Four Kitchens

Follow these steps to get decoupling’s website performance gains without the costs

5 Min. ReadDigital strategy

Decoupling is a trending topic among IT teams. Organizations are under pressure to deliver a fast, future-proof website that’s stable, scalable, and secure.

Why wouldn’t you seize every opportunity to secure these kinds of benefits?

Unfortunately, the decision to decouple isn’t that easy. While decoupling the backend of your site from its frontend offers a number of advantages, you have to also consider a few potential drawbacks. Your site editors and developers will experience dramatic shifts in how they manage and maintain your website. Plus, the associated costs to deliver the support and storage a decoupled site requires may outweigh the promised benefits.

For most larger organizations, both decoupled and more traditional CMS structures are valid choices. But by implementing a few changes, you can generate many of the core advantages of decoupling using your current site architecture.

5 advantages of a decoupled website

Decoupling your site’s data and CMS from the code that makes up its frontend experience is a decision that confronts many organizations facing increased digital demands.

From the beginning, decoupling provides promising solutions that resolve many common problems facing IT teams:

  1. More speed and scalability: Your website runs faster when your CMS is no longer required to manage your site’s data and render its frontend code. In the process, your site becomes better equipped to handle spikes in traffic.
  2. Greater publishing flexibility: Your website content becomes easier to share as a result of using an API to render your HTML web pages. Not only is your content no longer dependent upon your site’s frontend UI, but it’s also more readily distributed to multiple digital channels.
  3. Independent development: Breaking the backend of your site away from its user interface transforms development for each into a self-contained operation. As a result, your development teams are more specialized and complete projects faster.
  4. Easier redesigns: Updating your UI no longer demands you reconfigure the backend as well. Consequently, you no longer have to shut down one to update the other.
  5. Better component-based development practices: A decoupled frontend using JavaScript/React to create your UI opens up new possibilities by favoring a component-driven approach to design.

Why decoupling isn’t right for every organization

Given the potential gains, a decoupled architecture has grown in favor among IT teams. But the advantages of decoupling come at a cost — literally.

Decoupling demands more developer resources

Any CMS is a PHP application, which requires specialized expertise. Decoupled frontends, on the other hand, tend to be JavaScript-based, which requires its own set of skills.

Some developers are able to navigate between both worlds. But most programmers are specialized in one discipline or the other. Consequently, a decoupled site is very difficult to maintain with a small development team since both the frontend and backend of your site will likely require dedicated resources.

Your hosting needs also grow more demanding with a decoupled architecture. Instead of hosting one application, you will have to work with your vendor to resolve the storage needs for both your frontend and backend. You will need some engineering skills and an understanding of how to incorporate multiple ecosystems of tools.

Decoupling limits your site editors

Even as platforms like Drupal have opened up new possibilities for empowering your site editors, decoupling limits the capabilities of your team.

Tasks such as creating page layouts and making simple changes to menus grow far more complicated. In decoupled systems, your editors can’t just rearrange components in your CMS and see the results on the page. You can integrate a preview function into a decoupled architecture, but it requires a lot of planning and developer resources.

Ongoing developments like the decoupled menus initiative offer hope for the future. If implemented, Drupal 10 will have the ability to support modern JavaScript libraries. Though still in development, the next version of Drupal is coming sooner than you think. If the decoupled menus initiative progresses, then decoupling will introduce less of a burden on your site editors.

How to translate the benefits of decoupling to your traditional CMS

Most of the benefits made possible through a decoupled architecture are available through component-driven development. Instead of relying on an API for communication between your CMS and UI, you can use Storybook.

Offering a style guide for your site editors and developers delivers similar advantages as a decoupled site architecture.

Component-driven development lifts website performance

Through the capabilities of a component-based design system like Emulsify, you use the same tools to optimize your CSS and JavaScript as Gatsby would for a decoupled website.

Component-based development allows your site to only render the code that’s needed upon interaction with users. Instead of incurring high load times for unused features and rules, your CSS files grow leaner and more manageable. As a result, every page of your site runs that much faster.

Adopt best practices to speed up load times for users

Along with using a tool like Emulsify, you have other means to boost performance for your traditional CMS. Through proper caching, image magnification, and other advanced features in content delivery networks (CDNs), you can ensure your site runs at its best.

Slimming down and pruning your JavaScript and CSS coding are effective means of reducing load times for your users. Similarly, CDNs like Cloudflare have also introduced capabilities allowing your site’s images and code-intensive features to be cached and stored closer to your user’s location. By applying these approaches, you can deliver performance gains often associated with decoupled sites to your traditional CMS.

A component-based approach facilitates publishing to multiple channels

Establishing a component library allows your developers to verify that each part of your site will render properly on whatever channels they may appear. If a component is exclusively designed for one channel, your developer has the ability to include documentation outlining its use.

With a comprehensive style guide in place, your CMS can serve your website, subsidiary sites, mobile app, or whatever channels your organization uses. Through an API, decoupling offers the ability to future-proof your site for publishing across digital properties.

But if your organization doesn’t have realistic plans to use those other channels, then decoupling may be less of a priority. You’re incurring the additional costs and complexity of a decoupled site to support a future that may not arrive.

Adopt incremental shifts through progressive decoupling

Progressive decoupling provides a means for you to incorporate greater flexibility into the traditional site architecture. Rather than being locked into the consequences of splitting up the frontend and backend of your site, you can pursue a more incremental approach.

As your organization branches into publishing to new channels, you can design an API to serve any specific need. With careful planning, content for channels like a mobile app can be produced on equal footing with your website.

Clearly defined components empower site editors

Rather than placing restrictions on your site editors through decoupling, a component-driven approach opens access to the building blocks of your website. A style guide offers editors a library of proven, accessible components that make up every page on your site.

Ultimately, both decoupled and traditional site architectures can be configured to deliver the performance and flexibility your organization needs. By recognizing where your goals and resources lie now — and where they could go in the future — you can determine which approach is right for you, right now.