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Whether it’s for SEO or to stay user-friendly, more and more people are turning to the likes of JAMstack for their website needs. This is usually followed by a reevaluation of their content management systems and, ultimately, a desire to try headless CMS.

The above story then leads to an inevitable question: which Headless CMS is right for my JAMstack development?

There are numerous options available, so there isn’t one clear answer unfortunately. It’s better to understand what some of the best headless options have to offer and how they align with your particular goals. JAMstack developers have their own preferences, and the right CMS can either greatly help - or greatly hinder - your workflow.

What is JAMstack?

If you want something fast and secure, a JAMstack website is the way to go. Short for JavaScript, APIs and Markup, JAMstack development keeps to web-friendly roots. While it sacrifices heavier elements, instead relying on static websites and the increased performance, whether it’s speed, security or SEO readability, that comes with them.

What is Headless CMS?

In most typical content management systems (CMS), there is an attached frontend. If we use WordPress, as an example, the website’s frontend is dedicated and restricted by WordPress. Not only does this limit the content side of operations - new pages need to match the narrow confines of existing templates - it greatly hinders the frontend in terms of design, performance and optimization.

Headless gets around this by removing the aforementioned head entirely. As a purely backend operation, headless CMS uses API to attach to the frontend - which means developers can create whatever website is needed to display the content. In other words, it treats the CMS more like a database, with content pulled on request.

Git or API?

If we were to split Headless CMS into two categories, we have Git and API-based systems.

At a broad level, since Git also offers API, we’re really only adding an additional (and mostly automated) step into the process.

However, when we look at the further differences, it’s important to note that the average developer is likely already familiar with Git repositories, like GitHub. They’re great for rolling-back, they can enable wider teams to work in a single location (for consistency) and their open nature means we can all work with the tools we’re already familiar with. It’s holistically intuitive for most developers.

On the downside, we’re limited to any Git-based restrictions. If we want to pull from additional sources, like apps or other sites, we can’t do this directly via Git - at least not easily or effectively. Likewise, for projects with huge volumes of content, or those with rapid, frequent changes (such as changing stock figures, for example), this approach also becomes less appealing.

The PB&J of Fast & Dynamic Websites

If you combine both JAMstack and Headless CMS, it’s easy to see the benefits. The former wants to stay fast and flexible through API, which is exactly what the latter specialises in.

Naturally, we recommend this for websites that have high content requirements.
E-commerce is the perfect example. Product information is essential and you need a website that performs well (especially on mobile) and adapts to your content requirements, not the other way around. Likewise, e-commerce and other businesses have additional pages, from blogs to investor information, that need to be displayed in unique ways. With JAMstack, you can configure each area or section as needed, using API to effortlessly call the content for each section.

(Well, there’s a little more to it than that, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Choosing The Right Headless CMS

Deciding on JAMstack is easy, but there’s more than one content management system out there and, what’s more, many of the leading WordPress alternatives are headless. And a lot of them are pretty good at it, too, which makes the choice all the more difficult.

Since every web project is unique, we want to showcase the best of the best - including both their advantages and drawbacks, to help you choose the right solutions for your web development needs.

However, there are things we look at as much as possible:

Support and compatibility: are there any major areas where the solution is the most agreeable, or simply isn’t viable? For example, we highly recommend Gatsby as a static generator, so a CMS that can’t work well with Gatsby would certainly stand out for all the wrong reasons

Needs for content teams: there’s plenty of advice on the technical side of things, but we also need to consider content teams, as they’re the ones that will use the service on a day to day basis. This means friendly interfaces, various content features (such as media) and the ability to support users and roles is essential.

Needs for developers: do you want something that works straight after implementation, or something that developers can fully customize if given the time? Depending on your JAMstack needs, you might favour one approach over the other.

Costs: Very few CMS are free (and we have a few here). Knowing what options are available and how far the tiers scale up will help you plan ahead.

