Headless Content Management System

In the world of web development, few trends are growing more quickly than the adoption of the headless content management system. As the number and diversity of digital channels continues to grow, a headless content management system, or headless CMS, enables digital teams to better customize content for each new channel or device. 

Acquia Cloud, an open-source digital experience platform made for Drupal, enables enterprises to easily deploy a headless content management system based on Drupal 8, giving digital teams more freedom to build better digital experiences and more effectively engage customers.

Why do I need a headless content management system?

As digital platforms continue to proliferate, enterprises must deliver content to dozens or even hundreds of CMS instances – from websites and mobile devices to digital displays and smartwatches to chat platforms, IoT devices, virtual reality displays, CRM systems and many more. Since no single CMS can adequately render content for such a wide variety of channels, many digital teams are choosing to use a headless content management system to serve content more effectively.

With a headless content management system, the front-end that renders content is decoupled from the back-end where content is stored. The system’s back-end is responsible for organizing and managing content and for exposing it to any other front-end system or technology that developers choose to use for presenting the content on a specific channel. A headless content management system gives developers greater flexibility to innovate, allowing them to use tools that are most effective at delivering optimal experiences for users.

With the rise in headless content management systems, there has been great interest among developers in architecture for headless Drupal, or decoupled Drupal. Drupal is one of the most highly regarded CMS systems and is widely used by many of the world’s biggest brands. With a headless Drupal architecture, developers can continue to take advantage of Drupal’s robust features for managing content, while using any tool they choose to present information to a wide range of channels and devices.

Make Drupal your headless content management system with Acquia


Acquia Cloud enables developers to use Drupal as a headless content management system by providing support both for Drupal and Node.js within a single platform. Acquia Cloud is the #1 hosting development platform Drupal sites, providing a fully managed solution with a platform built for Drupal developers by Drupal developers. The Acquia platform includes robust development tools, world-class support and enterprise-grade security to enable developers to build and manage hundreds of ambitious digital experiences on one platform. With support for Node.js, Acquia Cloud now allows developers to use their preferred JavaScript framework to develop headless Drupal 8 or standalone applications, accessing both Drupal and Node.js from a single interface.


Acquia Cloud makes it possible for developers to work with Drupal in several ways:

  • Traditional Drupal retains all of Drupal’s usual responsibility for both front-end rendering and back-end management – an excellent choice for editors who need full control over the visual elements on the page.
  • Hybrid (progressively decoupled) Drupal allows developers to layer a JavaScript framework on top of a Drupal front-end to deliver highly interactive end-user experiences.
  • Fully decoupled Drupal is a full separation of concerns between the front-end presentation layer and the back-end CMS management. This decoupled CMS approach is appealing for developers who want greater control over the front-end.

Benefits of a Drupal-based headless content management system

Using Drupal as a headless content management system, you can:

  • Future proof your sites: Using a headless content management system makes it easier to redesign sites in the future, as you won’t need to go through the chore of redesigning the back-end again.
  • Enjoy greater freedom for designers and developers: With a Drupal-based headless content management system, designers have more freedom to determine how sites should look and how users will encounter and interact with content. Developers are free to use their preferred tools or the most effective solutions for developing front-end experiences.
  • Give users a better experience: The headless content management system enables development teams to make choices based on users’ needs and expectations, rather than being limited by the choices available within a particular front-end system.
  • Create once and publish everywhere: A headless content management system makes it easier to have one single repository of content that can be published to many different channels and media.
  • Accelerate production: A headless content management system may enable applications to move more quickly through development stages as the front-end team no longer needs to wait for the back-end team to complete its work. The development process is simpler, too, because developers can use one UI to access both the front-end and back-end stack.
  • Reduce costs: By refreshing sites with a new front-end rather than attempting a complete rebuild, developers can reduce the expense of managing digital experiences over a longer period.

Why deploy a headless content management system with Acquia?

Acquia, founded by the same open source pioneer who founded Drupal, is an open digital experience platform for building, running and optimizing Drupal-based sites. With Drupal in our DNA, our developers have unparalleled insight into the core technology that powers Drupal experiences, and we are constantly working to improve both Drupal and our offerings to ensure that developers have the tools they need to build the world’s greatest digital experiences. Acquia’s investment and support for a variety of headless architectures over the past five years has now grown stronger with support for Node.js runtime. With Acquia, developers can use a single platform to access both Drupal and Node.js environments and to use Drupal for building traditional sites, or as a headless content management system, to build decoupled experiences.

FAQs: What is a headless content management system?

What is a headless content management system?

A headless content management system is a CMS that offers the possibility of separating the front-end functionality which manages the way information is presented from the back-end capabilities that control the way content is stored, managed, accessed and delivered. 

What are the benefits of a headless content management system?

A headless content management system enables developers to use the back-end capabilities of one system to serve content to a wide variety of devices, channels and formats using a variety of front-end systems. With a headless content management system, development and marketing teams can store content in the central repository of a back-end CMS and deliver content to a host of digital technologies using whatever front-end tools are most appropriate.

What is headless Drupal?

Headless Drupal is an implementation of the widely used Drupal platform where back-end capabilities are separated or decoupled from front-end functionality. Developers use headless Drupal to take advantage of the robust features Drupal’s back-end CMS tools while developing digital experiences using front-end tools they are more familiar with or that are more appropriate for a particular digital channel, device or presentation.

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