What is a headless CMS?

Published · 3 min read

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Content management systems (CMSs) are commonly described as being either traditional, headless or decoupled, but what do those terms actually mean? 🤔

The short version (a TL;DR if you will):

  • Traditional CMS: Delivers content via a built-in presentation layer, usually in the form of a webpage
  • Headless CMS: Delivers content as data via an API
  • Decoupled CMS: Delivers content via both a built-in presentation layer and an API

For the slightly longer version, read on…

What is a traditional CMS?

With a ‘traditional’ or ‘monolith’ CMS such as Wordpress or Drupal, content editors create and update content using the editor provided by the CMS. The content is then saved in a database and delivered to the end user – usually in the form of a webpage – using the CMSs built-in presentation layer.

While suitable for individual websites, the limits of this approach soon become apparent when content is required to be delivered across multiple channels.

What is a headless CMS?

In a ‘headless’ CMS, such as LexasCMS, content editors still create and update content using a CMS provided editor. The biggest difference is in how the content is delivered to the end user.

A headless CMS provides no built-in presentation layer and instead delivers content as data via an API. An API (Application Programming Interface) is an interface that allows different pieces of software to communicate with each other. In this case, using an API means that your content can be consumed by a variety of different applications and platforms such as websites, mobile apps, smart watches and even digital billboards.

Delivering content via an API also brings with it the additional benefit of ensuring that your content remains future proof. As technology evolves, your content can be easily integrated into any new platforms or devices that emerge.

So what’s a decoupled CMS then?

I like to think of a ‘decoupled’ CMS as a hybrid of a traditional and a headless CMS. This is because while a decoupled CMS provides a content delivery API, it also includes a built-in presentation layer.

In recent times, many traditional CMSs such as the previously mentioned Wordpress and Drupal, have been attempting to reinvent themselves as decoupled CMSs by extending themselves to include content delivery APIs.

Why should I use a headless CMS?

As time goes on, the way in which we consume and interact with content is constantly evolving. We as users expect to be able to receive the latest information across multiple channels using any platform or device.

A headless CMS removes the need for channel specific CMSs and instead allows you to publish content once and have it simultaneously delivered across all of your channels. This not only creates consistency between each of your channels, but also allows them to display the content in the format that is best suited.

In addition to the time savings and improved cross-channel consistency, cloud based headless CMSs, such as LexasCMS, can also reduce server maintenance costs and offer improved levels of security.


In a nutshell, a headless CMS is a tool that enables you to create and update content once and have it simultaneously delivered across multiple channels, no matter what or where those channels are.

Want to give it a try?

If you’re interesting in trying out a headless CMS, you can get started with LexasCMS for free today, no payment details required.

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Avatar for Michael Donaldson

Michael Donaldson

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