Decoupled CMS Architecture - Advantages and Disadvantages

​ Niklas Winkels

​ 2019-06-28

decoupled cms architecture


As a content marketer or a website administrator, the architecture of the CMS used for the framework of a site isn’t a major talking point (for most). 

The main goal is to make sure that the content you create - whether it’s written content or media - is published and visible on the web. However, the design of how it all comes together is vitally important to the development team and, most importantly, the experience of your visitors.

Throughout this series of blogs, we’re looking at the different strengths and weaknesses of different architectures that define popular CMS systems today. In this article, we’ll be covering what many consider the most balanced system on the market today: the decoupled CMS.

You can find more articles in the series here:

Overview of the Decoupled CMS Architecture

The decoupled CMS is in some respects more complex than the traditional (or coupled) CMS. However, it offers advantages that the tightly-knit design of the traditional does not.  

A coupled CMS architecture provides templating, design and channels in one go.

However, the advantages of a decoupled CMS is down to the architecture that separates the frontend and backend operations. It delivers content and templating via an API removing the reliance on the same resources for a more efficient experience.

The backend of a decoupled CMS exists as its own system, isolating operations from the frontend. Here, the system hosts a database that stores content created by users as well as incorporating  the interface for content management operations where users create or upload information for the site. This portion of the system is subjected to its own set of rules for those who interact with the system and isn’t dependent on the frontend.

The frontend, like the backend, exists as its own entity, so it’s not exposed to the same rules that dictate backend operations. Since this portion of the system is agnostic from the backend, meaning users are (or can be) unique, there’s no interference on the publishing end. 

Developers are mostly free to develop unique code that doesn’t need to match the same schema as what’s used on the backend. Further, resources are separated for each component, so scaling for either side may be done individually.

➕ Advantages of a Decoupled CMS

Like the coupled CMS, this system is also highly accessible for the users that interact with the system, yet it separates the content creation, publication, and development processes. It’s ideal for mid to large sized sites (though it can be used for smaller projects) as the separate portions of the design prevent content creators from interacting with most elements on the frontend.

Essentially, everything interacts through an API, which is ideal for dynamic environments where more sophisticated tuning transpires on the frontend. This means content creators are free to simply plug information into the content manager on the backend and not worry about layout which is manipulated by the frontend system. 

This means that pages aren’t subjected to the same layout on a site if desired, and more importantly, this means information can be tailored to fit other platforms, such as mobile apps, while including relevant elements from a full site without sacrificing quality.

To be more specific, the primary advantages of a decoupled CMS are:

  • Separate content creation and publishing areas – For the most part, content marketers aren’t well-versed in developing code for web functions – their role is usually generating great content, whether it’s written content or media. This gives editing teams peace of mind knowing unpolished content has little chance of making it to live status, and most importantly, any kind of security breach will be limited to either portion of the system.

  • Isolated code complexity – As the front and backend exist as separate systems, this makes development much simpler as the two aren’t interdependent upon each other. The systems don’t need to utilize the same code base – the API will handle how the two interact with each other. This makes deployment and scaling much easier as development isn’t inherently codependent.

  • Multichannel publishing is built into the design – Prior to any CMS, content creators were plugging their content into text-based HTML templates. But when the traditional CMS emerged, this made the process simpler. This doesn’t always solve the issue of properly placing content onto multiple channels such as the site itself, social channels, and mobile apps. A decoupled CMS allows frontend specialists to easily utilize content from the backend and properly apply information to whatever channel is required.

➖ Disadvantages of a Decoupled CMS

Even though this design is typically considered superior to the coupled CMS architecture, it’s not ideal for those looking for an out-of-the-box solution. Think of the decoupled CMS as more of canvas – to make art, you need a skilled artist, quality supplies and a vision. All these elements need to come together for good art and with any portion missing, the outcome will suffer.

While deployment is much easier for developers, the setup process can be challenging. It’s much like building an intricate model or making structural renovations to an old building. In either scenario, there are a lot of pieces where the construction process for either requires knowledge, skill, and adherence to a process. While not incredibly complicated, it does require more discipline to customize compared to a more straightforward, one-size-fits-all solution.

Saying that, there are only a few shortcomings in a decoupled CMS where experienced web developers, administrators, and designers can easily tackle these complications. The few issues some encounter are:

  • Complexity of separate systems – The front and backend connects via an API, so there is usually a small learning curve. As such, don’t expect a web team to immediately master the intricacies of a new system without time to review material and dabble with features.

  • Mastery of the delivery and publishing environment – Getting everything from the front to the backend is easily manageable, but with more pieces in the puzzle, the assembly process for any given endpoint can be challenging at first. Think of it like a child building something out of an assortment of Lego sets. Anything is possible but getting a viable result for the end products means having a builder with a vision. Content may be king, but without a solid frontend team, no one will take the time to appreciate their work if it appears unprofessional.

Final Thoughts on the Decoupled CMS

For a powerful architecture that’s secure and versatile, a decoupled CMS is ideal for the many features it provides content marketers and developers.

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