CMS Terminology 101: From Headless CMS to WYSIWYG

Stefan Schinkel

The CMS landscape can seem complicated.

Every year it seems that new acronyms and terms are coined, while existing terminologies take on new meanings. It can be hard to keep track of the definitions of these phrases, especially if you're choosing a CMS after years with a legacy vendor.

To help you get to grips with the word on the CMS street, we’ve compiled a comprehensive CMS Glossary of Terms, featuring an extensive CMS acronyms list.

CMS Terminology:


An API — application programming interface — is a way to simplify communication between two separate systems to share data and functionality. APIs have grown in recent years because they enable websites, mobile apps, IoT devices, and more to connect with CMSs and other backend systems. The most common set of standards for APIs were REST and SOAP, but many modern APIs are following the GraphQL approach.


GraphQL is a data querying language and runtime engine for APIs. The technology allows developers to define the data they want to retrieve without requiring an understanding of the APIs backend architecture. Many developers feel that GraphQL is more efficient than REST because responses contain exactly the data they want — there’s less chance of underfetching and overfetching data. dotCMS includes robust APIs, low code custom APIs, GraphQL support and more for high interoperability.

Digital Experience

A digital experience is an interaction between a brand and its customers. With customers demanding interactions on numerous devices and touchpoints, digital experiences have been at the forefront of modern digital marketing. For many companies, providing digital experiences has evolved into omnichannel marketing.

Digital Experience Platform

A digital experience platform (DXP) is an integrated set of tools for creating and managing the customer experience. DXPs provide marketers with personalization, omnichannel, and content management capabilities. These platforms come in many forms from a single DXP suite solution to a group of integrated best of breed applications or anything in between.

Headless CMS

A headless CMS removes the presentation layer of content management completely. Authors can create and edit content within its interface, but it’s up to developers to proactively build a frontend and retrieve the content via APIs. And because the CMS isn’t aware of the frontend at all, the authoring environment is usually form-based and lacks contextual editing.

Decoupled CMS

A decoupled CMS — similar to a headless CMS — separates the authoring and delivery of content. The main distinction is that these systems typically offer additional templating tools and facilitate authors in preparing content for publishing, but it’s still up to developers to create the frontend presentation layer themselves. See Hybrid CMS.

Hybrid CMS

A hybrid CMS combines the authoring experience from a traditional CMS with the API-driven content delivery of headless CMS or decoupled CMS. This means developers can create a variety of frontend presentations while still allowing marketers to manage content effectively.

Further Reading: How to Choose a Hybrid CMS

Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a software delivery model that provides customers with a cloud-based solution for a recurring monthly fee. The software vendor handles all the infrastructure requirements to deliver a scalable web-based application based on an SLA.

Platform as a Service

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud computing model where the vendor provides infrastructure and tools for developing software using specific technologies. PaaS is a cost-effective way for developers to build and deploy applications.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service is a cloud-based infrastructure service. IaaS vendors like AWS and Google Cloud offer cloud-based storage, networking, and other basic infrastructure as an alternative to self-hosted hardware investments. Most IaaS solutions are pay-as-you-go and offer flexible and scalability at relatively low cost.

Service Level Agreement

A service level agreement (SLA) is a contract between a software vendor and its customer that outlines performance metrics like uptime and availability, penalties for not meeting the terms, and many other essential details SLAs are crucial for ensuring an amicable relationship between SaaS vendors and users.


WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get — is an editor for rich text fields in a content authoring UI, where editors have a Word-like editing experience. Mainstream solutions are TinyMCE and CKEditor, but most traditional and hybrid CMS solutions offer WYSIWYG authoring tools to streamline content creating and editing.

Content as a Service

Content as a Service (CaaS) is an approach to content management similar to headless. With CaaS, the CMS makes content available via APIs in a way that’s frontend agnostic. That means developers are free to consume the content in a variety of ways from mobile apps to websites or voice-enabled devices.

