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Understand some common use-cases, APls, and frameworks that go into building modern web experiences with Headless CMS

What is the Jamstack and a Jamstack CMS?

Jamstack, coined by the folks over at Netlify, represents a modern web development architecture based on client-side JavaScript, reusable APIs, and prebuilt Markup - the three foundational pillars being JavaScript, APIs, and Markup (JAM). This approach decouples the frontend from the backend, enabling faster, more secure, and scalable web solutions.

A Jamstack CMS, often just a headless CMS, fits into this architecture by providing content through APIs, ready to be consumed by JavaScript-driven frontend applications. Unlike traditional CMSs, a Jamstack CMS doesn’t concern itself with how content is displayed, focusing solely on content management and delivery.

Why use a Jamstack CMS?

There’s a few reasons why Headless CMS and Jamstack approaches have surged in popularity over the past few years, whether or not “Jamstack” as a term is as prevalent as it was in the past.

Performance and Speed

In the Jamstack model, websites are prebuilt into static pages (traditionally*, we’re not getting into hybrid dynamic etc., yet), reducing the time to the first byte and ensuring high performance (think about those juicy Lighthouse 100s). A Headless CMS complements this by efficiently managing and delivering content via APIs, which can be quickly integrated into SSGs (Static Site Generators).

Flexibility and Control

Jamstack allows developers to use their preferred tools and frameworks for the frontend, and a Headless CMS aligns perfectly with this principle. It provides the freedom to choose any frontend technology, as it purely delivers content via API without dictating the presentation layer.

Security

With Jamstack, most of the website is composed of static files, which inherently reduces security vulnerabilities. A Headless CMS enhances this by limiting direct database exposure and handling content operations through secure API calls via authorized tokens.

Scalability

Being static, Jamstack sites are inherently scalable. A Headless CMS further facilitates scalability by managing content in a way that easily adapts to increasing traffic and content demands, without the need for complex scaling of a traditional CMS’s backend. Think global cache around Edge POPs around the world, and how most requests can hit the cache given the sites are statically pre-built.

DX and Workflows

Developers benefit from a more streamlined and efficient workflow. They can focus on building the frontend, leveraging the Headless CMS for content management. This separation of concerns leads to faster development cycles and less overhead in maintaining and updating the website.

SEO and Performance

Headless CMSs allow developers to optimize content for SEO effectively. Since content delivery is decoupled, it’s easier to manage SEO aspects like metadata, structured data, and content optimization, which are critical for Jamstack sites.

So it’s quite natural to see why modern web development is JS-centric (fun thread on Reddit from a few years ago on the topic). With that in mind, frameworks and technologies like React (and it’s 100s of opinionated frameworks like Next/Gatsby/…) and Vue surged in popularity so that developers didn’t have to work with just vanilla JS. So let’s take a look at some of the popular ones with the context of Headless CMS.

Note: these aren’t code examples or guides, they’re just meant to serve as a bit of a guidance on how and why Headless CMS work with some popular frameworks. For a technical dive into working with them and DatoCMS, for example with NextJS, check out our docs.

React CMS

What is React?

Similar to GraphQL, React also has its origins at Facebook in the form of a software engineer called Jordan Walke. He was inspired by the functional programming language Lisp and wanted to create a component-based approach for devs to build applications.

React is an open-source JS library widely used for building user interfaces and large web applications that can update and render data efficiently without reloading the page. React’s core philosophy revolves around the concept of reusable components, enabling developers to break down complex UIs into simpler, isolated pieces of code. This modularity makes it easier to manage and scale web applications, while also enhancing readability and maintainability of the codebase.

If you’re keen, the folks over at Honeypot made a pretty incredible documentary about React.

Advantages of building with ReactJS

The most notable thing about React is its component-based architecture which promotes reusability and simplifies the development process.

React's virtual DOM (Document Object Model) ensures optimal rendering performance, making it a great choice for high-traffic applications. React’s popularity (crazy active repo) also means a vast ecosystem, with a wealth of libraries and tools available. Furthermore, its unidirectional data flow helps in creating more predictable and easier-to-debug code. React’s flexibility allows it to integrate seamlessly with various backends, making it a great choice for diverse web development projects.

Why use a Headless CMS for React applications?

Using a Headless CMS with React capitalizes on the strengths of both. React’s frontend approach in building dynamic, responsive UIs pairs well with the backend efficiency of a Headless CMS. This combination facilitates a smooth content management process, where content updates from the CMS are reflected instantly on the React-driven UI without page reloads (depending on the website build, of course). The decoupled nature means developers can leverage React's rich interface capabilities while relying on the Headless CMS for robust content management and delivery. 

Vue CMS

What is Vue?

VueJS and React represent two popular yet distinct approaches to building web interfaces in the JavaScript ecosystem. While React focuses on the efficient rendering of UI components, VueJS is a progressive framework that aims to be more approachable and versatile.

