A Quick Guide To Understanding Traditional And Headless CMS

Parul Saxena

Parul Saxena

Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: June 24, 2021

What is a Traditional CMS, and How Does It Work?

The traditional CMS approach was designed for ease of use. It tactfully integrated the frontend and the backend systems so even the non-technical members of the team could edit the website. The frontend consisted of HTML templates, CSS, and JavaScript, while the backend consisted of the web architecture, code, and database. 

Traditional and Headless CMS

The Pros and Cons of Traditional CMS 


1. Easy Setup and Use

Since all the necessary design templates and supporting data are in one place, traditional content management systems are pretty easy to set up. With the help of a platform like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, people with no programming skills can also set up the website and update it as necessary. 

Looking for Content Management System Software? Check out SoftwareSuggest’s list of the best cms software solutions.

2. No Dependence on Developers.

Since the backend and frontend development go hand in hand, there is no need to have a developer integrate them. Edits and updates brought to the backend are generally reflected in the frontend. 

3. Predictable Cost Structure. 

As the development, management, and update of the website can be done by a small team that might not even require on-demand developers for integration, it becomes easier to predict the cost of running the website. 


1. Difficult to Access the Content for Other Devices. 

While traditional CMS is good for quickly going live with the website, it is challenging to leverage the same content across IoT and mobile devices. Some experts might be able to do this by using APIs, but such arrangements would require a developer in the process. 

2. Less Room for Creativity.

Traditional CMS essentially diminishes the gap between frontend and backend systems. This is good for simplifying website management, but it severely limits the layouts, themes, designs, and even features of the website. Most websites using a traditional CMS can provide UX limited to the types of available templates. 

3. Arduous and Expensive Redesigning Process. 

Traditional CMS makes it easy to update the website, but redesign becomes an excruciating process. Even smaller redesign initiatives would mean the entire system has to be updated. 

Pros and Cons of Traditional CMS

Examples of Traditional CMS Platforms

1. WordPress 

WordPress is one of the most common platforms using a traditional CMS. It comes with an already configured package of backend and frontend files. This allows users to select a theme, edit their content, and get it reflected on their website with great ease. 

Every time the page is loaded, the WordPress application pulls data from a MySQL database and passes it through its theme, converting it into functional HTML content and sending it to the browser. 

2. ButterCMS

ButterCMS is an API-first headless CMS that makes it easy for developers and marketers to build custom CMS-powered applications and websites with any tech stack. With ButterCMS’s content API and user-friendly interface you can manage content for all your websites and environments from one central dashboard.

3. Drupal

Drupal uses the Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP architecture, popularly known as the LAMP Stack. The entire appeal for Drupal lies in the fact that it makes website management very easy, using modules that can change the features available on the website and the themes that change the website’s UX.

4. Joomla 

Joomla is one of the most popular CMS platforms. Since its launch in 2005, it has been used by over 2.5 million websites. WordPress was primarily designed for blog-publishing websites, while Joomla is known to be more versatile. In terms of functioning, it is similar to other CMS systems – as soon as the user requests, Joomla pulls data from a database, runs it through a theme, and presents it to the browser. 

What is Headless CMS, and How Does It Work?

The term headless denotes that the backend system is not entirely dependent on the ‘head’ or the frontend system. This might sound tricky at first. Even a single page that says ‘Hello, World!’ essentially requires the backend system’s dependence on the frontend frameworks. 

A headless CMS is actually a multi-headed approach where the backend development is connected with the frontend using Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This way, every element of content can be published across several platforms targeting different devices – in one go. It also ensures that any changes made to the frontend do not have a material impact on the backend. The same applies in other direction as well – edits made to the backend will not impact the frontend directly. Since this architecture of a website is unique, it is also referred to as headless CMS Jamstack.

Pros And Cons Of Headless CMS


1. Easy to Store & Manage Content

Content in Headless CMS is still the central element. The backend databases do not have dependencies on the frontend and vice versa. This way, content can be easily stored, updated, and displayed as necessary without making changes in the fronted platform. 

2. Room for Third-Party Integration

With headless CMS, an API governs what content elements are connected with which frontend. The API can virtually make this connection with any third-party platform, including IoT and mobile devices. 

3. Development Risks Are Mitigated with Asynchronicity

Asynchronous development simply means that changes made in one module do not affect the other modules. Headless CMS distances the frontend from the backend. This way, edits can be made on either side without the risk of impacting the entire system. For instance – if a database schema is changed, the website’s homepage will not get affected. 

4. Website Updates Become a Modular Process

Thanks to the missing dependencies, both the frontend and the backend become modular. This means that the web design, development, and management team can easily pick and replace any elements. This makes it easy to isolate issues, run development sprints, and try out new functionalities without risking the entire website. 


1. Editing UI is Almost Non-Existent

Headless CMS platforms do not have editing UI already built into the system. All the editing, irrespective of the frontend or backend changes, requires tedious manual processes. 

2. No Native Functionalities

The headless CMS architecture has no native functionalities since every element is isolated. This can be challenging for non-developers who might require assistance at every step in the update and integration process. 

3. Professional Developers Are Necessary

It would be virtually impossible to run a headless CMS architecture, consistently update UI & features on the website, and not have a development team for integrations. The need for having a developer increases both the cost of the project and the complexity of the website in terms of maintenance.

Pros and Cons of Headless CMS

Popular Headless CMS Platforms

1. Strapi

Strapi is one of the most popular headless CMS platforms. Its entire codebase is available on GitHub, making it a cost-effective solution. It is primarily used to design APIs that make it easy to design & develop features, functionalities, and UX elements on the website. It supports API consumption across client and device variants.  

2. Netlify CMS

If you Google headless CMS React open-source, there are high chances you will find Netlify CMS. It is one of the most popular open-source React applications that help in managing headless CMS architecture. Netlify CMS allows your content editing team to commit to the repository without distorting the codebase or spending several hours learning Git.

3. Contentful 

Contentful calls itself ‘content infrastructure’. It is a developer-friendly platform that gives absolute freedom in terms of the tech stack being used and the visualizations being made. This way, developers can iterate and work with their existing process instead of adapting to one required by the headless CMS platform. It has SDKs available for all major development languages and provides a modular process for developing, deploying, and managing content on websites. 

4. GraphCMS

GraphCMS makes it easy for developers to create APIs that can be consumed by websites, applications, and web applications alike. Unlike other headless CMS platforms, GraphCMS uses GraphQL, which simplifies round-tripping for complex requests. This way, there is only one point for security & maintenance of the website.

In Conclusion

Traditional CMS has been the preferable alternative for blogs and websites run by owners who are not great at programming and want an accessible solution. But, as these websites evolve or have to be scaled across platforms & devices, it becomes a significant challenge for the web owner to make the changes. 

While challenging to execute in the initial stages, Headless CMS architecture makes it easy to scale the website, iterate changes, and run an asynchronous development process. If you have the resources available, a headless CMS can be a value-delivering option. 

Parul Saxena
Parul Saxena is a writer and editor with experience in various genres of writing in various industries. A content creator who loves to write on the latest technologies and their impact on businesses and everyday life.

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