Contentful has an API-first approach designed to appeal to both developers and content creators. How is this different from using a Content Management System? And what can Contentful offer developers that WordPress and Drupal can't?
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When most people think of CMSs, they think of WordPress. One of the main reasons for doing so is that WordPress has been around for over ten years. And in the world of computing, ten years is almost equal to forever. Another good reason to why so many people associate the term CMS with WordPress is because of its large user base and passionate developer community. The open source nature of WordPress makes it possible for developers to customize the platform and its content to their liking. WordPress is possible to run as a self-hosted solution so that you can take responsibility for application and security updates. To their account, WordPress powers 27% of the Internet. WordPress is simply the giant that every other CMS gets compared to.
Another very popular CMS is of course Drupal. The Drupal community has over one million members and is steadily growing. Created as a message board, over the years Drupal has grown to become a fully-fledged CMS used and appreciated by many developers and content creators. Drupal also describes itself as a Web application framework designed to launch, manage, and scale ambitious digital experiences. Just like Wordpress, Drupal is open source and can be modified in a myriad of ways. Also similar to WordPress, Drupal can be put into production using a self-hosted approach.
So how is Contentful different from WordPress and Drupal and why should you care?
Contentful is Content Infrastructure — not a CMS
The way we see it, Contentful is not a CMS. Yes, Contentful can do everything a traditional CMS can do. But Contentful is Content Infrastructure.
Take our Images API for example - not only can you use it to get images into your apps, but you can also use it to resize, crop, change the background color and convert them to different formats in a programmatic way. This is one example of how Contentful gives you access to far more features than traditional CMSs.
If a page-centric CMS was the old way of managing and presenting content, Contentful is the new and developer-friendly way. With Contentful you can develop apps using your favorite stack and visualize it however you want. We take care of the delivery and management of your content so that you have more time for your projects.
API-centric from the ground up
Contentful is API-centric. This means that you as a developer get your data in and out of the Contentful platform using API calls. This is what makes Contentful a headless and decoupled solution for managing content.
Imagine that you’re about to build something with LEGO. Those Danish plastic building blocks are a fun way to materialize your ideas in no time. Writing applications that interact with Contentful is a bit like building something using LEGO.
What this means is that Contentful always makes sure that you have the best possible building blocks to help you build your application. In that sense, Contentful is not a deployment-ready, out-of-the-box solution. Well, Contentful is indeed deployment-ready in terms of storing and delivering content, but applications designed to fetch data from Contentful will still have to be crafted by a developer. This gives you a lot of freedom to build applications without being severely limited by the underlying platform. In short: your Contentful-connected applications will be built your way - by you.
One key concept of Contentful is that our platform makes it easy for you to distribute your content to any device type. Be it desktop browsers, smartphones, cars or wearables, serving content to those platforms and devices is always just an API call away. So no matter what platform you’re developing for, your data will always be delivered as JSON in a heartbeat. Unlike working with Drupal or WordPress, you don’t need to install any plugins or third party modules to be able to send JSON via our API, it’s simply how Contentful works out of the box. If you know how to handle API calls and JSON, you’ll be up and coding with Contentful in no time.
Now accessing and modifying data using API calls might not be everyone’s preferred way of doing things. Plenty of users, like non-developers responsible for managing content, may prefer to edit content using a more traditional approach with a rich-text editor. That’s why we built our Contentful WebApp. With the app, content editors can use a feature-rich and user-friendly environment to get their job done. And the beauty is that no matter how you get content into Contentful, it can always be fetched using API calls. That’s good news for both developers and non-developers.
SDKs for all popular programming languages
Robust and reliable access
Contentful is a hosted solution. In our case, this means that when you use Contentful, your data is stored, processed and later served to you and your users via our reliable CDN. Depending on what type of data you request, our CDN architecture will ensure that the most suitable service is available. An example of this is that we use Fastly to deliver certain types of content. In other words - we’ll make sure that your users can efficiently access the data they need in an instant.
