Skip to main content
Enonic Enonic
headless-hybrid-cms-where-to-go

Hybrid or headless CMS – what to choose?

Vegard Ottervig on

What should you choose between hybrid and headless CMS? It all depends on your needs and use cases.

The growth of headless CMS has boomed in the past years, spawning countless preachers and startups. We're witnessing a sort of paradigm shift—where “everyone” wants in, regardless of their knowledge or skills.

If you're working with internal stakeholders or clients who wants in on the headless trend, you're may be in a somewhat undesired situation. Should you advise to scrap the current traditional CMS, in order to open up for the world of headless and digital experiences across a multitude of platforms and devices? Or should you remain calm and consider all the alternatives?

Everything you need to know about headless CMS:

Ebook: Everything you need to know about headless CMS

Exactly what do your organisation need?

The first question to ask is whether a given solution or technology fits into the existing architecture of your organisation. What are the real requirements? Maybe you shouldn‘t prematurely go all in with headless and instead consider a solution called ”hybrid CMS.”

Based on your requirements you can essentially arrive at three conclusions:

  • If your project only requires a basic website, a traditional CMS is probably everything you need.
  • If your project is focused on an app or IoT, with limited editorial requirements—a cloud native headless CMS might fulfill your needs.
  • If your project involves rich web content, URL handling, extensive editorial requirements, special hosting needs, and reuse across different channels, a hybrid CMS might be the solution you're looking for.

This simplified flowchart illustrates the essential needs and corresponding solutions:

headless-hybrid-traditional-cms-flow-chart

Traditional CMS for websites

In a traditional CMS there is a tight connection between features for the editors and features for the developers—between the content layer and the presentation layer.

The editors have access to full preview, landing page editing, URL handling, detailed access control, and media repository, while the developers can code, test, and deploy both editorial and end user functionality bundled together. This is made possible by a tight coupling between the delivery layer and the CMS.

A disadvantage of tight coupling in traditional content management systems is a troublesome multichannel presence. A standard desktop web browser, a mobile app, a wearable, digital signage, and an Internet of Things (IoT) device cannot equally read and present the content when the presentation layer is made exclusively for the web. That's where headless CMS enters the scene.

See also: 6 ways Enonic XP can help your company generate revenue »

Headless CMS for apps

The rise of mobile apps, social media, smart watches, digital signage, self-service machines, robots, and countless IoT devices is changing the way we consume digital content. All these platforms have unique properties and different methods of presenting and handling content. The problem of multichannel delivery is what a headless CMS addresses.

With a headless CMS the structured content stays the same, while each client—an app, a device, or a browser—is responsible for how the content is presented. Developers usually do not code in the headless CMS itself, but use the API and code in another framework.

A disadvantage of headless CMS is that most of them are “cloud native,” meaning they are only available as cloud services and not software. The “Headless as a Service” approach simplifies scaling, monitoring, backups, and more—but sacrifices flexibility and control.

Also, for each new client and device, the developer must handle several issues, including:

  • URL handling (internally and externally)
  • Formatting issues and templating
  • Caching and lazy loading
  • Permissions
  • Error handling
  • Synchronisation between CMS and clients
  • “Forced” updates from the cloud vendor
  • No native previewing for editors
  • No tree structure
  • No inherent landing page editor

Hybrid CMS for mixtures

With the astonishing rise of headless CMS, several traditional CMS vendors have added web-based content APIs to meet the competition from the pure headless vendors. Thus the hybrid CMS was born. A hybrid CMS comes with a presentation layer, but using it is optional.

Many vendors claim to deliver hybrid CMS, but the offerings are very different. A CMS with an API does not make it a proper hybrid CMS. Essential aspects you should be looking for in a high quality hybrid CMS are:

  • Content oriented, rather than web-page oriented. This means you should stay away from solutions that focus on building pages rather than managing structured content.
  • Supporting rich media handling, such as serving images in custom sizes and formats.
  • Rich and documented APIs with support for many different programming languages and access to the entire data model.

Don't miss: 12 ways Enonic can help you save time on daily tasks »

Side-by-side comparison

Below is a comparison that outlines the typical features of the three main different CMS types. There might be systems that deviate from this, but this is a general overview.

Content management

Traditional

Headless

Hybrid

Content types

Maybe

Yes

Yes

Rich text editor

Yes

Depends

Yes

Image service

No

Yes

Yes

Web APIs

No

Yes

Yes

Tree structures

Yes

No

Yes

Content level access control

No

No

Yes

Workflow

Yes

Yes

Yes

Web and presentation

Traditional

Headless

Hybrid

Presentation layer

Yes

No

Yes

Landing Page editor

Yes

No

Yes

Page Templates

Yes

No

Yes

Preview

Yes

No

Yes

URL handling

Yes

No

Yes

SEO

Yes

No

Yes

Hosting

Traditional

Headless

Hybrid

Software

Yes

Maybe

Yes

Cloud hosting

Optional

Yes

Optional

Content delivery network

Optional

Yes

Optional

Autoscaling

Optional

Yes

Optional

This article was first published on 11 March 2019, but was updated and re-published on 10 February 2020.

Ebook: Everything you need to know about headless CMS

Topics: 
headless cms
hybrid cms
cms
new cms