Legacy CMSes, step aside. There’s a good reason headless content management systems and content platforms are becoming increasingly popular among front-end developers. These content solutions decouple content and design, shipping stronger, more scalable websites and apps at impressive speeds. This decoupling also enables developers to build with the programming language and framework of their choice.
The benefits of headless, API-first content solutions
In the past, the digital world was desktop-centric and content was hard content coded into each web page. This offered little flexibility in content reuse and design. While traditional CMSes like Wordpress or Drupal have become increasingly rich in comparison to their earliest versions (in large part due to plugins), their functionality remains the same — somewhat limited. Content and code are still combined in page-centric frameworks, making it difficult to adapt them for new, mainstay, and emerging digital channels including web apps, mobile apps, wearables, email, social media, AR/VR, and more.
Headless CMSes take a different approach to content. Instead of tightly marrying content to a web page or app, headless CMSes provide greater flexibility for where and how you deliver your content. They decouple the back end (i.e., the content repository or “body”) from the front end (i.e., the presentation layer or “head”).
With a headless CMS, you can use a single system to manage all of your content, no matter its final digital destination. Once ready for delivery, each piece of content is pulled into its endpoint via application programming interfaces (APIs). This process doesn’t change the original content but instead, streamlines content management workflows while simultaneously multiplying the reach of each piece of content.
In short, headless CMSes empower you to use content more efficiently across your digital real estate — each piece of content works harder and reaches further. API-first systems, like headless CMSes are easier to use, more flexible and more adaptable than their monolithic counterparts. In modern times, they’re essential tools for delivering great omnichannel experiences.
One of the best things about Contentful is that it easily supports personal projects. Our Free plan gives you everything you need to make your project a success. The plan includes 25 different content types and allows you to create up to 25,000 records with two locales and three environments. It even lets you make up to 1 million API calls each month.
The entire process can be broken into six easy steps:
- Clone the Github repository.
- Sign up to Contentful and set up the content model.
- Run the development server.
- Push to GitHub.
- Create a Heroku account.
- Deploy to Heroku.
The Node.js example app covers the basics of how to use Contentful as the CMS for open-source Node.js. It demonstrates how decoupling content from its presentation enables greater flexibility and facilitates shipping higher quality software quickly.
The Content Delivery API client library interacts with the Content Delivery API, a read-only API for retrieving content from Contentful. All content, both JSON and binary, is fetched from the server closest to a user's location via our global CDN.
The Content Management API client library interacts with the Content Management API, and allows you to create, edit, manage, and publish content. The API also offers tools for managing editorial teams and collaborating.
These SDKs are universal and simple to configure. They’re designed to work with a Node environment and in browsers.
- Content retrieval through our Content Delivery API and Content Preview API.
- Content management and retrieval through our Content Management API.
- Synchronization via the Sync API, which allows you to keep a local copy of all content in a space up-to-date via delta updates, or content that's changed.
- Localization support through locales. Locales are language-region pairings, which can be customized to fit specific business needs.
- Link resolution. Links are a powerful way to model relationships between content. You can use a URI query parameter with search to retrieve an entire chain of related content and display it in your application.
Additional resources to inform Contentful builds
If you’re looking for resources that offer more engagement, we recommend our Developer Learning Path in the Contentful Learning Center. To learn more about the course and content featured in this pathway, check out the pathway overview. If you’re feeling confident, feel free to skip the overview and dive right into the course instead.