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What is Headless CMS?
7 min read

What is Headless CMS?


Enter the headless CMS: a modern business necessity in today's fast-paced digital ecosystem with processes requiring streamlined content management. The classic content management systems—literally—were the answer to managing website content, and they did exactly that: managed website content from a centralized backend. In contrast, a headless CMS brings a new level of flexibility and efficiency. In this blog, we dig deeper into what a headless CMS means, its benefits, and why a business would consider deploying it to help them better cater to the many content-driven needs businesses have in these digital times.

Whether you're a marketer, developer, or business owner—understanding what a headless CMS is can seriously level up your digital strategy.

Steps to be covered in this blog:

What is a Headless CMS?

The headless CMS is a content management system back-end with the content repository ("body") decoupled from the presentation layer ("head"). This architecture allows the development of an interface by any front-end developer using any front-end tool that can render content. This makes the decoupled architecture highly versatile for any platform where your content is being viewed outside of websites, from mobile apps to smart devices.

This is unlike the traditional CMS systems, which offer very tight coupling of both the content and presentation layers. A headless CMS delivers content as data over APIs, thus more flexible and scalable on how and where the content will be displayed. That's the way businesses can create rich, tailor-made content experiences on every digital channel.

What is The Difference Between Traditional and Headless CMS?

While a traditional CMS sticks very much to the architecture and, in turn, to the way content is delivered, a headless CMS detaches the content domain from its delivery. Traditional CMS include a "head" at the front end that determines the way in which content is displayed on a website; it strongly couples the content creation layer and the presentation layer. That means to some extent your content locked into the front-end system structure and capabilities of the CMS, limiting flexibility in both cases.

In contrast, the headless CMS has a front-end layer; however, it does not purely work as a content repository but helps in serving content via API to any front-end design or platform.

However, the decoupled approach still leaves the developer open to building the user experience with whatever tooling of their choice, not bound by the CMS capabilities. This separation also increases the portability and reusability of the content on the different platforms: websites, mobile applications, and even IoT devices, while bringing about an approach to multi-platform digital ecosystems in a more contemporary way of managing the content.

This is a basic architectural difference highlighting the potential for a highly adaptable level of headless CMS integration into some of the most varied digital strategies that have been staged for more dynamic and personalized user experiences.

What Are The Key Benefits of a Headless CMS?

The more obvious advantage with the headless CMS would be flexibility. The content can be easily delivered over an extraordinary range of platforms and devices. This further improves the efficiency of the content management process, allowing updates and changes to be easily pushed through rather than making individual adjustments across the various platforms. Even more, a headless CMS offers better performance with fast loading times since the content is delivered through APIs. Therefore, the user experience is greatly improved.

This provides added flexibility with growing business and changing requirements in content delivery, making it highly adaptable to newer technologies and channels.

How Headless CMS Works?

Essentially, a headless CMS is one that separates the content creation system from the content delivery system. The whole process usually commences with input and management of content by the content creators and editors through a web interface or dashboard at the backend of the headless CMS. The stored contents can be accessed with either a RESTful API or a GraphQL, which is a modern standard for fetching and manipulating data over the internet.

Developers can make API calls on any front-end framework or technology stack of their choice to consume this content in a website, mobile application, or any other digital properties. The process is dynamic in nature because the front-end asks for content from the headless CMS during an instance and not statically from a pre-rendered fixed page. This eliminates the requirement for manual updating at every single presentation layer, while allowing for immediate updates and changes in the content, which shall be reflected through all platforms.

In short, all this is made possible by APIs, bridging the gap from the content repository to the sea of end-user experiences—delivery is thus ensured to be flexible and efficient. In this architecture, a headless CMS is a CMS that supports the content-first strategy, focusing only on the capability to author and store content separately from how the content would be presented or consumed by front-end applications.

Headless CMS's that Refine has data provider support

headless cms

You can use these headless CMS's with Refine to manage your data. Here are some of the popular headless CMS's that Refine has data provider support:


Strapi is among the popular headless CMS platforms oriented to an open-source philosophy. It offers developers the necessary tools to enable them to quickly build APIs that are more flexible and extendable. At its core, Strapi has extensibility features that allow developers to customize the admin panel, APIs, and even the database queries.

It has large community support, scalable with extensibility, and a powerful ecosystem of thousands of plugins. User-friendly, allowing high customization.

refine-strapi data provider package.

Hygraph (formerly GraphCMS)

Hygraph is an API-first, headless CMS engineered like a GraphQL API. It bestows strong and robust content modeling with eminent relationship capabilities. It allows the user to model a structured content model that fits in your project need and delivers content over all channels with the provided GraphQL.

Offers multi-project support, fine access control, and real-time content updates. Built to fit in complex projects where flexibility and scalability of managing structured content is key.

refine-hygraph data provider package.


Sanity is an editor CMS designed to function in a real-time editing environment. It treats content as if it were structured data. Sanity uses the GROQ (Graph-Relational Object Queries) query language, and the editor it uses to provide for data manipulation is the Portable Text editor.

Highly customizable with excellent support for collaborative workflows. Replete with support for real-time updates, it also has a rich API set to build what they term "structured content."

refine-sanity data provider package.


Directus is a headless CMS that wraps around any SQL database with real-time GraphQL + REST API. It mirrors the database schema directly as a completely dynamic API that's ready to take on any content or data management.

The tool is database-agnostic and can directly connect to any SQL database out of the box, reflecting its schema. The product has tremendous power and flexibility for any database type, especially with already deployed databases.

refine-directus data provider package.


Web applications, mobile applications, or any other project that needs a strong and customizable CMS with a good developer community. Each of these systems has certain characteristics and advantages, due to which they are suitable for a particular type of project