Four Kitchens

To decouple or not to decouple? The answer depends on your website (and your budget)

5 Min. ReadDevelopment

If your website buckles under the pressure of traffic spikes or you face long development delays to implement new features, you may have heard a “decoupled” or “headless” solution is the answer to your problems.

As the reach of your digital business has grown, so have the demands on your website. You need to develop new features and enhancements for your teams but also ensure the frontend of your website delivers a fast and flexible experience for your customers.

Decoupling is the act of separating your site’s data and CMS from the frontend code that renders your UI. It has been a hot topic among website managers for years for a number of reasons.

When it’s time for a website upgrade or redesign, decoupling is an important topic to discuss with your stakeholders as a potential path forward. In terms of providing a forward-thinking solution that’s scalable to any future need, decoupling is a tempting option. But do the benefits of decoupling really outweigh the costs? To ensure you’re not just pursuing a buzzword, your conversation has to start by weighing whether it’s the right path for your organization.

How does a decoupled website work?

Traditionally, CMS-based websites using platforms like Drupal or WordPress are built upon a monolithic architecture. Your website editors create, manage, and store content in your site’s backend. At the frontend, that content is rendered into your customer-facing UI. In these cases, all of the code that makes up your CMS, database, and design are wrapped up in a single application.

Decoupled websites have at least two independent applications—one that functions as the data store and one that manages how it displays. In between, there’s an intermediary API that provides a connection between the data in the backend and the frontend that renders that data for the end user.

Sometimes, decoupled websites use a Javascript-based static site generator like Gatsby to render frontend templates for digital channels. Site managers also have the option to link multiple frontend channels to the backend API for what’s often called a “headless” architecture. In those cases, there is no default frontend system that defines how the content will appear to users. Your users could consume the same content on your traditional website, a mobile app, or even through a voice interface like Alexa.

Granted, breaking apart the frontend and backend of your site has advantages. But you have to also consider the complexities of a website built on multiple systems. A decoupled frontend design may provide the speed and flexibility your users need. But for all the significant benefits decoupling provides, they also come at a cost.

6 reasons an organization would consider decoupling

Your administrative efforts are more streamlined under a traditional, single-application architecture. However, in some cases, decoupling provides organizations with a level of flexibility that’s otherwise impossible to reach. Here are some common reasons organizations might pursue a decoupled solution:

  1. Pace of development is too slow for your stakeholders: In a monolithic website architecture, your development team works on new features for both your frontend and backend. With a decoupled system, you can have two independent teams developing components simultaneously. Plus, when one team upgrades your CMS or design, their work has no bearing on the other.
  2. Future-proof your current website and its CMS: If your organization often changes design templates, a decoupled site architecture allows for the development of a new frontend without the need to rebuild the whole system. If you’re happy with your CMS, it can serve a completely new design or frontend framework without requiring changes to the CMS itself.
  3. Faster website performance: Your site’s frontend runs more efficiently when freed from the full database that constitutes your website backend and its technical debt.
  4. Better site performance leads to better scalability: A decoupled frontend better prepares your website to handle traffic spikes and deliver a consistent user experience.
  5. Greater support for a service-oriented architecture: Decoupling allows greater site flexibility if your organization’s digital needs are expanding to incorporate services from AWS or another cloud-based platform.
  6. You need one application to manage multiple frontend designs—and vice versa: Large or complex organizations can use a decoupled architecture to publish content to different website frontends from a single CMS. Similarly, decoupling allows multiple data sources to be incorporated into a single frontend design.

The demands of a decoupled website may exceed your needs

A decoupled architecture provides more flexibility to both the frontend and backend of your website. But you first have to determine whether those gains outweigh the costs.

A decoupled website demands a broader range of expertise than a traditional, monolithic CMS. If you have an in-house team of developers, they may need to learn new skills to maintain an independent frontend. But more likely, your organization may face a challenging recruitment effort to satisfy the development needs for both applications.

Just as Drupal developers offer specialized skills for backend administration, frontend frameworks require the expertise of a JavaScript engineer. To benefit from a decoupled architecture, it’s easier to onboard a new team to manage the frontend of your project—and that requires an investment. Or, given the complexities introduced by decoupling, you can work with an outside partner to provide the additional skills you need.

Ultimately, your decision to decouple is rooted in the needs of your content and the user interfaces you manage. If your organization has grown beyond a single frontend experience or needs to launch new designs on a consistent basis, decoupling will likely prove worthy the investment.

Don’t make the decoupling decision alone

Moving to a decoupled website architecture demands careful consideration. However, you can implement its use in various ways to satisfy specific website needs.

Along with breaking apart the frontend and backend systems of your site, you can also decouple small components. For example, organizations like universities can break out small applications to serve course schedules so the website runs more effectively. Through progressive decoupling, you can introduce á-la-carte microservices to enhance your existing monolithic architecture.

Deciding whether decoupling is right for your organization is a complex decision. But it’s not one you need to make alone. At Four Kitchens, we have the expertise and experience to help you weigh the costs and benefits. Then, if decoupling is right for you, we can build out the applications to serve whatever your decoupled architecture needs. Contact us to find out more.