VueJS combines reactive data binding and composable view components with an API that’s considered to be more intuitive than React’s. React’s strong emphasis is on performance and large-scale application architecture, and could have a steep learning curve. In contrast, VueJS flexxes its simplicity and ease of integration into existing projects, making it a favorite for both small-scale applications and rapid development scenarios.

Either way, React and Vue (and Angular, which is what led to the creation of Vue) are arguably the most popular abstractions/frameworks/libraries, as you prefer to call them, of JavaScript, which have given birth to hundreds of other opinionated frameworks under them.

Similar to ReactJS, the folks over at Honeypot made a pretty cool documentary about Vue as well!

Advantages of VueJS

VueJS offers a gentle learning curve with a design that is both intuitive and empowering for developers. Its core library focuses on the view layer only, making it easy (subjective) to pick up and integrate with other libraries or existing projects. VueJS also features a reactive and composable data model that simplifies the process of building interactive UIs. The framework is designed to be incrementally adoptable, with layers of complexity that can be added as needed. This flexibility, combined with very well maintained docs and a massive community, makes VueJS a robust choice for modern web development.

Working with a Headless CMS for VueJS

Similar to React, integrating a Headless CMS with VueJS brings the best of both worlds. Vue’s reactive data handling complements the API-first nature of a Headless CMS, allowing for seamless updates and rendering of content. This pairing enables devs to efficiently manage and publish content, and the modular architecture of VueJS aligns well with the reusable-content approach of a Headless CMS.

NextJS CMS

What is NextJS?

Remember when we said React/Vue were JS frameworks? Now let’s get into some Inception. NextJS is arguably* the most popular React framework - more specifically, an open-source JavaScript framework built on top of React. NextJS was created by Guillermo Rauch, who then went on to found Vercel, and it is among THE most documented, active, and popular React frameworks out there, with an incredible team and community maintaining it.

NextJS enables functionality such as server-side rendering and generating static websites for React-based web applications. One of Next.js's key features is its ability to perform pre-rendering. It pre-renders every page by default, which means that each page's HTML is generated in advance, not just on client-side JavaScript. This approach significantly improves performance and SEO capabilities. Next.js also offers features like file-based routing, automatic code splitting, and optimized prefetching, making it a powerful and efficient framework for building complex web applications.

Why is NextJS so adopted?

Its server-side rendering capabilities improve the performance and SEO of web applications, a crucial factor in today's digital world, this much we know. Aside from that, the framework's ease of setup and automatic optimizations like code splitting and prefetching make it highly appealing for developers looking to create fast, efficient applications with minimal configuration. Additionally, Next.js's versatility in building both static and dynamic websites, along with its rich ecosystem and community support, have solidified its place as a go-to framework for modern web development.

Between SWR, pre-fetching, AB Testing on the edge, custom middleware, and tons of other features, it really is incredible how much diversity NextJS can handle when it comes to development use-cases. 

Working with a NextJS Headless CMS

Integrating a Headless CMS with Next.js brings unique advantages. Next.js's server-side rendering and static generation features, combined with a Headless CMS, can significantly enhance the performance and SEO of a website. The CMS manages and stores the content, while Next.js handles the presentation and delivery of this content, just like with React.

This separation leads to better scalability and maintainability. Additionally, the flexibility of the CMS allows for dynamic content updates without the need for redeploying the Next.js application when using capabilities like real-time subscription APIs. This integration paves the way for more interactive and personalized user experiences, as developers can leverage Next.js's capabilities to dynamically render content based on user interactions and edge functions.

PS, the website for DatoCMS is built using NextJS, and it’s open source. So if you want to check out how NextJS looks like in action, check out the repo!

Laravel CMS

Admittedly PHP’s become a bit of a punching bag in the CMS world when comparing to WordPress, but there’s still a lot of use-cases when PHP is and should be the go-to. JS has React, PHP has Laravel.

Laravel is a free, open-source PHP web framework, created by Taylor Otwell, intended for the development of web applications following the model-view-controller (MVC) architectural pattern. Known for its elegant syntax, Laravel simplifies many common tasks used in web projects, such as routing, authentication, caching, and sessions.

It aims to provide a great DX without sacrificing application functionality. Laravel also offers a robust ecosystem with tools like Forge and Vapor for deployment, and Nova for administration. Its extensive documentation and active community support make it a go-to choice for many PHP developers.

Integrating a Headless CMS with Laravel amplifies these benefits. Without sounding too repetitive, Laravel’s backend prowess, combined with the flexibility of a Headless CMS in content delivery, ensures a scalable, maintainable, and seamless content management and delivery process. This integration is particularly beneficial in scenarios where content needs to be served across multiple platforms or where the content strategy evolves independently of the application's architecture.

Astro CMS

What is AstroJS? Astro is one of the cool (like really cool) new kids on the block, from as recent as 2021. AstroJS is designed as a modern web framework for building faster and more efficient websites combining the best aspects of static site generation with a component-based architecture with a unique twist.

It stands out by delivering a zero-JavaScript-by-default approach, which drastically reduces the amount of JS sent to the browser. This feature is particularly beneficial for developers aiming to build high-performance websites with improved loading times.

