Choosing the best CMS for your Gatsby project

The Contentful content platform is the best headless CMS option for building Gatsby projects. How to get up and running quickly with our Gatsby starter!
May 31, 2022


Whether you’re building a website or blog, a company homepage or ecommerce site, you’ll want it to load quickly and be scalable. Security is also a top consideration.

That’s where Gatsby.js comes in. This React-based open-source framework ticks all the boxes for building lightning-fast, scalable, and secure websites and apps. Additionally, it’s been winning over frontend developers thanks to a streamlined setup and configuration, and excellent developer experience.

Gatsby, though, cannot do it alone, it’s just one of the tools in your tech stack. You will need a place to manage content — in most cases a content management system — and the choice of CMS is yours to make. 

In this article, we’ll look at why a content platform like Contentful is the best headless CMS option for building Gatsby projects, and how to get started quickly (spoiler: with our Gatsby starter!).

Why does Gatsby need a CMS?

First, let’s look at how Gatsby works and why it would need a CMS at all.

Gatsby enables developers to build digital experiences, leveraging a React-based JavaScript framework and a data layer that makes it simple to integrate content, APIs, and services into one digital experience.

Gatsby is widely known as a static site generator, which means pages are pre-rendered as static files and fetched by the server at build time. This boosts performance and site speed — which also greatly improves a site’s SEO. In short, websites and apps built with Gatsby are as fast as can be. No-reload page changes and hot-reload editing make tweaking pages incredibly fast and provide a seamless experience for users in real time.

With Gatsby, the deployment service is also taken care of with the end-to-end cloud platform Gatsby Cloud, which was specifically built for the Gatsby framework. 

So, Gatsby covers framework and deployment, but you’re still missing one important tool from your stack — a place to manage content.

That’s because, on its own, Gatsby is a frontend framework, meaning it needs a backend to build on top of. This backend is usually a headless CMS, although Gatsby also lets you build from a database, API, or filesystem. 

Headless means that the content repository (the “body”) and the frontend presentation layer where content is displayed (the “head”) are separated. APIs connect the backend functions to any frontend delivery environment. How the content repository is structured and how content is delivered varies by platform of choice. This affects the level of freedom and functionality for developers and editors.

App framework extensibility

How Contentful works

Contentful offers freedom for all, so editors and developers can peacefully coexist thanks to the wonders of structured content

All content in Contentful is organized into unique, bite-sized pieces so new content can be pushed out seamlessly across different devices without any need for developer resources. Developers can spend less time supporting and training editorial teams, and more time building exciting things — and focusing on shipping new products and digital features.

Contentful is all about content, APIs, and technology stacks. Unlike traditional CMSes, it’s a content platform that’s built with a RESTful and GraphQL API architecture. The rock-solid CDN helps apps send API calls to Contentful and ensures the platform sends content back in a flash.

Contentful delivers content as JSON so the format is familiar and future-proof for any content imaginable. A reliable Images API lets you deliver, manipulate, crop and change image formats on the fly. SDKs and client libraries cater to all programming languages, which simplifies how projects are built when Contentful is part of the tech stack.

The most popular headless CMS solution for Gatsby

Since Contentful can be used with almost any programming language, including JavaScript, it’s a great option to pair with Gatsby. 

In fact, Contentful is the most common headless CMS used with Gatsby.  The source plugin for pulling content types, entries and assets into Gatsby from Contentful enjoys the highest popularity among Gatsby users. Counting over 260k downloads (as of May 2022), it is the most downloaded CMS plugin for Gatsby.

This is because Contentful offers a Gatsby integration that Gatsby has named “first-class,” meaning it supports Gatsby’s main cloud functionality, previews, incremental builds, and is recognized by Gatsby as high quality. This ensures a frustration-free, seamless experience for all who choose to build with Gatsby and Contentful.

Gatsby and Contentful are also two of the most popular tools among the global Jamstack developer community. Jamstack is a widely used architecture that uses JavaScript and reusable APIs that replace server-side processes with pre-rendered static HTML. With thousands of developers building Jamstack sites worldwide — and loving it — Jamstack has turned into a global movement, and both Gatsby and Contentful are key players.

Ready to start building with Gatsby and Contentful? We have the starter template to help you get started quickly.


How to build a website with Gatsby and Contentful

Clone, deploy, edit, and customize this Contentful and Gatsby starter to build a full-fledged website in minutes.

The tutorial includes everything you need to start creating a website and make it your own and see for yourself how the combination of Gatsby with Contentful provides an increase in performance optimization, faster build times, and greatly improves the developer experience.

What you will need:

  1. Contentful account. You can sign up for free here and create an empty space.

  2. CLI for development.

  3. GitHub, GitLab, or Bitbucket repo to push your local site to.

  4. Gatsby Cloud account to deploy your site.

The starter kit will equip you with the code you need to get your website up and running in a matter of minutes, and a walkthrough Developer Advocate Harshil Agrawal is here to guide you through the process if youre a visual learner.

Customize away!

Contentful is extensible and adaptable, so there are many add-ons you can use to extend and expand the capabilities of the Contentful web app for different use cases.

You can integrate your favorite third-party services, build better workflows, and customize what you can do with Contentful. Check out the Contentful Marketplace or build your own app — we have the docs to help you get started.

Looking for inspiration? Visit our Developer Showcase for examples of how the Contentful community is using Contentful as their Gatsby CMS — you can even submit your own projects to be featured on in the showcase.

You can also hang out with us in one of our upcoming live streams, and connect with fellow developers building with Gatsby and Contentful in our community Slack.

Gatsby not your thing after all? No worries. Contentful is framework agnostic and we have quick starter guides, videos, and tutorials for everyone’s favorite languages, plus toolkits to support your next build. You can use the languages and toolkits that best fit what’s being built. Choose your technology path and start building today!

Start building

Use your favorite tech stack, language, and framework of your choice.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Want to learn more about choosing the best CMS for your Gatsby project? Here are some helpful answers to start you on the right track.

What CMS should you use with Gatsby?

CMSes that work with many different program languages, like Contentful, are ideal for projects that use Gatsby.

Does Gatsby have a CMS?

Gatsby has support for many headless CMSes, although it does not have its own CMS.

Is Gatsby SEO friendly?

Gatsby can make your site faster, and easier for Googlebot to crawl. Both of these factors play a role in SEO success.

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