ButterCMS

  • Supports: API-based, so most options, including Gatsby.js, JavaScript, React, Node.js, Vue.js, Angular & more
  • Unique features: multi-site support on higher plans
  • Usability for developers: API-based platform, highly compatible
  • Usability for content teams: clean and clear panels, field-based editing
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from €49 to €249 per month (discounts for annual purchases)

For Content Teams

ButterCMS is a classic headless CMS option in that it goes out of its way to evoke a WordPress-esque feeling. In other words, content specialists will feel right at home here.

In terms of features, ButterCMS has everything you need, but nothing much to stand out over the rest. It’s WYSIWYG editor (essentially a visual editor) is pretty bare-bones.

What’s more, ButterCMS also offers a migration service for WordPress blogs in its plan, which is a relief for companies with large, existing backlogs of content. There’s also support for multiple sites in the larger plans, too.

For Development Teams

First of all, ButterCMS is based purely on API and webhooks, making it ideal for pretty much any website as far as compatibility goes. Of course, the API-first approach is ideal for JAMstack. You’re free to use whichever language or framework you like - and the company even has a growing range of documentation to help.

This, combined with a testing environment, CDN support, and the previously mentioned multi-site support make ButterCMS a possible option for larger development teams that need to cover multiple websites.

Pros Cons
Larger plans support multiple sites A limited number of posts and pages in early pricing plans
API-based for high compatibility Poor visual editor
Clear interface  

Cockpit

  • Supports: API, JSON, JavaScript, PHP, SQLite, MongoDB
  • Unique features: none - another good all-rounder
  • Usability for developers: API-based platform, open-source
  • Usability for content teams: clean and clear panels, field-based editing, support multiple devices
  • Cost: Free (open source)

For Content Teams

In their own words, Cockpit is “simple, but powerful”. Its interface is clean and simple to get to work with - writers will have no problem here.

The biggest downside worth noting is that, as a purely headless CMS, Cockpit has no focus on visuals. This means there’s no visual editor or anything to help preview the pages. For this, you’ll need to work with your web team.

For Developers

Cockpit isn’t the most advanced CMS, but it is quite charming in its own way and ideal for headless architecture. It has an API-first approach and only stores the content, acting as the CDN on your website, with options to use MongoDB and other database solutions, should you prefer it.

The lack of visual editing is also part of this process. If you have a static site generator or frontend already prepared, Cockpit will fit right in.

However, Cockpit is completely open-source (with no paid support given) which comes with both pros and cons. Because it’s open, you’re free to code new solutions whenever you feel necessary, which ensures plenty of freedom. On the other hand, this means little support is given when you find a problem.

Pros Cons
Open-source Little official support
API-first approach No visual editor
Fairly compatible  

ContentFul

  • Supports: JavaScript, PHP, Android, iOS, Python, Java, Ruby, .Net
  • Unique features: none - it’s just really good all-round
  • Usability for developers: clean and clear panels, API & JSON
  • Usability for content teams: clean and clear panels, field-based editing
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $489 per month

For Content Teams

For Content teams, this CMS focuses on a clear administration panel with its own tab - the Content Model - which is incredibly flexible. Furthermore, everything can be customised via content types so that those of the same type - such as blogs, for example - are grouped together for convenience, making work as easy as possible for content production. It’s also intuitive for anyone coming directly from WordPress.

Each type can have 50 different fields, ranging from essential system properties (sys) to various content specifics, such as text, date, media and more. Through these fields, content can be customised as needed. Many of these fields have more than one variation - text, for example, can use a different field depending on if it’s a short title, long title or paragraph, or if a number is an integer or decimal.

This is probably the hardest part for content teams to learn, but it’s very easy once you get to grips with it. The maximum limit of 50 fields might also seem imposing but an individual page doesn’t often need more than 20 or 30 fields in reality. If you’re pushing the 50 limit, then that particular page would likely have performance issues and we’d recommend assessing whether or not you need so much content on one page.

For Development Teams

Developers will find plenty to like about ContentFul, as it also supports a wider range of languages beyond JAMstack to help with wider web needs.

