Fancy losing your head? Talk to us about a headless web solution with Sanity, Prismic or Strapi starting from £7,500.

A Guide to Headless Front-Ends and the Best Options in 2022

Headless Front End 520x400 1

Headless Web Dev

Front-End Dev

A Guide to Headless Front-Ends and the Best Options in 2022

With the huge number of headless website front-end frameworks, and with new ones launching all the time, how do you choose the right one for you?

image 02
Top Headless Front-Ends

If you’re interested in headless CMS websites, or you are not sure about the technology that drives them, then this article will give you some information about the front-end frameworks and technologies that are available for headless websites at the minute.

It is said that at least one new JavaScript front-end framework is released every month, if not one every week. This means developers have a huge array of frameworks and tools to choose from, but this also means it gets overwhelming very quickly. Fortunately, the number of frameworks and libraries that have matured in terms of developer support, community and tooling is not that vast.

What Is A Headless Front-End Framework?

Before we talk about front-end frameworks, we need to understand what a front-end is. In layman's terms, the front-end of a website is simply what you see displayed on your screen – the graphics, typography, and the arrangement of different visual components. Thus, a front-end framework is a tool or technology used to build a website's visual structure (or front-end). A headless front-end framework, in contrast, is an endpoint, a content repository, or CMS with the front-end detached from the back-end and connected through APIs.

Headless Front-end Diagram

When building front-ends, developers use different frameworks that offer different features or benefits. Today, there are several tools, and solutions on the market that developers use to build Headless user interfaces. However, at their core, these solutions are typically built using one of the three most popular JavaScript technologies in the market – React.js, Vue.js, and Angular.js.

Below is a bit of detail about each of these, and additional development tools, libraries and frameworks that work well with them.

1. React.js

React is currently the market's leading open-source JavaScript library used for developing user interfaces. The framework technology is managed by Facebook and governed by hundreds of developers and companies. Its virtual Document Object Model (DOM) makes it ideal for businesses looking to quickly create a single-page site or app with seamless traffic flow and rendering.

Positives

  • Easy to use for experienced JavaScript developers.
  • Allows users to reuse existing UI components in their code, which saves time and improves productivity.
  • Includes a browser extension called React Developer Tools, which enables real-time observation of components.

Negatives

  • A long learning curve for new JavaScript developers.
  • Only helps in building the user interface of a website, meaning you'll need to use other development solutions.

2. Vue.js

Vue is another open source JavaScript framework used by popular sites like Nintendo, Laravel, Alibaba, 9gag, and GitLab. This innovative solution offers an incrementally adaptable architecture for creating UI components and apps that use declarative rendering. This makes it an incredibly powerful framework for dynamic and small web app development as it includes all the required functionalities with better documentation compared to React.js.

Positives

  • More suitable for beginners due to the detailed documentation.
  • Allows users to create both small and dynamic websites.
  • Also includes virtual DOM.
  • Allows code reusability.

Negatives

  • Not as popular as Angular or React.js and therefore has a smaller community.
  • Fewer plugins and components.
  • The documentation is detailed but built in Chinese, which creates language issues.

3. Angular

Angular was initially created by Google in 2010 as Angular.js before it was redeveloped and deployed in 2016. It is one of the few front-end frameworks in the market based on TypeScript, a programming language that makes the whole coding process easier for developers. Like React.js, it offers two-way data binding and real-time synchronization between modelling and viewing. However, this framework is a solution for businesses with highly experienced development teams looking to create enterprise-based apps and dynamic websites without any special requirements.

Positives

  • Thanks to real-time model-view synchronization, developers can make changes faster.
  • Virtual DOM allows for richer HTML content creation.
  • Angular has an established community worldwide and is used by popular sites like Gmail, Microsoft Office, BMW, Upwork, PayPal, and Forbes.

Negatives

  • Angular can be an incredibly complex language to learn for new developers.
  • Dynamic websites are susceptible to lagging which makes them unsuitable for large projects.

Note: React.js, Vue.js, and Angular may be the most popular JavaScript libraries and frameworks in the market, but they're not the only ones. Other frameworks include Ember.js, jQuery, Semantic-UI, Backbone.js, to name a few.

The Most Popular Frameworks for Headless Front-Ends Going into 2022

The following is a list of the top front-end framework providers that use one of the aforementioned open-source JavaScript frameworks to help create stunning headless front-heads or user interfaces:

Gatsby

Gatsby is a React.js -based open-source framework designed to create SEO-friendly sites and applications using extensive React library tools. Gatsby is one of the fastest-growing frameworks in the market as it allows users to build blazing fast, scalable, and secure websites/applications with WordPress, Shopify, and other platforms at zero starting costs. Unlike most frameworks, it offers extra benefits for marketers by giving them full control of page metadata, thus, allowing them to improve organic traffic growth through custom content structuring. However, this framework isn't suitable for businesses that require a lot of content updates, such as eCommerce stores.

Nuxt.js

Nuxt.js is a Vue.js -based open-source framework that aims to simplify the development experience when generating static websites. Using this framework, you don't need to build a dedicated server. While doing this can affect SEO on any solution, Nuxt.js pre-renders all the content and necessary HTML before deployment. This can help solve many SEO issues single-page apps experience during content rendering and re-routing on WordPress, Laravel, or other platforms. However, by opting for this solution, you may have to forego some important plugins like Vector maps and Calendar. Secondly, since there's no server, managing high traffic and debugging can be complicated for inexperienced developers.

