technology May 02, 2022

Front-end freedom - reaping the benefits of the headless CMS

The power and flexibility of the Cobalt delivery platform is increasingly being leveraged by users in pure headless implementations - aided by support for popular delivery technologies like Next.js and GraphQL.

By Francois Vermaut

Eidosmedia Cobalt Delivery

New Cobalt implementations | Eidosmedia

When we began development of the Cobalt content-delivery platform several years ago, we envisaged it from the outset as a ‘headless’ CMS - i.e. one allowing users maximum flexibility in tailoring their content for a full spectrum of digital destinations from web pages to mobile apps, audio formats and social media.

Nevertheless, we foresaw that, for some users, an incremental approach would allow them to get the most out of the new platform’s capabilities.

A hybrid alternative

We therefore decided to offer customers the option of an intermediate solution, based on a template engine like Freemarker - even though Cobalt was capable of delivering content through standard APIs to any compatible front-end application.

The Freemarker option allowed customers to use templates from a library to quickly build websites and other digital formats to deliver their content. It created what is often called a ‘hybrid’ solution, one offering more flexibility than a conventional ‘monolithic’ CMS, but without the full freedom of a pure headless delivery model.

The power of DIY development

Over time, the number and variety of digital formats and devices has grown and many of our customers have developed considerable expertise in building their own front ends, tailoring them closely to their own needs and those of their audiences. This approach has a number of important benefits for those customers who can adopt it:

  • reduced vendor dependency
  • shorter time-to-market for new and innovative products
  • close control over technology and brand identity in all output channels.

Cobalt supports this approach by exposing all editorial content in channel-neutral JSON format through its standard REST APIs.

API precision and efficiency

Many of the latest steps in Cobalt development have therefore been focused on catering for this kind of ‘power user’ - in particular working on Cobalt’s APIs to maximize the precision and efficiency with which the content hub can respond to front-end requests.

At the same time, the Freemarker-based delivery mode continues to be supported, as there are a number of customer applications in which it remains the optimal solution.

Working with Next.js - easier, faster

The Cobalt hub can feed content to any output framework equipped with suitably standard APIs , including users’ most customized creations. Nevertheless, as a reference implementation for our current development we have focused on Next.js - a powerful and widely used framework, very popular with developers because of its ability to build high-performing websites quickly and easily. (This choice in no way represents a constraint on Cobalt users who may build their delivery modules using any compatible technology.)

Next.js is already being used by several Eidosmedia customers to get the benefit of higher search engine ranking by improving the response speeds of their websites.

Configurable APIs

Another factor facilitating customers’ front-end development is the introduction of greater configurability into Cobalt’s REST APIs. This enables developers to adapt and optimize the working of the APIs to the specific output content they are using.

GraphQL - specific query targeting

Another important step in Cobalt’s development will be the introduction of support for the GraphQL query language. GraphQL allows extremely precise interrogation of the content hub, permitting components such as individual document sections to be retrieved without needing to retrieve the entire document. The more precise addressability reduces the number of ‘round trips’ required, resulting in higher performance and lower network loads.

In order to support GraphQL in Cobalt we’re creating specific GraphQL APIs, to be used as an alternative to standard REST APIs when query targets can be precisely specified.

Faster, simpler, better

The implementation of Next.js, together with the new GraphQL APIs offer a number of significant benefits to customers, including:

  • server-side rendering
  • better SEO
  • multipage applications
  • targeted fetching
  • faster, more efficient, querying and delivery

The overall effect is to reduce the complexity of the interfacing between the content hub and the websites, mobile apps and other user formats, boosting performance and improving the end-user experience.

Cobalt case studies

See Cobalt at work in publishing investment research and in digital sports reporting.

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