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.
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.
Below is a bit of detail about each of these, and additional development tools, libraries and frameworks that work well with them.
- 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.
- Only helps in building the user interface of a website, meaning you'll need to use other development solutions.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
The most popular frameworks for headless front-ends going into 2022
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 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 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 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 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.
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:
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 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.
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.
As more digital channels enter the market, the need for seamless multichannel content publishing is rising exponentially. A h
eadless 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.