Open Source Headless CMS vs ButterCMS: A Comparison

Posted by Ben Rogojan on April 16, 2020


Developing and managing blogs and other websites requires a lot of technical know-how if you were to build it from scratch. That is why many bloggers and even developers often rely on content management systems. These systems help simplify the development process often by removing the need to code or at least most of it.

For those who might still be unsure what a content management system is, the most well known by far is Wordpress. Wordpress is an open-source CMS among many in the marketplace.

However, there are many other great options for CMSs besides Wordpress and open source. Headless CMSs have become widely adopted as a means for providing more flexibility for marketers while simplifying your development process.

Of course, with all these options it can be hard to know which CMS to pick for your projects.  Do you want to take on using a Headless CMS for your project? 

To answer these questions, we will first review what is a Headless CMS, how it compares to the traditional CMS and then review several examples of open-source CMSs.

What Is A Headless CMS?

A Headless CMS is a content management system that operates via back-end only. It is built from scratch as a content repository which allows users to display content accessible on any device via RESTful API. This CMS includes no front-end and it uses an interface to add content with a RESTful API to deliver the specific content when needed. The structure is made in such a way that focus is not on how or where content is displayed, the focus is on storing and delivering structured content.

A headless CMS is a platform-independent option of content management that is available with cross-platform support. Not only do you get a free choice of technology but will also work with code simplicity. What's more, is that a headless CMS is not limited to websites, it also lets you deliver content directly through an API wherever required. Therefore you can deliver content for IoS, Android, or any other platform very conveniently.


Open Source Headless CMS Examples

The API approach of headless CMS is quite convenient and therefore many companies are trying to work their way into adopting this. Let’s talk about the most popular examples:

  1. Wordpress: Initially, Wordpress was created with traditional CMS to offer a simple mechanism to small enterprises. But now the trends have switched and bigger projects require greater control over their backend. Therefore, Wordpress utilizes built-in RESTful API to allow its users to manage content on the back end of their website. When using Wordpress as a headless CMS, users can make use of the admin panel to manage the content via API and the database to store their content. Through this, users can integrate different mechanisms or push the content to various platforms via the API. 
  2. Drupal: To embrace the modern web, Drupal 8 supports headless mode too. This allows users to load data from anywhere using the Drupal JSON API. With the headless CMS, users can manage their content through the admin interface and provide content through API endpoints. This also allows the developers to implement customized front-end with reusable components using modern frameworks.
  3. Ghost: Ghost is an open-source headless CMS built via Node.js technology stack. The core of this platform is based on RESTful API which is coupled with front-end and a decoupled admin client. It also comes with Handlebars.js as front-end, by default. It not only offers greater performance but also flexibility for organizations that wish to have greater control over their content management systems. 
  4. Cockpit: Cockpit is another self-hosted headless content management system that allows users to deliver and manage structured content. The headless CMS on the Cockpit is maintained and hosted by Netlify which offers support to multiple devices. The best part is that you can build unique applications and feed them content very easily via this platform.
  5. Directus: Directus is an open-source headless CMS that works by wrapping a custom SQL database with dynamic API. This offers the client an intuitive admin app that can be used to manage the content. With Directus, you can self-host and even use on-demand cloud services.
  6. Netlify: Netlify CMS is an open-source headless content management system that enables you to provide a friendly UI and workflow to editors on your GIT workflow. This platform can be used with any static site generator to create flexible, faster web projects. The application is built with react and is responsible for the creation of big names like Nike and Ghost.
  7. ButterCMS: This SaaS blog engine and headless CMS is built mainly for developers and marketers who require content API to build customized applications. With ButterCMS, you can manage a portfolio of clients and brands in one place and build a tech stack with SEO. It works efficiently and effectively with support for 20+ modern web technologies including React.js and Gatsby.js. Its flexibility and Headless CMS first design provide a lot of benefits for developers as it was made with them in mind.

