Why choose an open source headless CMS?

by Jan Schulte, Head of Group Consulting at Magnolia
person typing code
Mar 13, 2019 | 6 MIN

The expression “content is king” has become the driving force in enterprise web development in recent years. While a cutting-edge logo and professional imagery can draw the eye, it’s the content of your site that will keep the visitor’s attention, and turn that visitor into a paying customer.

But the question lies in how best to manage the content that customers demand. The most obvious choice is a CMS, but there is a multitude of CMS options out there. In this article, we make a case on why you should choose an open source headless CMS.

What is an open source headless CMS?

An open source headless CMS uses APIs to send content to any device or touchpoint. This is unlike a traditional CMS, which is tightly coupled to templates or themes that can only be displayed on desktop and mobile browsers.

While a traditional CMS uses complex code to render content on web browsers, a headless CMS employs calls to an application programming interface (API) to deliver content to the web browser. In an open source headless CMS, developers can freely access the code directly (e.g. JavaScript, PHP) to create their own API calls and content delivery templates.

An open source headless CMS has much of the same functionality as a proprietary headless offering, while also enjoying several advantages. These advantages can reduce downtime, improve ease of use, and cut down on internal costs.

(Like to dive deeper into headless CMS? Check out my blog post on what is a headless CMS.)

Why choose an open source headless CMS?

Here, we take a look at the core reasons why you should choose an open source headless CMS.

Developer community

Even in the best case scenarios, problems can occur when a firm attempts to work with a new CMS. If you’re working with a proprietary CMS, you may not have the resources at hand to find the solution you need. One of the major advantages of working with an open source CMS is the community of developers who can help when things go wrong.

In many cases, other developers have not only encountered the problem that you’re having, but they’ve also posted their solutions for you to apply, saving you the time, money, and effort involved in finding, trying, and retrying different options.

Transparency and flexibility

Another advantage of an open source headless CMS resides in its name: open source. The source code doesn’t hide in a “black box” as proprietary systems do. The availability of the source code allows skilled developers to track problems and troubleshoot issues, without depending on the owners of the proprietary system to tell you what to do or how to fix the problem.

An open source system also allows you to change and adapt your CMS to meet your needs, both present and future. While a proprietary system forces users to stay locked into their technology, an open source CMS lets users dictate their own path.

For instance, the Magnolia 6 headless CMS allows users to access content from nearly any device, from desktops and laptops to tablets and mobile phones, and even through smart speakers such as Alexa. This level of flexibility allows you to future-proof your content, as it enables users to get content pushed through to any device or touchpoint.

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Security

For any enterprise that handles sensitive customer data, security is a top priority. While some enterprises have been hesitant to adopt open source for their CMS, the nature of open source software means that developers can review security procedures and patch any potential holes before they become problems for both for the organization and for the users.

Open source CMS platforms also let you set the security for each level of users inside the code, rather than depending on pre-defined levels in proprietary systems. Magnolia allows developers to set security policies based on the specific user’s role or group membership as a means to control the content they can see and the actions they can take. Magnolia's role-based security, single sign-on (SSO) and decoupled author and public servers provide you with the highest levels of security for content and customer data. Not a single penetration test failed, ever, and no breach was ever reported.

A Middle Eastern news company, which generates over 70 million page views a month, was subject to politically motivated hacking and DDoS attacks. When they switched to Magnolia, an open source headless CMS which is built on a solid Java foundation, they were able to fend off these attacks thanks to Magnolia’s high levels of security.

In addition, Magnolia takes data privacy very seriously. It is committed to GDPR and provides a number of GDPR-related plugins and Cookie consent tools to assist their users to become GDPR compliant.

Reliability

Today, every business depends on their online content being available to any user at any time. Even a few hours of downtime can impact a company’s bottom line, so reliability is a crucial issue for their CMS. Since the developers who work to maintain the CMS can access the source code, they can also ensure that the system does not stay down for long periods of time.

The availability of resources to maintain open source software is not limited to a single company or developer. This means that developers who get stuck on a problem can access online forums related to their issue, find sample code detailing the solution, and can implement and test those solutions quickly and efficiently.

Lower costs

All businesses, regardless of size, industry, or platform, seek out ways to keep their costs down. An open source headless CMS helps to keep costs low in several ways, including:

  • Faster deployment: An open source CMS is typically much faster and easier to install.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: The improved reliability, along with the increased accessibility available in an open source solution, helps to keep maintenance costs down and reduce downtime.
  • Lower learning curve: The learning curve for working on an open source platform is much lower than that for a proprietary system.
  • Free to download: Most open source headless CMS solutions provide a free community edition. A SaaS-based model is also available as well.

Looking for a free community edition of a headless CMS? Download Magnolia Community Edition free of charge.

Fulfilling your vision

A major difference between a proprietary CMS and an open source platform is that an out-of-the-box solution often doesn’t fulfill all the needs you may have, while also including features you don’t always need. These conflicts between the features that the system provides and the ones that you need can compromise your ability to provide your users with the content they need, which can also inhibit your vision for your business.

An open source headless CMS, such as Magnolia, can complement your vision and provide you with the tools you need to accomplish your business goals. The flexibility an open source solution offers allows you to implement the CMS on nearly any platform, at any scale, with the ability to extend its capabilities to meet your future needs.

The Middle Eastern news organization, that we referred to earlier, took advantage of Magnolia’s flexibility by developing their own dashboard for their team of 40 full-time journalists. Their dashboard features a custom workflow that comes in line with the media company’s dynamic and non-linear editorial process, helping them to publish emerging news in under 3 minutes.

Why Magnolia?

As your company’s needs grow and change, so will your requirements for your CMS platform. Magnolia can help you future-proof your CMS against changes in technology. With 80% more features than pure headless content management systems, Magnolia offers much more flexibility than standard CMS packages.

With powerful authoring tools, state-of-the-art personalization features, and customizable workflows, Magnolia offers both the ease of use and the depth of capabilities that your business demands.

Jan Schulte

About the Author

Working at the intersection of business and technology, Jan helps Magnolia clients succeed with their content management and digital experience initiatives, framing solutions to their custom challenges and opportunities.