ContentFul also takes all of the fields created in the content section and converts them into both API and JSON attributes, as needed. As long as your website is using these (and of course you are - you’re using JAMstack) developers and content means can often work side by side with no problems at all.

Pros Cons
Clear & intuitive user interface Expensive plans, especially at higher levels
Many content types supported Building with blocks also has its limitations
Building via blocks for faster work  
Media assets supported  

CosmicJS

  • Supports: RESTful and GraphGL API, JavaScript and various JS options, such as React, Node.js, Vue.js, Angular & more.
  • Unique features: automated backups, numerous third-party integrations included
  • Usability for developers: Cloud hosting included, API-based platform,
  • Usability for content teams: clean and clear panels, field-based editing, integrated with Slack
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $99 to €299 per month

For Content Teams

CosmicJS is a very user-friendly solution. It’s similar to WordPress (although not as advanced or cluttered) so most teams will have no problems learning their way around. Creating content, adding media, and scheduling are all included, naturally, but we find that automated backups are an essential bonus that many other options forget about. Because Cloud support is even provided on the free tier, CosmicJS is able to include this essential feature on all packages.

As an added bonus, it also includes prebuilt integrations for the likes of Slack and HubSpot, so it’s possible to add further marketing support beyond your content. If you’re going the e-commerce route, Stripe is also ready-to-go!

For Developers

If you’ve been in website development for 5 minutes, you know that any ending in “JS” is going the JavaScript route. For many, this is a plus - it means we’re able to utilize a wider range of web-friendly technologies, such as react and vue.js. As mentioned previously, these let us add dynamic elements when needed, while the headless nature of the CMS overall meets our wider JAMstack website development needs.

Furthermore, CosmicJS includes AWS integrations from the get-go and also includes Cloud hosting in every option. On the downside, on-premise support is only available at the higher enterprise-level packages, so if you don’t like the Cloud, you don’t have much support here.

Pros Cons
Includes integrations for AWS, Slack, Stripe, Algolia and HubSpot On-site or other options not supported in non-enterprise tiers
Compatible with a lot of JS technology Tiers have very specific limitations
Automated backups  
API-focused  

Craft CMS

  • Supports: API-based (including GraphGL and JSON)
  • Unique features: multi-site support, localization
  • Usability for developers: API-based platform, headless mode
  • Usability for content teams: field-based editing, image editor, live previews, customized dashboards and roles
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages starting from $59 per year (+$299 upfront fee)

For Content Teams

Craft CMS is designed with the content creation process as its priority, so writers, marketing teams and more will find plenty of useful additions here. It supports a wide range of content, as well as customisation and multiple sites from one Craft center.

If you add the likes of localization features, live content preview generations and even a native image-editor, Craft CMS really starts to show its value. Include customized dashboards and user roles and you have a solution for wider growing websites with more complex teams.

For Developers

The biggest feature of Craft CMS is its “headless mode”, enabling it to switch between a more traditional platform and a headless option. Needless to say, if we’re focusing on JAMstack development, we’re keeping this switched on.

This mode enables front-end routing optimized for fast performance. By default, this uses JSON over HTML, but all of this can still be further configured if your project needs it. In other words, it’s a CMS that makes it very easy to develop in the way that you require.

Pros Cons
Headless mode The pricing model is per project (with smaller annual costs)
API-focused  
User management  
Custom dashboards  
Built-in image editor  

DatoCMS

  • Supports: GraphQL API, Gatsby, Hugo, Next.js, Nuxt.js, Jekyll, React, Vue.js, Middleman
  • Unique features: Git-based
  • Usability for developers: clean and clear panels, API & JSON
  • Usability for content teams: extensible interface, real-time updates, friendly for content creators & editors
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from €199 to €1,500 per month (discounts for annual purchases)

For Content Teams

Similar to Forestry, this is another Headless CMS that has a backend heavily inspired by WordPress - because it works. However, DatoCMS is a little more immediately welcoming than Forestry.

