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What is hybrid CMS?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's hybrid CMS! Discover what it is and how it differs from traditional and headless CMS.

You might have stumbled upon the term “hybrid CMS” in your quest for a new and future-proof CMS. But what does it mean? Let’s get straight to business.

The one you know: Traditional CMS

To understand hybrid CMS fully, we must first know what it is a hybrid of. The first component is the familiar and classical content management system you have known for years already—whether you have been blogging through a platform or working in an online newspaper, corporation, or NGO.

How to choose the right headless CMS:

Checklist: How to choose the right headless CMS

The traditional CMS manages the creation, modification, and publication of digital content in a collaborative environment for presenting to a website. It handles text, metadata, design, hierarchy, user roles, search, publication dates, just to mention a few.

Advantages of a traditional CMS include

  • Easy to use for web editors
  • Lets you control URLs
  • Previewing makes you see how your content will look instantly
  • Great flexibility—build content, landing pages, etc.

Disadvantages of a traditional CMS include

The presentation doesn’t fit everywhere anymore:

  • Not even with responsive websites or PWAs
  • Due to the influx of e.g. IoT and wearables

There are new frameworks in town for developers:

  • Allows for building rich web experiences in a different way
  • The developers don’t want chewed HTML/markup
  • They just want raw content from the database to build upon

See also: 12 reasons why you need an alternative CMS to WordPress »

The new one: Headless CMS

The second and final component of a hybrid CMS is headless CMS. This raucous newcomer breaks the tradition of the tight link between content and presentation in traditional content management systems.

What this entails in real life is essentially a database of content with an API to deliver said content to whatever channel or platform deemed fit or worthy. Why is it called “headless?” Once upon a time someone decided to use the metaphor where “presentation” is the head and “content” is the body. Content without presentation is thus a body without a head—thereby “headless.”

Advantages of headless CMS include:

  • Sending content anywhere, and in any format you choose
  • Fast deployment
  • Fits into the new developer frameworks—giving developers flexibility

Disadvantages of headless CMS include:

  • No URL handling
  • No previewing
  • No ordinary CMS features for the editors (like a landing page editor)
  • Headless is just a database with an API
  • Not optimal for supporting traditional websites

Don’t forget: 7 tools you need to run your digital experience »

The better alternative: Hybrid CMS

A hybrid CMS—also known as decoupled CMS—would certainly please Winnie the Pooh: why choose between a traditional or a headless CMS, when you can have both?

Hybrid allows your editors to work in a familiar environment, while simultaneously giving your developers the much sought after flexibility to build custom solutions independent of the content-presentation axis.

With hybrid you can choose what content will be “traditional” and what content/snippets that will be “headless” (or both). As a result, you decide what types of URLs will be determined by the CMS and the editors, and what URLs will be predetermined by developers for headless use. Due to its mixed nature, this type of system also lets you preview headless content, and as everything is in one system, search functionality is faster and easier.

What’s the user case? Say you have a website with many products, which you wish to make available with an API, for instance available for a native mobile app. With a traditional CMS you can’t do this, and with a headless CMS you can do this, but then you can’t run a website without great effort. A hybrid system handles both.

Read more: How to find a new CMS »

A hybrid CMS is essentially this: Website + apps + whatever device. The choice to go hybrid or not should really be plain sailing.

Checklist: How to choose the right headless CMS

Frequently asked questions

What is a hybrid CMS?

A hybrid CMS keeps the link between content and presentation, while simultaneously offering APIs to deliver the content headlessly to other channels.

When should you use a hybrid CMS?

If you maintain a traditional website while also sending content to other digital touchpoints, a hybrid CMS can do both tasks for you.

What is the difference between hybrid and headless CMS?

A headless CMS strictly separates content and presentation, while a hybrid CMS makes this optional—enabling the best of both worlds.

How does a hybrid CMS work?

A hybrid CMS works like a traditional CMS, while simultaneously having APIs deliver content to any chosen digital channel.

hybrid cms
headless cms