide how you want to model content interfaces for your clients or non-technical team members to interact with. The way Contentful approaches this is through a practice we call (appropriately enough) content modeling.

For example, you can say “OK, we’re going to put a text block here, a different kind of text block here, this is where we are going to serve up some images, and then over here there is going to be a video embed.” And your non-technical team members don’t have to know anything else — text, text, image, video… Great. Got it. They can focus on what they do best, which is writing and creating content, and generally not trying to tweak the layout on a WYSIWYG interface.

All the data management and changes to how the content will be served, all of that can be done by developers. This can all be accomplished on the command line with our SDK. If you would like to iterate or change them you can do that in migration scripts programmatically again entirely in code. So it gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of testing out different features you might want to implement. By separating the content from the code we can provide development teams with a really clean, logical means of accessing content and slotting it into arbitrary configurations.

What is an API-first framework?

In the world of CMSes, developers create flexible, extensible and usable systems. They also help content managers (like marketers, HR directors, documentation writers, etc.) get their jobs done. A big part of this work is displaying the content that is managed through the CMS on a multitude of platforms — from desktops and phones to TVs.

An API-first CMS is still a CMS, but one that deviates from a classic CMS like Wordpress and Drupal by not caring about the display of the content. Instead, an API-first CMS focuses on managing content and being able to do that in code from the command line. The API-first CMS works by abstracting representations of your data, defining "types" of data that can be stored and instances of data that adhere to these types.

For you to use the content managed through the API-first CMS they provide an API, typically a REST API that serves the managed content (including functionality) to search, filter, sort and paginate the returned content.

And on top of that API, you can use whatever framework, methodology and language you want. Single Page Applications without a backend at all, or a static site generator, etc.

How does Contentful’s App Framework help developers?

In a recent blog post we gave a technical walkthrough of the newly launched Contentful App Framework. You can read it to learn about the differences between a UI extension and an app, why we built apps and what you get when you make the switch.

Register for our upcoming webinar, “How to build your first app on Contentful.”

Listen to the rest of the conversation

Listen to the rest of Amelia and Marcelo’s chat on the podcast.

Want more developer-focused resources about using Contentful? Check out our latest eBook, Customizing Contentful: A Developer’s Guide.

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