Miko Lehman

Headless Architecture: The Pros and Cons

When it comes to software architecture, there are lots of different viewpoints and schools of thought. Some people believe in a component-based approach, while others advocate for a hexagonal model or something more bespoke.

Headless Architecture

The drawback with such variety is that there isn’t a universally-agreed approach to software architecture. In fact, you could probably find as many variations on the subject as there are programmers in the world. In this blog post we’ll take an in-depth look at one particular architectural style known as Headless Architecture, what it is, its pros and cons, and how you can implement it in your own projects.

What is Headless Architecture?

If you want to start off with a definition, it is is an architectural style that builds software with no UI. In fact, the term “headless” was coined because UI-less software components are analogous to a decapitated body—meaning the head, or in this case the UI, is missing.

Briefly, headless architecture is a pattern used to split up an application into various services. It’s a methodology that embraces microservices, and while it doesn’t prescribe a specific technology or platform, it does have certain constraints. It also comes with a number of benefits and drawbacks, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this article.

Some people like to define headless architecture somewhat differently. They see the architecture as having no UI, but they also add that it has no database. This is actually a more accurate way to define headless architecture. Headless architecture without a database is actually a more general term than just “headless architecture.”

What Problems Does Headless Solve?

Headless architecture is a decent solution for many problems that are related to the UI. The first one is to decouple the front-end from the back-end. This is important because the two are usually developed by two different teams, and therefore need to be decoupled from one another. The two teams could also be in two different locations, which means a need to keep them decoupled.

Headless architecture also allows you to build microservices and break out parts of your application into microservices. This is, however, not a requirement of headless architecture, but it often happens. Another problem that headless architecture solves is better scalability. This allows you to break up your application into smaller parts, each of which can be scaled independently of the others.

Headless architecture: the basics

Headless architectures are created with no UI, and we’ve described why. The fundamental concept is to connect the front-end and back-end by creating a middleware that operates as a go-between. The API Gateway is this middleware. It receives all requests and routes them to the correct function. It also handles all responses by returning them to the requester.

You can implement the API Gateway in several ways. For example, a serverless system (for example, AWS Lambdas or Google Cloud Functions) is one method, while hosting the API Gateway as a standalone service is another. The single entry point is critical to your software.

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Pros of Headless Architecture

Different teams can develop in parallel – Because the API Gateway is a separate service, different teams can develop the front-end and the API Gateway in parallel. This is important because it isn’t uncommon for the front-end team to be significantly faster than the back-end team. If the two were to develop in lockstep, the back-end team would have to wait for the front-end team to finish their part, which would slow down the entire process.

No need to worry about the user experience – When you have a UI, you are responsible for the user experience. In other words, you have to make sure that the UI is well-designed, user-friendly, and easy to use. If you are building a web application, this means that you have to fully understand the principles of user experience design. If you are building a desktop application, you have to know how to create a user interface.

Scaling out becomes easier – In addition to making the development process more efficient, headless architecture also enables you to scale out your software more easily. With a traditional application, you have to scale out the front-end and the back-end together, which often isn’t an easy task. It often means rewriting your application to make use of multiple servers, which is usually a complicated process. With a headless architecture, on the other hand, scalability is built-in.

Cons of Headless Architecture

You lose the user experience benefits – Building a UI isn’t simple and comes with its own issues, but it also has many advantages. If you want to add a new function to your software, you can directly access the user interface, which makes it simpler to implement. With a headless architecture, you cannot access the user interface; rather, you must access the API Gateway, which is a more difficult process.

You get less feedback – Another problem with headless architecture is that you get less feedback from the front-end. Let’s say you are building a web application, and that application has a feedback button. When users click on the feedback button, the UI throws them into a form where they can provide feedback on the website. With a headless architecture, the feedback button just sends an API call to the API Gateway.

Summary

Headless architecture refers to an architectural style that produces applications without user interfaces. While it doesn’t specify a particular technology or platform, it does come with certain constraints. This post discusses the advantages and drawbacks of headless architecture in general. Headless architecture can address UI-related issues.

To begin with, you must decouple the back-end and front-end. Two groups typically produce the two groups, so they must decouple. Another benefit of headless architecture is its scalability. By splitting your application into smaller, independent parts, each of which you can scale independently, you can handle scalability.

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Author:

Miko Lehman

Write to me: m.lehman@gmihub.com

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