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Nothing Scary about Headless Drupal!

By: Monique Muldrow

Headless Drupal – it sounds frightening!  But rather than a nightmare, Headless Drupal is a dream come true for association websites and apps.

Drupal is a popular free and open-source web development platform.  It runs more than a million sites and powers some of the busiest ones on the web. 

Headless Drupal refers to the platform’s capabilities as a highly versatile content application programming interface that can easily be integrated with other technologies.

If that sounds a bit too ‘techno-huh?’, Kevin Leonard, association and non-profit engagement manager with Breakthrough Technologies, explains it this way:

“It’s using Drupal as a tool to do something other than power a website,” says Leonard.  “Headless Drupal architecture means that an association can manage data – images, pictures, videos, text, meta information – lots of different things, independent of that content being viewable via a website.” 

Headless website architecture is relatively new and a hot topic among developers because of the profound flexibility it offers in managing and serving up content.

“In addition to powering a website, a headless Drupal architecture can power the information that powers your apps,” says Leonard.  “It’s a very relevant development that will become more important as time goes on.  Headless architecture makes a platform like Drupal more than a content management tool for building a website.  It could be a content management tool for an application and a website and an app and even for something no one’s thought of yet.”

An example of the versatility of headless Drupal architecture is the website of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.  Video intensive and bursting with flashy “out there” design, the site uses different technologies to display that content.  Yet on the backend, the site has the usability and the content management tool of Drupal to direct it all.

So how can an association benefit from headless Drupal?

“When an association is building a website or looking to build their next generation app, a headless Drupal implementation – or a hybrid headless Drupal – may be a very cost-effective way to manage their data on a platform that has a long, successful roadmap ahead of it,” explains Leonard.  “And especially, as in the case of Drupal, a platform that’s specializing in structured data for devices and apps and whatever else the future will bring.”

Because Drupal is open-source there are no licensing fees, so an investment in the system is low.  Also, its ease of use, wealth of available modules, and the support of an enormous developer community have made Drupal popular among associations.

With headless Drupal architecture, information is maintained in an extremely flexible format, and the structure for how that data is used can be custom designed, managed and owned by an association, rather than being tied to some developer’s web portal.

The Breakthrough-developed Morton Arboretum app capitalizes on a headless Drupal architecture.  A vast array of Morton Arboretum information is stored using a headless Drupal content management tool.  All of that information is accessible through a secure API and queried by Morton’s mobile app or website.

“The system allows a Morton administrator to easily update content with fresh, new information using Drupal’s content management tool and have it take effect immediately inside their mobile app,” says Leonard.

“Using Drupal, you can create the structure where your information lives, manage it yourself, and own it.  It’s yours.  Your information is stored in Drupal, then that content can feed out to other technologies, like JavaScript, iOS and others, that display it.

“It’s kind of like a database, but a database with a really kickass way of managing the information in it!” 

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