What’s more, while the initial content input seems similarly simple, the addition of plugins and further customisations means the CMS can be catered to more specific needs without too much difficulty.

For Development Teams

If you want a CMS that’s easy to use and is highly agreeable with a wide range of other technologies, DatoCMS has a lot to offer. Even the free plan supports GraphQL API, and integrating with site generators like Gatsby or libraries like Next.js or React (used in Gatsby, of course) isn’t a problem.

Pros Cons
Simple UI Limited features (it’s built by a small team)
Support for site generators - including Gatsby Not the easiest solution to expand
Supports popular JS libraries, especially React Difficult to import & export from the CMS
Easy to set up and configure  
SEO previews  

Directus

  • Supports: API, Vue.js, SQL
  • Unique features: omnichannel support, lots of official support
  • Usability for developers: API-based platform, open-source
  • Usability for content teams: clean and clear panels, highly adaptable
  • Cost: Free, with additional support services available

For Content Teams

What Directus might lack in initial glamour, it brings in versatility. The CMS is designed to support numerous solutions, from traditional websites to kiosks and other interactive digital builds.

As such, when it comes to JAMstack website development, Directus will support you in whatever content you’re creating - including multilingual support, tables, text, media, and more.

For Developers

Directus arguably stands out in that it really takes its open-source nature seriously. All the essential elements, such as the API, SDK, and app, are available for free, giving developers a strong foundation for any type of set-up (naturally, as a CMS, the JAMstack approach is what we’re focusing on here).

Secondly, Directus pulls from SQL databases directly, so we can really lean into the headless architecture of JAMstack.

And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also in its 8th version, so you know it’s being regularly updated. If you’re wondering how an open-source project stays funded, Directus complements this with additional services, such as Cloud hosting, which may prove a highly useful option for some.

Pros Cons
Open-source Hosting not included in free tiers
Highly supported Open-source may still require unique development for the best results.
SDK, API & App all available  
Omnichannel support  
Pulls from SQL directly  

Forestry

  • Supports: Static Site Generators: Gatsby, Hugo, Grissom, Jekyll, 11ty, VUepress, Hexo, Next.js, Nuxt.js Host; Vercel, AWS, GitHub pages, Netlify
  • Unique features: Git-based
  • Usability for developers: works will all popular static site generators, one of the most popular git-based CMS, can change content in code editor with push changes through git
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, field-based editing
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $29 per month (5 users on base package)

For Content Teams

At first glance, Forestry is a little barebones. However, the layout is immediately reminiscent of WordPress, so this shouldn’t hold experienced content members back. What’s more, it also allows customisation on the sidebar and, with simple text boxes and fields, it enables a quick content creation process - a big plus for websites that focus on frequent production.

The fact that it’s Git-based also means that it works extremely well with static websites - which for content teams often means better SEO, among other benefits.

For Development Teams

Let’s address the most obvious difference: Forestry is Git-based, not API-based. As mentioned earlier, this comes at a trade-off - we’re sacrificing the option to easily implement additional sources (as well as more frequent updates) for a significantly more developer-friendly solution.

But it’s also easy to set-up - not only because of Git, but because it goes well with flat files. If you’re focusing on such static designs - and if you’re reading about JAMstack, we think you are - then Forestry is in its natural element.

Pros Cons
Git-based, great for developers Not great on more dynamic websites
Works well with flat files and static generators - including Gatsby Git-based restrictions
Instant previews No support for multi-media folders
  User interface could use some improvement

Headless WordPress

  • Supports: React, Gatsby, Next.js, REST, GraphQL, JavaScript, PHP, Android, iOS, Python, Java Ruby, .Net
  • Unique features: Keeps WordPress interface
  • Usability for developers: large community, many plugins available
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, field-based editing
  • Cost: Various solutions available

For Content Teams

Considering most CMS on this list do their best to imitate the look and feel of WordPress, content teams would find few faults with the headless WordPress system. There really isn’t much more to say - WordPress set the standard for how a CMS should look for content teams and it’s still very much the most widely used option today.