Next.js

Next.js is essentially Nuxt.js but on steroids. The main difference is that this framework is React.js -based, not Vue.js -based. Since it's powered by React, it comes with a host of built-in features, most notably server rendering and incremental static regeneration. Other features include TypeScript support, route prefetching, lazy loading, open graph configuration, and content bundling. However, if you're planning to use it for WordPress, you'll need extra configuration and third-party tools to successfully integrate the framework with the CMS platform. Moreover, Next.js uses only a file router, meaning you'll require a Node.js server for dynamic routing.

Frontity

Frontity is a free open-source framework based on React.js. This framework is solely used to create Headless WordPress themes without the hassle by acting as a middleman between the two technologies using REST API. This enables seamless HTML content creation and management when creating a decoupled site. Frontity packs a host of extra features, including Webpack, Babel, SSR, Typescript, and testing, etc.

Wuxt

Wuxt combines the strengths of Nuxt and WordPress to offer an all-in-one solution for Headless website development. The Vue.js -based framework is essentially a meta-framework for universal applications using which developers can create server-rendered sites and apps with simple configurations and management (data, middleware, and routing, etc.). However, this framework may not be suitable for developers with specific or unique requirements since its architecture and UI components are designed to simplify development for WordPress developers.

Vite

Vite is a no-bundler alternative to Nuxt.js that enables instant server start and faster HMR development. This solution is suitable for large websites and applications as it pre-bundles the dependencies to reduce the number of web server requests. The framework also supports CSS hot rendering, meaning pages don't have to reload after CSS updates. However, the solution is still in development, and therefore, it's not fully compatible with common JavaScript modules.

Svelte

Svelte is one of the newest headless front-end frameworks in the market, and unlike other options on this list, it is a tool for compiling UI components just like React.js, Angular, or Vue.js. According to ProCoders, this framework is approximately 30% faster than the rest of the market. However, there's no virtual DOM, no frameworks on top of frameworks, and no complex configurations – meaning you can load what is needed using a simple JavaScript code. As a result, the solution is becoming extremely popular among developers for creating single-page applications, especially for low-power devices and apps with interactive visualization, such as Upstream and Decathlon. The only major issue is that there's little or no support compared to Angular or React, both of which are powered by industry powerhouses, Google, and Facebook respectively.

VuePress

VuePress is a Vue.js-based static site generator and is another product by Evan You, the creator of Nuxt.js and Vite. The purpose of this framework is to support the documentation needs of Vue -based projects. Vuepress is an excellent choice for developers and businesses looking for a minimalistic Headless web design. It features a default theme that users can customize and save time in the process. Unlike Nuxt and Vite, this framework is designed for building content-centric sites, not applications.

Popular Frameworks for Mobile Applications

If you're looking for a framework specifically designed for mobile applications, you can try any of the following:

React Native

React Native is another open-source JavaScript framework from Facebook (Meta) that is specifically designed for mobile developers to create Android, Android TV, iOS, macOS, tvOS, Web, Windows, and UWP applications. It utilized the same code base as its conventional counterpart and provided a slick, smooth, and responsive UI with minimal load time. Another great benefit React Native offers users is reusing the same code base between multiple operating systems, enabling cross-platform development. This way, you don't need a separate team for Android and iOS app development. Lastly, since it's a part of React.js, users have an abundance of support with nearly 50,000 contributors and developers online.

Flutter

Flutter is an open-source UI development kit designed by Google for cross-platform mobile application development. Using this framework, users can utilize a single codebase to create iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linus, and other OS applications. Moreover, it makes quality assurance, testing, and troubleshooting a breeze, which makes it ideal for new developers or smaller teams. However, like any solution, it comes with a few downsides, including weak iOS feature support, limited libraries, and connectivity issues with hardware devices.

Swift

Swift is Apple's counterpart to Flutter. This general-purpose and multi-paradigm, open-source framework/programming language is used solely for iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS application development. It offers a much more stable solution for Apple's products and operating systems. The only issue is that it can be difficult to find and hire great Swift developers.

Frameworks from Popular Platforms

With front-end frameworks becoming rapidly popular on the web and mobile development market, many web hosting and CMS platforms are developing their own frameworks to cater to their users and foster an all-in-one solution, not to mention it adds another revenue stream: Two of these that are definitely making waves are, Hydrogen and Fausted.js.

Hydrogen (Shopify)

Hydrogen is a React-based open-source JavaScript framework by Shopify designed specifically for helping developers build custom online storefronts. Using this solution, existing users can skip setup and enjoy features like hot reloading, TypeScript, Vite, and built-in ESM, to name a few. Hydrogen can be a game-changer for developers looking to maximize performance with more controlled server-side execution. It can also speed up development, as it includes everything you need to get started in one place, from structure to UI components and tools.

Faust.js (WP Engine)

Faust.js is an open-source framework designed specifically for Headless front-end development on WordPress. Built on top of React.js and Next.js, this innovative solution offers some breathtaking features for WordPress developers, including static site generation, server-side rendering, easy data fetching, enhanced publishing experience, to name a few. With over 300 users already, Fausted.js by WP Engine is rapidly growing, with early adopters identifying bugs, requesting features, and refining the framework for new users.

Final thoughts

As more digital channels enter the market, the need for seamless multichannel content publishing is rising exponentially. A Headless front-end provides a scalable solution for digital experience creators to display whatever they want, however they want, and whenever they want. However, the complexity and abundance of different front-end frameworks and technologies can be overwhelming for developers adopting headless solutions and generally calls for additional help (or lots of research), especially if you're just getting started.

We’re always happy to help, feel free to get in touch with our team if you have any questions, or use our brief builder or book a discovery meeting if you have a project, you think we can help you with.

Know What You
Need?

Book A Discovery Meeting

Share This