Single Page App

A single-page app (SPA) is a web application that updates based on user navigation dynamically within the browser without loading an entirely new page. A SPA either loads everything necessary for the application — HTML, CSS, and JavaSript — one time up front or dynamically pulls the necessary data from the server based on user input. Web apps built with popular front-end frameworks like React, Angular, and Vue are SPAs.

Progressive Web App

A progressive web app (PWA) is a modern web application that also has many native mobile app features as well such as push notifications, offline functionality, and access to device hardware like geolocation. In addition, PWAs are responsive and built to work well on nearly any browser. Most modern frontend frameworks also support PWA functionality.

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Accelerated Mobile Page (AMP) is a framework for building high-performance web pages. AMP Pages utilize restricted HTML, a JavaScript library that manages resources and caching on CDN networks to improve the speed and responsiveness of websites. This increased performance comes at the cost of UI customization options and developer flexibility.


Personalization is a digital marketing strategy that focuses on tailoring content and digital experiences to individual users, audiences, or market segments. Many organizations leverage customer data to tailor their content, email, and social media campaigns to specific interests. The use of browsing history, real-time behavior analytics, and other advanced data processes has been termed hyper-personalization.

Further Reading: dotCMS Personalization: How It Works

Version Control

Version control is a way to track and manage revisions, versions, and backups of content, documents, digital assets, or code. For many large enterprises, having an audit trail of digital information is critical for compliance. Version control is crucial for both software development and content management, as it allows marketers or developers to revert to previous versions of a file or view edits made by other team members.

Best of Breed Software

Best of breed software are applications that focus on becoming the top solution in a specific niche or category. Most best of breed software also include integration points like APIs to enable a best of breed approach to the MarTech stack or digital experience platform. The main benefit of best of breed solutions is the ability to choose the applications and functionality to meet specific business requirements.

Suite Software

Suite software are large sets of applications from a single vendor that provide a broad range of functionality around a particular business need such as content management or digital experience management. The main draw of suite solutions is the effort vendors put into delivering a seamless user experience across all modules, but they’re also often bloated with features that a appeal to a wide range of customers.

Further Reading: Choosing a CMS: All-in-One vs. API-first

Open-Source Software

Open-source software (OSS) is software with source code that’s free to distribute and edit by anyone. In most cases, OSS is developed collaboratively by a variety of software developers and a community of contributors. The most popular and widely used OSS is the Linux operating system, but even enterprise organizations are increasingly adopting open-source software.

No Code

NoCode is a way for digital marketers to manage and build content-rich and highly personalized customer experiences without relying on IT and development support. Generally, these tools offer WYSIWYG user interfaces with pre-built components that make up the building blocks of a highly sophisticated software solution. NoCode drives content agility and time-to-value, decreases the platform’s total cost of ownership, and unlocks technology resources to focus on innovation.

Further Reading: Why a NoCode-first CMS is the Only Way to Support Your Digital Marketing

Low Code

Low Code is an approach to developing applications or custom functionality that reduces heavy development requirements with traditional programming languages. Instead, low code platforms offer simple scripting languages that enable less technical users to build new functionality with ease.

Further Reading: What Is A Low Code Digital Experience Platform?


Multitenant software is hosted on shared infrastructure that servers multiple independent users, which is a common approach for SaaS solutions. This means data is centralized in one location and a single instance of the software is maintained. The multitenant approach to content management means content managers can share and reuse content across multiple websites or channels to achieve better efficiency and greater brand consistency. That’s why multitenant is especially popular with large international organizations.


Multisite is the ability of a CMS to manage more than one website from a single software instance. This means companies can easily manage many websites, but there are often limits to the scale of multisite deployments that cause enterprise organizations to consider multi tenant solutions. Multisite, however, is still useful for companies that require multiple databases or infrastructure for each website.

Further Reading: dotCMS & SAML Authorization: Multi-site Management and Enterprise Security

Static Site Generator

A static site generator (SSG) takes raw content and templates as input and generates pre-rendered web pages. These static web pages are generally faster to load and more secure, but they lack the modern features of dynamic web pages. The most popular SSGs are currently Gatsby.js, Next.js, and Hugo. Many companies even choose to integrate their CMS with an SSG.