In fact, WordPress is so popular that there’s a very high chance it’s the first CMS most content specialists ever use. Its innate familiarity is something that many other options on this list try to evoke for easy usability, but it nonetheless gives headless WordPress a distinct advantage - in the backend, it’s the very same CMS content teams are use to, so there’s no problem adapting or learning a new system.

For Development Teams

WordPress was built with themes included and the removal of that thematic ‘head’ is a relatively new idea. It’s not an official, supported product so it requires a development team that’s willing to put the time and effort in, all to create something that exists in various other forms already.

Similarly, we also need to address the JAMstack issue. WordPress is built on PHP and, while many defend the latter as a web-friendly solution, it means adding another language to the tech stack. From a development point of view? If WordPress is kept in the backend and only sends data via API, this shouldn’t get in the way of a JAMstack frontend.

Pros Cons
Uses API - Jamstack friendly Not supported officially
Very familiar interface and UI for Content Teams Requires PHP

Netlify CMS

  • Supports: Gatsby, Hugo, Jekyll, Next.js, Nuxt.js, Middleman
  • Unique features: Git-based
  • Usability for developers: easy installation
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, instant access without GitHub account, fast, web-based UI & custom-styled previews
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from €45 to €1,500 per month

For Content Teams

As for as content options go, Netlify CMS certainly hits all the core needs. Alongside rich-text editing, there is a lot of drag-and-drop versatility that makes it easy to create new pages from various components - something that most content teams will find intuitive. It also enables real-time previews, which helps ensure content is working as intended before being published - something that’s important with JAMstack and headless backends, as we’re creating our own frontends, rather than relying on existing templates, after all.

Furthermore, content is collated in different Collections - Netlify’s answer to different types of content - for easy templating. Paired with the workflow tab, this ensures the admin panel is very simple and easy to use, but it does require additional development help for more advanced tasks, such as creating new collections.

In terms of content widgets (the forms and modules of this particular CMS), there are around 16 options, but more are being developed. So, from rich text and forms to media and maps, as well as core essentials such as objects and strings, Netlify has it covered.

For Development Teams

As an open-source CMS, there is certainly a lot of potential, but this also means you may have to customise something that would be available already in the larger, more expensive options. On the other hand, this freedom also results in few restrictions and a competent development team will have no problem making it work with their frontend plans if they’re willing to put the time in.

Netlify is also another git-based CMS so the same arguments for Forestry also apply here: git-based options make it easy to use, with rollback and automation thanks to Git, but can cause extra work if you want to pull anything from additional sources. Similarly, it’s also not great for large scale operations that want fast and very frequent updates.

It’s also relatively open, so if you want to create custom widgets, it typically isn’t a problem. In fact, the customisation is relatively free, but it rests heavily on the development side. This is often the nature of open-source projects, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Note: One thing we want to add here is that this particular option is available as the open-source Netlify CMS on its own - perhaps the more developer-friendly option, as well as a wider range of services, including hosting and analytics. Content-focused teams will have a better time with the wider Netlify services, but it’s naturally where the expensive packages start to appear.

Pros Cons
Git-based, but can support API through Git wrappers Wider services can be expensive
Clear and simple User Interface Open source means the documentation can vary in quality
Supports virtually all static generators, including Gatsby Not possible to schedule posts in default version
Open-source, so developers can configure with ease - great extension capabilities Free, open-source version will require developers to get the best results
Available with wider services, if needed  
Real time previews  

Prismic

  • Supports: Node, React, Next, Gatsby, Vue, Nuxt, JavaScript, Laravel, Ruby, Java, .Net, PHP
  • Unique features: Git-based
  • Usability for developers: multi-language support, image optimization
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, handy document tagging system
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $7 to $500 per month (discounts for annual purchases)

For Content Teams

Prismic’s clear UI can be seen from the immediate get-go. You can get anywhere in a handful of clicks, but this also comes at a cost: in this case, a simple lack of depth. Simply put, Prismic offers the most options in being able to publish and schedule content with ease but otherwise has a limited text editor. The lack of extensions can cause problems for more advanced content needs.

