What is Headless WordPress

WordPress is the single most used CMS platform today. Almost 43.6% of websites use WordPress, according to W3techs. What started as just a platform for blogging has evolved over the years to provide us with the best content management system available. WordPress is a powerful content management system thanks to its ecosystem of plugins, themes, and other resources. WordPress is highly flexible, versatile, and loaded with features. No one and I imply No one in the field of website development, will be unaware of WordPress. It has become the number one choice of developers and non-developers alike.  

It is open-source, which means you can play with its code and make a Website just as you want. Creativity has no limits if you are using WordPress and if you are good at it.

What else, it has a great community of developers who work around the clock voluntarily and selflessly to make it more powerful, easy to use, and more feature loaded.

But wait a second, are we talking about WordPress or Headless WordPress?

Of course, in this article, we will talk about headless WordPress. But I wanted to briefly introduce WordPress too, which may have been unnecessary. Because who doesn’t know about WordPress and its features.

So, without holding up the show any longer, let’s get started

In this article, we will discuss what headless WordPress is and how it works. Further we will discuss the pros and cons of using a headless WordPress

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What is Headless WordPress

Headless WordPress is a Decoupled CMS Platform in which the front end is being developed using a different framework than the backend.

So, what does it mean exactly?

WordPress or any content management system consists of two parts.

  • Front End – The part of the website that is visible to the user. This is the part with which users interact. Anything that pops up when you open a website is called the front end of that website. It is also called client side sometimes.
  • Back End- this part of the website remains invisible to the users. Users can’t have any interaction with this part. It basically represents the server where all the code and data of the website are stored. It is used to create, manage and organize the website’s contents. It is sometimes referred to as server-side as well.

Usually, in a traditional WordPress system also referred as “Monolithic” system, both ends, I mean the front end and back end, are developed using the same programming language and framework and then integrated together to make a Coupled Management System. The coupled content management system allows you to control your backend data and your website’s aesthetics (through themes and block editors) from a single location.

If we talk about headless WordPress, then in it, the front end is built using a standalone framework. Since the front end, which is generally referred to as the head, is taken apart from the back end, that’s why it is called headless WordPress. So, it is not headless but actually with a different head.

How exactly does WordPress Headless CMS works

Now you all must be wondering how a decapitated WordPress would work. If the front end is using another framework and the back end is using another, how will the website be able to work? How both ends will communicate with each other without giving some performance issues.

The answer to that is REST API. Both the front end and back end share data back and forth with the help of REST API. One can make any WordPress application headless by sharing content through WordPress REST API. In a headless WordPress, you can still use the content management tools, but features like block editors and themes are inaccessible. We have to use another front-end application to design the UI of the website.

Using headless WordPress, you can pick and choose the best front-end solution for your needs, be it ReactJS, Gatsby, Vue.js, or anything else. A WordPress site built on this framework will have a solid foundation. WordPress’s REST API will send your material where it needs to go, albeit you’ll still be using the backend to create and publish your content.

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Here’s a quick review of how a headless architecture function:

  1. The content and associated digital assets are saved in a database (the WordPress database)
  2. To make changes to the content, you employ a content management system (the usual WordPress backend)
  3. If your content management system is on the cloud; you may use any front-end technology you like by simply calling up the material via an API and pushing it to the appropriate channel or device. (sometimes called the REST API)

So, what is the purpose of making WordPress headless and using it? It will be just a cumbersome process. We can do it simply using WordPress, so what’s the purpose of making something easy to do, more tedious?

Well, I will let you know what the advantages of using a Headless WordPress are and after that we will discuss its disadvantages too.

Advantages of using a Headless WordPress

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits which you can achieve by using a Headless WordPress

Website Becomes Fast

Using Headless WordPress significantly reduces the website loading time.

Traditional WordPress renders dynamic pages. When a user requests an HTML page, the hosting server must create that page from scratch. To accomplish this, the server must launch PHP and MySQL processes to retrieve data from the database, construct the page, and send it to the user.

Contrary to this, headless WordPress uses JavaScript frameworks like Vue.Js, React.Js, etc. So by using this, only static page is built using HTML, and when a user makes a request, then not all of the webpage is constructed all over again, but only the part that needs to be updated is updated, which greatly reduces the site loading time. This ensures that a user has a better experience.

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Tighter Security

Because of its widespread use, hackers frequently attack WordPress sites. With the prevalence of compromised websites and lax security measures, DDOS assaults are a typical occurrence. What this implies is that if you aren’t diligent, or if you’re using a hosting platform that doesn’t use adequate security measures, your content could vanish instantly.

However, the danger to your material is greatly reduced after the Front and back end are split apart. Since one cannot access the backend or the database from the front end, it makes the data more secure. Your content is less vulnerable to attacks that might happen with a CMS like WordPress.

Flexibility with Front End

The front end of WordPress provides lots of features to play with and design a website beautifully. Many themes and plugins help a developer build a good-looking site. But not everyone wants to control the front end of the website in this way.

With Headless WordPress, one can still use the content management feature of WordPress and use a different framework to develop the front end as long as that framework can make requests to WordPress Rest API. This gives front end developers the power to use another framework like React or Vue to make their job easier. They can use a different coding language other than what WordPress traditionally uses.