Wordpress Vs. ButterCMS

Now let’s talk about Wordpress vs. ButterCMS which is more like Traditional vs. Headless CMS.

When working with Wordpress, you come across a technical architecture with the frontend tightly linked to the backend of code. It comes with a predefined generic theme and database along with Wordpress content schema which allows you to manually modify the database. So WordPress pulls content out of the database and pushes into the theme layout.

That being said, Wordpress has developed a “headless” option for developers to use with Worpress’s current infrastructure. But this Wordpress version of headless is technically a decoupled CMS. The difference being that Wordpress has just taken the current front-end and back-end and separated them. From there a developer can build on top of the Wordpress back-end. This provides some of the benefits of headless. However, because Wordpress was developed as a standard CMS first, it’s headless version is bogged down by a lot of the same problems like unnecessary plug-ins that slow down your website. 

ButterCMS, on the other hand, comes with a CMS dashboard and Content API. Basically, it is a Software-as-a-Service that hosts and maintains the complete platform. Here, you can query the API to pull content out of your app which can be created via tech stack of your own choice. You can also define your custom models as per company requirements.

Besides, ButterCMS offers some more advantages over Wordpress too. These include:

  1. Lightweight: ButterCMS can be used across multiple devices since RESTful API is used to pull content. This makes mobile applications as well as websites quite powerful and lightweight.
  2. Flexible: It has no tight coupling between the CMS and business applications which lets you choose freely whatever technology or framework you wish to deploy for the application. 
  3. Easy Redesign and Updates: Decoupling makes it easier for developers to redesign the website using whichever platform they like. Besides updates can be made via API.
  4. Control: As discussed earlier, ButterCMS allows users complete control over the backend of an application which allows them to create and deploy content through the admin interface.

Open Source Headless CMS Vs. ButterCMS

ButterCMS is a great API-based headless CMS and is a SaaS or closed-source CMS. Wordpress is the leading open source CMS.   Let us discuss some pros and cons of open source and ButterCMS:

  1. SaaS vs Hosting: This difference is important because when it comes to CMSs like Wordpress which is open source, the costs are not in the open source code but instead obfuscated by hosting costs, domain registration and so many other small fees that add up quickly. Compared to ButterCMS which uses a SaaS model. This can help your team see the costs up front
  2. End-User Driven Vs Engineer Driven: Many of you might not know the pain of using Git, but for many of us engineers it can be frustrating. This is because it was designed by engineers for engineers. Some similar things can be said about open source headless CMSs. Many of these tools aren’t developed as user friendly as proprietary software which often needs to take an end-user driven approach. This is why ButterCMS is designed to be easy to use as well as has lots of great documentation.  
  3. Light-weight vs Heavy Plugin Burdened code: Wordpress is open-source and offers over 1000 plugins to choose from for your web application. However, a common misstep from utilizing many of these plugins results in an unnecessarily heavier website. JSON-based RESTful API of ButterCMS solves this problem by offering lightweight code that can be easily integrated with other applications.



Content management systems are critical tools that make marketing your services or products to your audience faster and leaner. However, to target the right audience, you need to choose a CMS which aligns with the requirements of your audience.

On one hand, traditional CMSs offer simple workflows with a specific language and framework predetermined before you start. While a headless CMS, on the other hand, loosely couples front and backend of web applications to provide future proof and flexible web applications. 

One of the most popular headless content management systems here is ButterCMS; not only is it lightweight, but also very flexible. This platform hands over complete control to the user with how they want to manage their content. As a SaaS, ButterCMS handles CMS updates and enables your team with agile redesign capability, a must-have for competitive, growing businesses today. Making it a great choice for a headless CMS for your next project.

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Ben Rogojan

Ben works as a data scientist and technology consultant helping companies design, develop custom software as well as make good decisions on their future tech strategies. He enjoys writing and teaching others about all forms of technology wether it be about automation and machine learning models or CMSs.

ButterCMS is the #1 rated Headless CMS

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