However, it does integrate nicely with Magento and Shopify, so it can prove valuable for e-commerce setups with less advanced or complex content needs.

For Development Teams

To be honest, while Prismic thrives in a ‘plug and go’ set-up, it doesn’t offer much expansion or adaptability. For many sites, this won’t be a problem, but more advanced sites, or simply those with some specific functions, might find the lack of plugins to be a severely limiting factor.

That said, what it does have is native integrations for both Shopify and Magento - so it’s a worthwhile consideration for e-commerce.

Pros Cons
Simple User Interface Does not offer text editor extensions
Easy for content teams to use Pricing is per-user, punishing larger teams
Native integrations with Shopify and Magento Plugin limitations
Easy to set up and configure  
SEO previews  

Sanity

  • Supports: React, REST, GraphQL, JavaScript, PHP, .Net
  • Unique features: Sanity Studio
  • Usability for developers: rapid configuration, works fast, open-source, highly customizable config
  • Usability for content teams: phone and other touch devices supported, real-time, paste formatted texts direct from Google Docs, Word & Web, Extensible UI
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $199 per month

For Content Teams

Sanity markets itself as one of the most flexible solutions and, while this is great in terms of development and web design, it arguably hinders content teams the most. If Storyblok is a headless CMS option designed to enable the content side as much as possible, Sanity is the polar opposite: it has much more freedom, but this requires more technical know-how.

Still, writing and adding content to Sanity isn’t a problem. With configurable content types and input boxes that are familiar to everyone, such as title, date, URL slugs and text fields, the essentials are nonetheless ready to go.

In short, if you have specific needs, Sanity needs some set-up time to get the most out of its open and flexible features first.

For Development Teams

Confident and competent developers will find plenty to like about Sanity. Its customization is near endless, thanks to open-source support, numerous plug-ins and the ability to create custom components as needed. Throw in an easy preview feature, and it’s a very developer-friendly option. It takes time, sure, but that’s because Sanity is one of the least compromising headless CMS options.

It’s also built on react and, naturally, is highly compatible with the ever popular web framework. We’re big fans of React and, as a JavaScript library designed for easy and performant frontend web development, it fits perfectly into the JAMstack strategy.

Where it falls short, however, is in a lack of support for webhooks. This, paired with a longer implementation time, means we only recommend it for experienced and capable developers.

Pros Cons
Supports React Some problems with webhooks - developers required
Plenty of customization Longer implementation times as a result
Strong official support  
Numerous plugins  
Visual previews  
Very developer-friendly  

Storyblok

  • Supports: Vue.js, Gridsome, Laravel, Nuxt.js, Gatsby.js, React, Svelte, Next.js, Ruby, django, PHP, Java, csharp, Swift, Kotlin
  • Unique features: Visual Editor
  • Usability for developers:clean and clear panels, API & JSON
  • Usability for content teams:clean and clear panels, field-based editing
  • Cost: Free option available, with packages ranging from $7 - $21 per user, per month

For Content Teams

The biggest and most noticeable difference with Storyblok, compared to other Headless CMS and WordPress alternatives, is the visual editor. This makes it easier for editors to make changes themselves, in a similar way to website builders such as Elemetor or Wix (but this comes at a cost for developers, which we’ll get to soon).

Storyblok also offers its own content models to select from. There are the usual suspects, such as text fields, headers, media and more, but there’s also the ability to include plugins and custom fields created by the team behind Storyblok.

Another key feature are the datasources. By creating datasources, the most repetitive information can be referred back to a central source ensuring it’s consistent wherever it appears. Whether its repetitive options (colour, size etc) on an e-commerce or ensuring the newsletter form stays the same everywhere you put it (on every blog, for example), the datasources take a little time to set-up at the start, but save time moving forward.

Overall, we find this particularly useful with the likes of Shopify. Here, we can take the existing platform provided by Shopify and rearrange elements visually, as needed, in Storyblok. It’s not the most technical, but it is quick and effective for similar results.

