Everything you need to know about headless Drupal

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Headless Drupal

Last update 06/03/2023

Headless Drupal is a new and innovative way to use Drupal. With this approach, Drupal is a back-end system, allowing organizations to manage content centrally and publish it across multiple channels. This decoupling of the front-end and back-end enables a more flexible and modern approach to web development, providing greater control over the user experience. In this blog post, we'll explore the concept of Headless Drupal further. 

  1. What is headless Drupal? The explanation for dummies.
  2. The difference between traditional and headless Drupal architecture
  3. The benefits of headless Drupal for content creators, developers, and end-users
  4. The disadvantages of headless Drupal
  5. Choosing the right front-end technology to use with headless Drupal
  6. Headless Drupal and the rise of JAMstack 
  7. The road of Dropsolid to fully headless Drupal
  8. Practical headless Drupal how-tos

1. What is headless Drupal? The explanation for dummies.

Drupal is an open-source Content Management System (CMS) used to create and manage website content. Normally, Drupal is used to create both the back-end (the part of a website hidden from visitors) and the front-end (the part of the website visitors interact with). With headless Drupal, Drupal is only used to create and manage content in the back-end. Instead of using Drupal's front-end, developers can use other technologies to create the front-end of a website, such as other Javascript frameworks like React, Angular, Vue, Svelte... 

2. The difference between traditional and headless Drupal architecture

Traditional Drupal architecture is a full-stack solution with a content management system (CMS) and a presentation layer for delivering content to the end user.  This approach has served many organizations well, providing a flexible platform for content creation and management. However, traditional Drupal can be limited in its front-end capabilities and can make customization and integration with third-party applications challenging. Headless Drupal, also known as decoupled Drupal, separates the CMS from the front-end, making it possible to build web applications with a more flexible and modular architecture.

3. The benefits of headless Drupal for content creators, developers, and end-users


Benefits for content creators


Benefits for developers


Benefits for end-users

The benefits for content creators

Because Drupal is still used to manage and create content in the back-end, content creators can use its familiar interface to create and organize content, regardless of the front-end technology being used. This means that content can be easily shared across different platforms and devices without the need for separate content creation tools.

Additionally, headless Drupal can be used to create and manage content in a more modular way, which makes it easier to reuse content across different pages or applications. This modular approach can also save time and effort when it comes to content creation because content creators can focus on creating reusable blocks of content that can be used in multiple places rather than creating unique content for each individual page or platform. 

Headless Drupal also provides content creators with a simpler and more streamlined workflow, as they can focus on creating and managing content without worrying about the presentation layer.

In conclusion, headless Drupal can help content creators be more efficient and productive while also allowing for more flexibility and reusability of content. By leveraging the power of headless Drupal, content creators can take their content creation process to the next level and create more engaging, immersive experiences for their users. 

To take it to the next level, with headless Drupal, content creators are able to create a consistent personalization flow across all channels, which ultimately results in an amazing customer experience. 

The benefits for developers

One of the biggest advantages for developers is flexibility. By separating the content management system from the front-end of a website or application, developers can use different front-end technologies depending on their specific needs. It allows them to create more customized and modern front-ends that can be used on multiple platforms, like web, mobile, or other digital interfaces. This means they can choose the best technology for each project.

Additionally, because headless Drupal can be used with any front-end technology, it enables developers to create a more customized and modern user experience in a more efficient way. They can build highly responsive, interactive, and engaging front-ends that are tailored to the specific needs of their users. This can result in better user experiences, more innovative websites and applications, and improved performance.

The benefits for end-users

By decoupling the front-end and back-end, developers have more freedom to create user experiences that are tailored to specific use cases and devices. This allows them to create more engaging and personalized experiences for users, regardless of the device or platform they are using. 

For example, developers can create mobile applications or progressive web apps that are optimized for smaller screens and slower connections while still using the same content managed by Drupal. This can result in a faster and more responsive user experience, which is crucial in today's fast-paced digital world. 

Additionally, because headless Drupal can be integrated with various third-party tools and services, it can be used to create more powerful and interactive features that enhance the user experience.

4. The disadvantages of headless Drupal

While headless Drupal can offer many advantages, it's important to note that there can also be some disadvantages to this approach. One potential challenge is the need for more technical expertise in order to implement a headless Drupal solution. Because front-end development is separated from the back-end, it requires developers with a strong understanding of both technologies to effectively build and maintain the website or application. This can result in higher development costs, as more specialized developers may need to be hired. At Dropsolid we’re lucky to have a team of 40+ Drupal Developers with all ranges of seniority. They’re more than qualified to build, maintain and implement headless Drupal solutions. 

Additionally, because headless Drupal can involve more complex architecture and integrations with other technologies, it may require more time and resources to implement than a traditional Drupal website. 

Another potential disadvantage is that headless Drupal can be more difficult to manage and maintain over time, particularly for smaller organizations or teams with limited technical expertise. Without a dedicated technical team or partner, it can be challenging to keep the website or application up-to-date and troubleshoot any issues that arise. It's important to carefully consider the resources and expertise needed for a headless Drupal project before deciding if it's the right approach for your organization.

5. How to pick the right front-end technology to use with headless Drupal?

Choosing the right front-end technology to use with headless Drupal can be a critical decision for your project. While headless Drupal can work with any front-end technology, each option has its own benefits and drawbacks. The best choice for your project will depend on various factors, including your technical expertise, your team's preferences, and the specific needs of your users

For example, React is a popular front-end framework that offers high performance and reusability, while Angular is a comprehensive framework that includes many built-in features and tools. On the other hand, if you're looking for a lightweight and flexible option, you might consider using a simpler framework like Vue.js

Ultimately, the best approach is to carefully evaluate your options and choose the technology that is best suited to your project's goals, budget, and timeline. Working with a skilled development partner can also help you navigate the complex decision-making process and ensure that you make the right choice for your specific needs.


Our front-end of choice? React. 

The reason why we choose React is that it’s the best fit for 80%-90% of the types of projects we do. We can leverage existing open-sourced efforts to connect React (and Next.js) to Drupal without having to build from scratch every time. The Rocketship Starterkit will offer even more out of the box. Aside from the fit with the type of project, it’s also about the maturity of the used technologies. React and Next.js have a proven track record when it comes to enterprise-grade implementations.

6. Headless Drupal and the rise of JAMstack

Headless Drupal is closely linked with the rise of JAMstack (JavaScript, APIs, and Markup), a modern web development architecture emphasizing speed, security, and scalability. By decoupling the front-end and back-end, headless Drupal allows developers to leverage the power of APIs to deliver content to any device or platform. When combined with a JAMstack front-end technology like Next.js, developers can create high-speed websites and applications that are highly performant and easy to maintain. 

The JAMstack approach also offers greater security, as there is no direct connection between the front-end and back-end, reducing the risk of attacks or vulnerabilities

Additionally, JAMstack sites are highly scalable, as they are served from a content delivery network (CDN) rather than a traditional web server, allowing them to handle traffic spikes without slowing down

By using Drupal as part of our JAMstack architecture, developers can create modern, high-performing websites and applications that meet the demands of today's fast-paced digital world.

7. The road of Dropsolid to fully headless Drupal

I discuss the benefits and challenges of adopting a fully headless Drupal architecture in this blog below. It provides a comprehensive overview of what it took for Dropsolid to transition to a fully headless Drupal architecture and offers valuable insights for developers and organizations considering this approach.

8. Practical headless Drupal how-tos