Multichannel Marketing

Multichannel marketing is a strategy for providing a customer experience on a multitude of devices and touchpoints from websites and mobile apps to IoT devices and digital signage. The catch is that they’re not integrated as they are with an omnichannel approach.

Omnichannel Marketing

Omnichannel marketing is a strategy for delivering a seamless customer experience across a wide variety of devices and digital touchpoints. This goes a step beyond multichannel by integrating the separate channels into a cohesive customer experience. Omnichannel means branding is consistent and the customer can easily switch channels throughout the buyer journey.


In the CMS industry, taxonomy refers to the content structure or the hierarchy and relationship between content. Taxonomy is crucial for the organization and searchability of content within a CMS. The key elements of taxonomy are metadata like tags, categories, descriptions, and more.

Further Reading: dotCMS Taxonomy Explained


Multi-cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses more than one cloud provider to deploy applications. By using many different cloud vendors at once, companies reduce their exposure to vendor lock-in.

Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud is an approach to cloud computing that combines both private clouds — either self-hosted or cloud-hosted on-location — and public cloud solutions to form an overall infrastructure. This brings a mix of benefits ranging from improved security to reduced costs.

Further Reading: Why dotCMS Is Your Hybrid Solution


Microservices are the loosely coupled components that form a complete application with a service-oriented architecture (SOA). This modular approach to software development makes it easier for developers to build and maintain complex software because smaller teams can work with particular components in isolation. Microservices are in direct contrast to traditional monolithic software.

Digital Asset Management

Digital asset management (DAM) is a system for organizing and retrieval digital assets such as photos, audio, and video and other media. Enterprise companies have a large number of digital assets, so they need a system in place for tagging, indexing, and search through this vast data store. DAM systems are often closely integrated with CMS solutions. dotCMS, for example, has numerous out of the box integration options on its marketplace for third-party systems like the Widen DAM solution.


Interoperability is the ability of a particular application to integrate with external systems without substantial development effort. A highly interoperable system, for example, would have support for APIs or OSGi to share data and functionality with third-party systems. In addition, highly interoperable CMSs like dotCMS have out of the box integrations with other best of breed platforms.

Further Reading: APIs and API Tooling in dotCMS


Extensibility is the ability for a particular application to be extended to include additional functionality. A highly extensible system may have a microservices architecture, support plugins or additional custom modules, or offer additional tooling that makes it easier for developers to add additional features.

OSGi Alliance

The Open Service Gateway Initiative (OSGI) Alliance is a framework for building and deploying modularized Java software. The specification defines modules as bundles or plugins and relies on a container to register and deploy the plugins. The bundles are self-contained and interact through specifically defined services to enable a service-oriented architecture (SOA) without dealing with dependency conflicts — a common challenge with Java applications.


Serverless is a form of elastic clouding computing, meaning the server scales up and down to utilize resources more efficiently. While serverless doesn’t actually eliminate servers, from the developer’s perspective there’s no need to understand the cloud infrastructure to run their applications. Popular serverless services include AWS Lambda and Microsoft Azure handle all the infrastructure needs, so development teams can focus on developing their core product.


Containerization is an alternative to virtualization that enables developers to consistently deploy software on any infrastructure. Applications or components are encapsulated into lightweight containers that contain all of their dependencies to run properly without conflicting with other containers at runtime. Containerization offers many benefits from ease of development to greater security and speed after deployment. That’s why containerization is often used for microservices-based software.

Further Reading: The Benefits of Containers: Security, Speed, & Microservice Compatibility


A microservices architecture modularizes complex software into smaller independent components that communicate with each other through specific interfaces. This approach to software design makes it easier for software developers to build and maintain sophisticated applications.