For Development Teams

Let’s address the elephant in the room: a visual editor means that Storyblok isn’t entirely headless. At least not in the way that development teams would like. This work model is great for content teams, but it means that the CMS isn’t truly acting like a database. For larger operations, where automation is more important, Storyblok will start to be a less attractive option.

Sure, the datasources are one way of working around this, but it’s not as effective as API. With API and JAMstack, information is updated everywhere due to being reloaded on new requests.

On the plus side, there are webhooks and triggers, all of which can be set in the content panels. While this meets most needs, it does result in a different work process - one suited for less code-heavy developers.

Pros Cons
Visual editor - great for content teams Poor support for Gatsby with no office image support
Supports multi-languages by default Not suitable if you require the CMS to act as the database

Strapi

  • Supports: node.js, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, SQLite, MySQL, MariaDBREST, GraphQL

    • Frontend: Gatsby, Vue.js, Nuxt.js, Next.js, React, Angular, Flutter
    • Hosting: Heroku, Digital ocean, Platform.sh, Netlify
    • Service providers: cloudinary, sendgrid, Algoria, Mailgun, redis, Sentry
    • Custom ecommerce functionality: shopify, Algoria, Paypal, Stripe, Braintree
  • Usability for developers: quick setup, customizable API
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, flexibility, easily manage SEO + metadata
  • Cost: Community Edition is free, but an Enterprise Edition is in the works

For Content Teams

One look at the interface and it’s clear that, like other entries on this list, we have another product aiming to be a powerful WordPress alternative. The interface is clean and inherently familiar, from creating different content types to managing user roles within Strapi itself.

That said, it’s worth noting that Strapi is still in development and, while funded, this means it’s not without the occasional limitation or hiccup. As such, we wouldn’t recommend it as a ‘plug and play’ solution, but its user-friendliness makes it a worthwhile consideration nonetheless.

For Development Teams

As we just mentioned, Strapi certainly isn’t the most in-depth product on the market. Yet it’s open-source nature, combined with the fact that it’s based on Node.js, makes it highly useful for our JAMstack needs. It’s also compatible with a wider range of database and SQL solutions, so developers will have no problems integrating it with the website or creating the exact data structure their current project requires.

It’s also supported by a wide community, which means there’s always a good chance you’ll get help somewhere… or someone is already working on an extension that can help your own project.

The biggest drawback with Strapi is the pricing model itself. The free version only supports a limited number of users and roles - and it looks like the Enterprise edition will be the premium version that unlocks wider support. In other words, don’t choose Strapi for large enterprises with a wide range of access needs, but do keep it in mind for small scale situations where only a handful of people need to use it; that’s where it will really shine.

Pros Cons
Clear and simple User Interface Open source means the documentation can vary in quality
Open-source, so developers can configure with ease - great extension capabilities Larger enterprise edition is still in the works
Based on Node.js  

TinaCMS

  • Supports: React, Gatsby, Next.js, REST, GraphQL, JavaScript, PHP, Android, iOS, Python, Java Ruby, .Net
  • Unique features: real-time visual editor
  • Usability for developers: clean and clear panels, API & JSON
  • Usability for content teams: basic interface, field-based editing
  • Cost: Free and open source, but an Enterprise Edition is in the works

For Content Teams

The most unique aspect of TinaCMS is that it doesn’t have a back-office editor to speak of - there’s no true admin panel like WordPress or the other options on this list. Tina wants you to work on the page itself, editing and saving changes in real time. There are many out there who surely appreciate this approach, seeing their edits made in real-time on the page itself.

However, for those that prefer to work in a more traditional admin panel, or the ability to schedule uploads, TinaCMS might not be right for you.Because there isn’t a backend to speak of, you still need some additional support for the content process. Information needs to be stored somewhere, for example, and unpublished works aren’t one of Tina’s priorities.

