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Oleg Proskurin
Oleg Proskurin

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Mastering Headless CMS: An Engineer's Perspective

The realm of headless CMS has been evolving rapidly over recent years. As a seasoned software engineer, you have probably had your fair share of experiences with various CMS. You have likely appreciated the speed and efficiency they offer, but perhaps also encountered some limitations in customization. Today, we delve into the key technical requirements and features to consider when selecting a headless CMS for your next modern project, focusing on how to optimize your choice for both initial development and long-term scalability.

Let's consider headless CMS from an experienced software engineer's perspective. The headless CMS segment is growing at an astonishing pace and has become a hot topic in the tech world. Providers of headless CMS aim to captivate users with new features and enticing explanations of why their CMS is the best. But as experienced developers, we seek deeper insights. We need to know what key requirements a headless CMS must meet to serve not just as a flashy, initial solution, but also as a robust, productive tool as our project grows.

1. Content Model: The Backbone of Your Project

A content model can make or break your project. This vital aspect of a headless CMS outlines the logic and structure of your project. It shapes the interface for your content managers, dictating how they interact with your projects. When assessing a CMS, consider whether it offers all necessary field types and a user-friendly interface for editing them. Common types include text, rich text, dropdowns, numbers, checkboxes, media assets, and references.

It's also crucial to assess how your CMS handles subobjects in your documents. There are two major methods to do so: adding another document by reference, and embedding objects of a certain type directly into a document. While adding documents by reference is fairly standard, having the ability to embed objects directly and keep them as a single instance with a document is a valuable feature.

2. API: Ensuring Seamless Frontend Application Creation

The API is a vital component for creating frontend applications. GraphQL API is one of the most convenient and widely accepted standards. When assessing a headless CMS, verify whether its GraphQL API offers:

  • Querying of single and multiple documents
  • Filtering of documents and referred subdocuments
  • Autogenerating of types for all your content types
  • Retrieval of referred objects
  • Access to both production or preview document subsets
  • Support for localization

Ensuring that your chosen CMS can offer these functionalities will greatly enhance your ability to create a robust and versatile frontend application.

3. Interface Organization: Maintaining Efficiency as Your Project Grows

The organization of the interface may seem trivial at the outset, but as your project grows and accumulates a vast amount of content, it becomes crucial. The worst-case scenario is an interface that only allows you to select a document type, then presents you with a list of all documents of that type. This becomes unwieldy when dealing with hundreds of documents.

Best practices for interface organization include:

  • Providing filters and saving them as presets
  • Organizing documents by folders
  • Organizing documents in a hierarchical way where you can select a parent object and see only documents referenced by it

4. Database Management: Ensuring Scalability

How you manage your databases plays a crucial role in the long-term viability of your project. Important features to look for in a headless CMS include:

  • Importing/exporting and duplicating your databases
  • Updating your content model changes across all databases
  • Migrating content between databases

These features might not seem essential in the early stages of project development, but as the project grows and evolves, you might need to introduce new stages, new regions, and so on. Having a headless CMS that can adapt to these changes is invaluable.

5. Localization: A Must Have Feature

In today's globalized world, localization is a must-have feature for any headless CMS. This feature enables your content to be translated and adapted to different regions or languages, thereby expanding your user base and enhancing user experience.

6. Image Transformations API: Optimizing Frontend Performance

An Image Transformations API is a feature you will need for performance optimization on your frontend. It's crucial to have the ability to resize, change format, and modify images uploaded to the CMS by your content managers. This is especially important if one image is used in different places or on different screens. You can keep a single source of the image in the best quality and have granular control over how this image will be rendered in a specific place on your page.

7. Publishing Flow: Managing Content Lifecycle

The publishing flow refers to the process each document must go through before appearing in production. Most headless CMS offer various roles with specific permissions. For example, editors may only be able to submit draft versions for review, while chief editors can approve and publish them to production.

8. Preview Mode: Ensuring Quality Content

An effective publishing flow is often complemented by a preview mode. This feature allows you to preview content before it's published to production, enabling the chief editor to check how the page will look after it's published.

9. Extending: CMS Customisation

Customization is crucial when it comes to headless CMS. While CMS platforms offer convenience and a range of useful features, there will inevitably come a time when you need to extend its functionality to meet specific requirements. This is where CMS customization becomes essential. The availability of existing plugins for your CMS, especially in the case of headless CMS, plays a significant role in determining the ease and efficiency of customization. The more plugins available, the greater the flexibility to tailor the CMS to your specific needs. Additionally, the ease of creating new plugins is equally important, as it allows you to adapt the CMS to evolving demands and stay ahead of the competition. Ultimately, CMS customization ensures that your website or application remains adaptable, scalable, and able to meet the unique needs of your business or project.


Choosing a headless CMS for a modern project is no small task. It requires a deep understanding of the project's needs, an evaluation of the CMS's features, and a forward-thinking approach to ensure the CMS can accommodate future growth and changes. As experienced software engineers, it's essential to not just be swayed by flashy features and marketing promises, but to also consider the practicality and longevity of the CMS.

I'd love to hear from you about your most wanted CMS features. Share your thoughts in the comments and let's outline the perfect CMS together. And if you're curious to learn more about the features I've described, don't hesitate to reach out. I'll be happy to provide you with all the juicy details. Looking forward to hearing from you! Happy crafting with the headless approach!

Top comments (4)

ako61142833 profile image

Solid article, Oleg πŸ™ŒπŸ½ You've covered the intricacies of headless CMS from an engineer's standpoint quite comprehensively.

While headless CMSs offer a lot of flexibility and scalability, it's worth mentioning Git-based CMS(aka πŸ₯³) as another viable option.

For devs already in the Git ecosystem, it offers native version control, making rollbacks and collaboration straightforward.

Plus, it's generally framework-agnostic, so you're not locked into any specific front-end tech. Could be a strong alternative for projects that require both robustness and developer-friendly tooling.

usulpro profile image
Oleg Proskurin

Hey Ako! πŸ‘‹ Thanks for mentioning git-based CMS! I haven't come across them much, but they're still headless CMS, right? So they can be viewed from the same angle

ako61142833 profile image

Yes but I think the best way to go deep about this πŸ€“
But cannot say it can categorically represent all the Git-backed CMS alternatives πŸ™…β€β™€οΈ

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usulpro profile image
Oleg Proskurin

Ah, nice! We utilized a similar approach for the Hardhat documentation website