And since Contentful is a hosted solution, we have freed you from the hassle of everything that comes with running an in-house hosting operation. From your perspective, this means no more security patching, no more maintenance windows and no more performance monitoring. Let Contentful take care of all of that while you focus on building great applications.
A side-by-side comparison table between Contentful, WordPress and Drupal
| ||Contentful ||WordPress ||Drupal |
|Benefits || |
- API-based from the ground up
- Clear separation between content and visual presentation
- Reliably hosted and accessed via our CDN
- Well-documented SDKs for the most popular programming languages
- Easy to set up and use for smaller projects
- Familiar to developers and users alike
- Self-hosting possible
- Open source
- Countless of visual themes to give you that modern look
- Open source
- Small projects can be deployed with little effort
- Self-hosting possible
- Has been around for years and has a large community of passionate developers
|Things to consider || |
- Developers needed
- Can’t be installed locally
- Proprietary solution / code
- Only available as a headless solution from version 4.7
- Site owners must make sure that security updates are correctly applied
- Historically built with website content in mind, not content in general
- After installing just a few modules, the database can grow substantially
- The generated client-side code can be both lengthy and hard to grasp
- Getting started requires finding a reliable hosting provider (or host the Drupal installation yourself)
- Not an API-centric approach from the ground-up
Thoughts on the side-by-side comparison table
A one-size-fits-all-approach might work for making baseball caps, but it most likely won’t work well enough for building a content management solution. Because while Contentful is ideal for creating apps and services that work by fetching JSON data from API endpoints, it’s probably not the solution you’re looking for if your goal is to quickly put together a web page.
In such a scenario WordPress might be the preferred choice since it’s easy and fast to set up for simple web-based projects. Also, a trivial WordPress-based solution can be built with almost no coding skills at all. This is also the case for smaller projects that run on top of Drupal. This leads us to one of the most fundamental differences between the three - the need for developers.
Contentful is not a one-stop-shop for managing and presenting websites like WordPress. Remember the previously mentioned LEGO bricks? With Contentful, you will most likely need to do more of the coding yourself than compared to WordPress and Drupal. This is especially true if you’re looking to end up with some type of visually pleasing front-end solution.
Since both WordPress and Drupal were initially created around the idea of presenting web content in the form of a web page in a desktop browser, the two of them can do this right out of the box. And changing the visual aspect of the user experience is often as simple as applying or customizing a pre-existing theme. For example, Drupal’s official themes directory currently lists close to 2500 ready-to-apply visual themes. And the number of visual themes available for WordPress is even larger and growing by the day.
So why will a solution built with Contentful most likely require additional hours of coding? If we stick to the front-end example mentioned above, the answer lies in the underlying architectural differences between the three platforms. In a nutshell, Contentful is designed to supply data via API calls and JSON. With Contentful you get to chose exactly how your content gets visualized since the only person responsible for building the front-end stuff is you.
It’s easy to see the benefits with choosing Contentful because of its API-centric approach, but it should in all fairness be mentioned that Drupal provides an API for content handling as well. Drupal’s content API was initially introduced as a third-party plugin with version 7. As of version 8, the content API is a core part of the application. WordPress can also be configured to provide similar functionality by using their REST API plugin (and keep in mind that the plugin is currently in beta). But even though both WordPress and Drupal can be configured to fit into an API-based architecture, they remain a page-centric solution. Their respective API functionality for content is in reality still an afterthought.
Using Contentful is the fast and developer-friendly way to make sure that your apps have immediate access to the content they need. Our vision of the ideal content management platform is API-centric. So regardless if you’re developing for wearables, smartphones or web apps, application content is always just an API call away.
With Contentful, everything is JSON. So if you know your way around JSON and API calls, you’ll be up and developing apps the Contentful way in no time.
Contentful is a hosted, or cloud-based, solution. This means that we’ll make sure that our high-performing CDN architecture is always ready to serve up your data so that you can solely focus on building great applications.
With Contentful's content infrastructure you can do everything a CMS can and more.