For Development Teams

If you look up TinaCMS online you’ll find two points, one being that it’s a good, versatile CMS and the other that it’s not a CMS at all. Fun fact: TinaCMS actually stands for “Tina is not a CMS”.

So, what is it?

Tina stylises itself as a “open-source site editing toolkit for React-based sites like Gatsby & Next.js”. For content-focused people, it’s essentially a visual editor. For developers, it sits somewhere between the project’s frontend and datasources (in this case, content). This ultimately means we also need the means to upload content, whether it’s through markdown or yml files). Source files are rewritten from the live editor - rather than making changes in the source files and pushing them to production. This is significantly less user friendly than other entries on the list.

From a technical point of view, it also only supports React-based frameworks, such as Gatsby and Next.js. So where does it shine?

Well, if your role is somewhere between developer and content specialist - ie, you’re building a small website and you’re the only person managing it from a technical and content point of view, TinaCMS has a broader range of flexibility. What it lacks in content options it enables through its visual editor and technical elements.

It’s also worth pointing out that it’s more of an experiment than a flagship product (it’s actually backed, in part, by Forestry). Still, if you’re a React enthusiast and don’t mind these confines, TinaCMS might just have a lot to offer you.

Pros Cons
Supports React-based frameworks No support outside of React options
Also supports Gatsby Not very user friendly for content teams
Live editor Operates very differently from other CMS, so will take time to get familiar with
  Not a good solution if you want to use the CMS as a database

Headless CMS Comparison

To compare these options, it really helps to put them side-by-side. Here, we wanted to go through some of the most essential elements:

  • Does it use API or Git?
  • Is there a free option available, whether open source, trial-based or otherwise limited. Doing so will let you experiment, at the very least.
  • Price range per month. Assuming you want the support or the full functionality, this is the kind of costs you can be looking at each month.
  • The number of users on the free and paid version. Larger companies have larger content teams and, thus, will need a solution that supports more roles.
  • Gatsby compatible - it’s one of the best site generators and perfect for JAMstack, so we considered this heavily.
  • Service Level Agreement (SLA) availability. With premium plans, an SLA is commonplace and keeps you safe if something goes wrong, whereas open-source solutions require you to maintain, update and look after the service.

Headless CMS for JAMstack Summary

  API or Git? Free Option? Price Range Per Month No. of Users No. of Roles Gatsby Compatible? SLA Enterprise/ Premium Plans?
Contentful API Yes $489 + 5 on free, 25 on paid plans 2 on free, 4 on paid Yes Yes
Storyblok API Yes $7 to $21, per user 1 on free, 30-80 on paid plans Custom (on higher plans) Yes Yes
Sanity API Yes $199 + 3 on free, 20 on paid plans Undefined Yes Yes
Forestry Git Yes $29 - $749 3 on free, 5-10 on paid plans Custom Yes Yes
DatoCMS API Yes €199 to €1,500 1 on free, 10 on paid plans Undefined Yes Yes
Prismic API Yes $7 to $500 1 on free, 3-Unlimited on paid plans Only on larger plans Yes Yes
Netlify CMS Git Yes €45 to €1,500 Unlimited Unlimited Yes Yes (but not on open-source CMS only)
Strapi API Yes Free Unlimited Unlimited Yes Yes
TinaCMS API Yes Free Unlimited Unlimited Limited No (Enterprise Edition is in early access)
Headless WordPress API N/A* N/A* N/A* N/A* N/A* N/A*
ButterCMS API Yes €49 to €249 Unlimited 3 (more on request) Yes Yes (on Enterprise Plans)
Cockpit API Yes Free Unlimited Custom (open-source) Yes No (Enterprise Edition is in early access)
Directus API Yes Free (additional services cost extra) Unlimited Custom Yes No (Cloud-support only)
CosmicJS API Yes $99 to $299 1 on free 5-10 on paid plans 3 Yes Yes
Craft CMS API Yes $59 (but one-off $299 per project) 1 on free, unlimited on paid plans Custom Yes Yes

*Headless WordPress is often custom, so results can be varied.

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