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API-Based CMS vs Traditional CMS

Posted by Roger Jin on September 25, 2023

If you’ve worked with content management systems in the past, you’ve likely worked with a traditional CMS like WordPress, Drupal, or RefineryCMS.

API-based CMS’s, also called “headless” or “decoupled” CMS’s, provide a UI and storage for editing content, along with an API for integrating that dynamic content into your website.

So why would you want to use an API-based CMS instead of a traditional CMS?

In a gist, API-based CMS’s offer all the same editing capabilities of traditional CMS’s, but are significantly easier for developer to setup and maintain. This means your developers spend less time and money working on your CMS, and more time focusing on things important to your business.


Here’s a table comparison:

  Traditional CMS API-based CMS
Setup Website must be built “on top” of the CMS, requiring you to learn and (re-)build your website based on CMS rules and processes. Add CMS functionality where needed with just a couple lines of code.
Hosting Requires a database and specific server hosting. Requires no-hosting (although there are self-hosted options)
Code Complexity Content, CMS code, and website code coexist and intertwine to create complexity and interdependence. Content exists separately and is rendered within website codebase via simple API calls.
Flexibility Website must be built in a specific programming language or framework. Integrates with any codebase.
Maintenance Security upgrades, database backups, etc. None

Ask most developers and they’ll tell you that working on content management ranks low on their list of interesting work. API-based CMS’s eliminate many of the pains of CMS’s so development teams can get the job done and move onto more important projects.


Roger Jin

Roger Jin is an engineer at ButterCMS. He loves talking and pairing with other developers. You can find him at where he will definitely reply to you.

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