WordPress basically uses JavaScript and PHP for front-end development. However, with the headless option, the developers get the limitless power to fetch the content from the site and bundle it with any framework they want to use. And this doesn’t affect the work of content creators working on the backend. The developers and the content team will be independent in their prospective field.

Another benefit of using headless WordPress is, it gives the front-end developers the freedom to change or build the site interface without troubling the content team. The content is decoupled from the front end, so developers can alter the front end in whatever way he wants, and there will be no alterations to the content at all.

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Multi-Channel content publishing

With headless WordPress, publishing content on multi-channel is a lot easier and is beneficial from a business point of view.

It gives you the freedom to simultaneously display your content on your static website, mobile apps, company Facebook page, digital kiosk screens, etc. This allows you to be at the right place at the right time. Wherever your audience is, you can publish your content. Moreover, when you alter your content then, it gets updated on all channels automatically.

While on traditional WordPress, if you want to change content, you have to do it separately for each platform, which could be a tedious process.

Better Scalability

Improved scalability is another major benefit of switching to headless WordPress. Since we’re using API calls to deliver the content, your users won’t have substantial downtime even as the content database expands.

Due to the lack of a front end, the Developer can easily integrate headless WordPress with other systems. Therefore, it is flexible enough to include the most cutting-edge technologies as they become available.

Resilient Tech Stack

A developer can integrate an API-driven CMS with any platform. This gives you a peace of mind as you don’t have to worry about some frameworks getting out of date. You can easily switch to another technology according to your need in future. So, it gives a future-proof tech stack. Additionally, as it is API-driven, Headless WordPress can support emerging technologies and take advantage of augmented reality, virtual reality, and internet-of-things devices.

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Disadvantages of Headless WordPress

Coding Knowledge is a Must

With WordPress, anyone can easily build a website even if they don’t have any coding knowledge. But that is not the case with the Headless one. You should have a good command of Front – end Development languages like JavaScript, or else you will have no other option than hiring a developer to build the front end. So, it’s not for everyone since hiring someone will make you completely dependent on him, and it will also be costly too.

Time Consuming Affair

Not only good coding knowledge is a must but running a headless website is also quite time-consuming. You will have to look after two systems instead of one. If you aren’t publishing too much content on different channels, it will be wise to stick with WordPress because all that time and cost will not be worth it.

Because of this, you tend to see headless configurations used more often by larger firms with adequate resources to handle the job and enough content and channels.

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This means the live preview option will not be available. So, you won’t be able to see what your user will see.

Plugins Functionality not Available

The plugin you have installed on our website will not be transferred to the application where your content will be published.

While it won’t be a problem if you are publishing your content on a mobile app but if you are publishing on a static site, then it is bound to cause problems. If you want implement a simple function on your websites, like sharing buttons or voting options, you will have to code a plugin all by yourself for the headless WordPress. Moreover, the vast pool of plugins available on WordPress won’t be accessible to you. For every new functionality one has to code a completely new plugin.

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More Challenging Credentials

We have already discussed that separating the front end from the backend makes headless WordPress more secure, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to look at security issues.

API-driven CMS will require you to implement different user credentialing than WordPress. To protect against denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks, you will have to adopt the industry-standard OAuth2 authentication protocol and add throttling controls.

This means that safeguarding your Headless CMS will take more time and effort but will ultimately result in a safer system.

Few Examples Of Companies using Headless WordPress

1. Beachbody on Demand

Beachbody on Demand is a fitness streaming platform. It has a sleek user experience that appears to be a JavaScript interface built on top of WordPress, potentially utilising React.

You will uncover an abundance of bespoke features, videos, courses, products, and recipes as you navigate the site. There is also an attractive blog.

The website was developed by XWP, who also released it as a case study. According to them, headless WordPress was primarily chosen to streamline content administration and automate the handling of assets such as photos. By decoupling WordPress, they are able to connect it to numerous endpoints and outlets that require specific formats.

They even configured everything to operate with the WordPress Customizer, allowing them to preview any modifications prior to committing them. It has essentially transformed WordPress into a central nerve system from which all content flows.

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2. Frontity

With a React.js front end and a headless WordPress installation, Frontity is a dynamic framework. During an online WordCamp Europe 2020, co-founder and lead developer Luis Herranz spoke about headless WordPress, why using it with React is a good idea, and the issues that still need to be solved for decoupled WordPress.

3. Haruki Murakami

The renowned author Haruki Murakami’s website was likewise created using a decoupled CMS design.

This instance of headless WordPress uses AngularJS for its front end. With this configuration, moving between pages is simple. On the main page, there are some nice scrolling effects among the many transitions and animations.

According to Mark Llobera of Bluecadet, the organisation that created the website, they first constructed the site with the use of the JSON API plugin in 2015.

The user experience on the website is excellent. Because there aren’t many reloads, it doesn’t appear like a website at all. The website has a more interactive app-like feel.

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If you want to boost your site’s performance or make content that isn’t bound to any one platform, using WordPress as a Headless CMS is a way to go. It’s a strategy for separating the front end from the back end so that you may have more control over how you manage and distribute your content.

With the help of your development team, you can use WordPress’s built-in REST API to turn it into a headless CMS. Using this method, one can improve site loading time and publish content on multiple channels simultaneously.

However, it is worth noting that Headless WordPress is not always the best option, especially if you build a website that will be passed off to less technically savvy people. A Headless method is unnecessary for basic, brochure-style websites and would slow things down rather than speed them up.

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