What is a Headless Architecture, and How is it Changing Web Development?
An introductory guide about headless architecture.
Introduction: What is a Headless Architecture?
A headless architecture is a web development architecture without a server-side component. It is a web development technique that separates the front end from the back end. We can use Headless architectures to build distributed systems and service-oriented architectures; monolithic architectures also have use cases. Headless architecture does not rely on a server-side rendered view. The server only responds with resources without loading any dynamic content when the request is sent from the client.
The whole idea behind Headless architecture is to take advantage of the ability of RESTful APIs to serve HTML content. By using this approach, front-end developers can enable their applications so that they only need to focus on their front-end without worrying about the back-end; this allows for faster and more flexible development.
What's wrong with tightly coupled, i.e., traditional architecture?
The problem with tightly coupled web architecture is that the development process becomes rigid and inflexible. The web is built on the principles of separation of presentation, media, and logic; they don't mix up.
Sometimes developers build web applications that tie these two things together to save time on development. But this limits the code reuse, which makes maintenance difficult.
For example, if a developer needs to add a new feature to the front-end, they need to look through the entire codebase to find the appropriate files to edit. This can be an arduous task and takes up a significant amount of time which could have been used for coding instead. By using decoupled web architecture, developers will be able to develop faster and more efficiently.
Headless architecture provides a solution to these problems by allowing developers to create separate front-end and back-end, increasing their productivity and freeing them from continually updating the same code.
Advantages of Headless Architecture for Web Development
1) Better maintainability
2) Performance optimization
4) Separation of concerns
Disadvantages of Headless Architecture for Web Development
We should note that there are some disadvantages:
1) The high maintenance cost: The developers need to maintain two code bases due to the low coupling between the front end and back end. The front-end components need to be updated every time there's a change in data models or business rules. It is expensive. In addition, it can lead to high complexity and longer development times.
3) It can be challenging for developers and maintenance teams to know what content is available on a website, making it difficult for them to link specific content.
When to use Headless Architecture?
Everything is good in proportion. It is necessary to have the right tools for the right task.
You must understand the need to go headless; some general use cases to opt for a headless architecture would be
1) When you make a website with incompatible front and back-end technology. To simplify: Imagine you are using WordPress CMS and Angular to create an essential portfolio website for a client. If you research, you will find out that there is no way to inherently combine both of these technologies. In this case, you can use WordPress Headless CMS to define the back-end with angular as your front end.
2) When you are making a complex product with many moving parts. To simplify: Think about Instagram. Instagram has a main feed, stories, explore, reels, AR Filters, and messaging components; all these components are different from each other functionally. If you want to build something like Instagram with various features compiled in a single UI, you need to opt for a headless architecture.
3) Whenever you are using a front end framework like React, Angular, Vue, Svelte, etc