AstroJS supports component-based architectures, allowing you to write UI components in your favorite frameworks like React, Vue, or Svelte, but it only ships the necessary JavaScript to the client. This selective hydration strategy ensures that users load only the JavaScript they need, it’s really cool.

Using a Headless CMS with AstroJS can be a powerful combination. The Headless CMS serves as the content backbone, managing and delivering content via APIs. AstroJS, on the other hand, efficiently handles this content on the frontend. The pairing is especially effective for sites that require frequent content updates while maintaining high performance, such as blogs, news sites, and portfolio pages.

NuxtJS CMS

React has Next, Vue has Nuxt.

NuxtJS is a progressive framework based on VueJS, designed to simplify the development of modern web applications. It extends VueJS by providing an opinionated structure for building scalable and performant applications, particularly enhancing the creation of universal or server-side rendered applications.

NuxtJS streamlines the development process with features like automatic code splitting, easy page routing, and server-side rendering, which are vital for improving website load times and SEO performance. Its pre-configured setup, including Vue Router, Vuex store, and Vue Server Renderer, allows developers to focus more on building the application rather than on setup and configuration.

Integrating a Headless CMS with NuxtJS can significantly benefit web projects. The framework's server-side rendering capability ensures that content from the CMS is rendered efficiently, enhancing both performance and SEO. This combination is particularly effective for content-driven sites where frequent updates and fast content delivery are essential. NuxtJS's modular architecture, combined with the flexibility of a Headless CMS, offers a scalable solution for building diverse web applications, from e-commerce sites to blogs and corporate websites, allowing for dynamic content updates while maintaining high performance and user experience.

Remix CMS

Remix is a relatively new one in the field of web development frameworks, and it's quickly gaining traction for its unique approach and robust features. Also built on React, Remix extends and enhances the capabilities of a traditional React application, focusing on better user and developer experiences.

Remix stands out by emphasizing web fundamentals, offering a tighter alignment with the way the web has been designed to work. This means improved handling of various aspects like data loading, caching, and prefetching. It advocates for server-side rendering and progressive enhancement, ensuring that applications are fast and accessible.

One of Remix's core principles is to bring back the robustness of traditional web request-response cycles, integrated smoothly with modern React UI capabilities. Remix also simplifies data fetching and form submission, making it easier to manage state and data flow in React applications.

When paired with a Headless CMS, it opens up possibilities for creating performant, SEO-friendly, and content-rich digital experiences.

Svelte CMS

What is Svelte?

Svelte is a bit of an outlier here - because it isn’t a derivative of React, Vue, or Angular. Svelte stands out in the landscape of JS frameworks for its unique approach to building UIs. Unlike React, Vue, or Angular, Svelte shifts much of the work to compile time, rather than relying on a virtual DOM or runtime abstractions. This results in Svelte applications directly manipulating the DOM when the state changes, leading to faster performance and less code.

While frameworks like React and Vue provide a layer of abstraction over the DOM through a virtual DOM, Svelte compiles components into imperative code that updates the DOM. This means that, unlike traditional frameworks that do most of their work in the browser, Svelte does its heavy lifting at build time. By removing the need for a virtual DOM, Svelte applications typically have smaller bundle sizes and faster runtime performance, making it one of the most popular frameworks to come out in the recent past that aren’t built upon the big 3.

Advantages of Svelte

Enhanced performance is one of the most notable advantages of Svelte. By eliminating the virtual DOM, Svelte applications offer superior load times and smoother updates. The framework's syntax simplicity is another benefit, making it accessible and easy to learn for devs, and resulting in more readable and maintainable code.

Svelte’s compiled nature leads to reduced bundle sizes, which is a crucial factor in web performance, especially for mobile users and in low-bandwidth situations. Additionally, Svelte offers a more intuitive model for reactivity. Unlike other frameworks that require specific patterns or libraries for state management, Svelte allows developers to update the state simply by assigning values, streamlining the development process.

Growing Svelte Ecosystem and Content Management

There’s a growing ecosystem out there for Svelte. Most notably, SvelteKit, an upcoming framework built around Svelte, aims to be the 'next-gen' platform for building more complex applications. It's designed to handle server-side rendering, static site generation, and single-page applications, all within the Svelte ecosystem. SvelteKit reflects the growing maturity of Svelte, offering a more comprehensive set of tools for developers to build full-fledged web applications.

Aside from SvelteKit, names like Routify, ElderJS (SSG for Svelte, pretty cool!), Sapper, Vite, and Rollup are recently familiar. Just like the React ecosystem, the Svelte one is definitely one to keep an eye on as the community grows and gets more active.

Which is why, of course, a Headless CMS with Svelte can be a great combo. Without repeating the same thing over and over again, Svelte apps are meant to be quick and scalable, regardless of whether it’s a portfolio or an eCommerce site, so having a Headless CMS API that focuses on performance is a dream pairing for Svelte apps.

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