The Headless Hero: Why Decoupled Drupal Is Gaining Ground

We recently wrote about a transformation of the web as we know it: new interfaces and devices that bring sweeping changes, including a potentially website-less future. Wearables, IoT, conversational interfaces, and more have started to establish themselves in the digital marketplace and they’re changing how we experience the internet, which requires us to evolve how we develop for the web.

With near-constant connectivity, the newly web-enabled devices continue to need the content their predecessors, websites, do. Though the content may be identical in substance, more or less, it is rarely the same in presentation or format, which complicates the way we develop. Delivering content can have vastly different requirements from one setup to another, and it can be needlessly cumbersome if we adhere to our old solutions. That’s why we’ve spent a good deal of time over the last couple of years getting very good at decoupling.

A Conscious Decoupling

Decoupling the backend of a content management system (CMS) from the frontend is a proven solution to many of the issues that arise when we shift away from standard, website-only deliveries. While it isn’t exactly new, as the digital landscape changes, it is increasingly important.

Erin Marchak, Associate Director of Drupal Practices at Myplanet, has been working with decoupled Drupal with increasing regularity over the past two years and knows the advantages of it well. Having deployed it in a number of projects and presented on the topic on several occasions, she’s an advocate for the decoupled approach.

“Decoupling allows the front-end development and back-end development to be separate, but still work together,” she says. “Front- and back-end teams can work at their own pace, resulting in a system that has fewer blocks in development at the outset, and takes advantage of the (typically greater) longevity of back-end structures over time, saving both effort and money.”

As a Drupal-focused organization, this means we’ve focused on Drupal decoupling and finding the best ways to achieve that. We’ve made no secret of the fact that we’re huge fans of Drupal, and one of the many reasons we are is the API-first approach that Acquia has taken with Drupal, which makes decoupling straightforward.

Off/On With Its Head

Because it’s API-first — as opposed to API-only — Drupal can allow for creating both coupled and decoupled instances. With the flexibility to create either option, the solution can be dictated by the circumstance at hand. “Drupal shines when it’s positioned both for editors and for application developers” says Dries Buytaert, Founder and Lead Developer of Drupal and CTO of Acquia. Having worked extensively with both coupled and decoupled Drupal, a solution that does both simultaneously is something we know works as a versatile and streamlined solution for our customers.

“Content management systems need to serve content beyond editor-focused websites to single-page applications, native applications, and even emerging devices such as wearables, conversational interfaces, and IoT devices,” notes Dries.

“One of the biggest advantages we’ve found with a decoupled approach is that the final output can have multiple heads. It’s much more flexible for front-end development,” notes Erin. “Being able to serve content to multiple instances, whether it’s a website or a native app or TV set top box — as in the case of a prototype we recently built for a media company — makes a big difference to content authoring and management, especially when applied at scale.”

API-first FTW!

In their annual ranking of content management systems known as the “Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management”, Gartner puts Acquia, the biggest sponsor of work for / contributions to Drupal, among the leaders in the field. One of the reasons cited for their high praise of Drupal is its API-first approach.

In an interview with CMSWire, Mick MacComascaigh, Research Vice President and Co-author of the WCM Magic Quadrant, said, “The idea of decoupled is extremely important, but we’re in favor of head-optional as opposed to headless. And we’re in favor of API-first as opposed to API-only.” Not every instance requires a decoupled solution, but for those that do, the flexibility to choose yes or no is a huge advantage.

Myplanet is not new to the decoupled Drupal scene. From consumer apps for retail companies to interactive information delivery for travel sites, we’ve had a fair bit of opportunity to deploy a decoupled Drupal instance. Enough, in fact, that alongside fellow Myplanet developer Justin Longbottom, Erin has presented multiple times on the topic of decoupling and this year she’ll be joined by Senior Front-End Developer Yuriy Savenko at the upcoming DrupalCon in Vienna to present on progressive decoupling. (Ed. note: stay tuned for an upcoming article on the topic as well!)

It’s an area that is clearly growing, as the API-first approach gains momentum and the changing digital landscape demands more flexible solutions.

Interested in finding out whether decoupled Drupal is right for you? Contact us here.