Content Delivery Network

A content delivery network (CDN) is a set of globally distributed servers that caches web pages and delivers them from the server closest to end-users geographically. This brings enormous speed and performance benefits to high traffic websites.


JAMStack is a framework for building purely frontend applications using JavaScript, APIs, and HTML/CSS Markup. The client-side approach promises cheaper, more secure, and higher performing web applications that are easier for developers to build. JAMStack fits in with the SSG approach as well.

Edit Mode Anywhere

Edit Mode Anywhere is a dotCMS NoCode authoring environment that allows marketers to edit content of frontends ranging from SPAs to mobile apps or digital kiosks — even if they’re hosted external to the CMS. The intuitive interface features drag-and-drop, live previews, and more.

Further Reading: Deep Dive Into Edit Mode Anywhere

Headless Commerce

Headless commerce combines headless content delivery with eCommerce capabilities to deliver a modern digital shopping experience. Typically the headless CMS and eCommerce platform are integrated via APIs like most best of breed approaches to building digital experiences. The eCommerce platform handles the shopping cart, checkout, and payment processing, while the CMS acts as a centralized hub for product descriptions, inventory information, and other content.


DevOps is a set of best-practices for streamlining the development and delivery of software. A key aspect of DevOps is an automated continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline that reduces the time to market and improves the quality of the end product. When implementing DevOps, most organizations require a cultural shift for greater collaboration between development and IT operations teams.

Content Repository

A content repository is a centralized place to store digital content. CMSs have allow users to search and use content from the repository to build digital experiences. The way content is stored in the repository varies depending on whether the CMS is page-oriented or content-focused. For more see Page-based CMS vs Content-centric CMS.

Delivery Tier

The delivery tier is the component of the CMS architecture that retrieves and displays content to the end user. With a traditional CMS, the delivery tier is tightly integrated with the authoring tier, but with headless and decoupled CMS solutions the tiers are completely separate.

Authoring Environment

The authoring environment is the capabilities a CMS has for creating, managing, and editing content or digital experiences. Many modern CMS solutions include visual or WYSIWYG interfaces to streamline the workflows of content authors. While headless CMSs often have limited authoring environment, hybrid solutions like dotCMS provide innovative authoring tooling.


A widget is a small, interactive software components. With dotCMS, widgets are dynamic content that can easily be created and reused across front ends by nontechnical users without HTML or Velocity knowledge. Widgets include RSS feeds, news listings, or other dynamic content.

Experience Orchestration

Experience orchestration, also referred to as customer experience management, is the set of tasks required to deliver a brand experience across all touchpoints and interactions with a customer. While many digital experience platforms force marketers to rely heavily on IT and development teams, dotCMS has been paving the way for codeless experience orchestration.

Layout as a Service

Layout as a Service is a step beyond Content as a Service (CaaS) and headless content delivery. While CaaS gives developers control of the frontend tooling they can use, marketers still lack context to the content their creating and editing. Layout as a Service, however, lets marketers edit entire page layouts using templates, contextual rendering, and more. And developers are still able to integrate with the frontend frameworks of their choosing using APIs.

Scripting as a Service

Scripting as a Service is an innovative extension to dotCMS scriptable APIs. Using low code velocity scripting, developers can generate custom API endpoints on the fly to integrate with a variety of frontends and legacy applications with ease. It’s a simple as including velocity within the JSON request to the dynamic endpoint, and dotCMS will render the script dynamically during runtime.

Further Reading: Scripting as a Service: A Look at dotCMS’s Scriptable API Builder

Page-based CMS vs Content-centric CMS

A page-based CMS, like most traditional CMS solutions popular in the past, are focused on building traditional websites. The content is edited and stored based on templates, themes, layouts, and more. Content-centric CMSs, on the other hand, everything is content as defined by various default and custom content types. With this approach, content is much more reusable across a variety of omnichannel devices than a page-based CMS that forms content to websites. dotCMS, for example, is a content-centric CMS that flexibly stores content so that pages can link to content, but not dictate how the content is stored.

Stefan Schinkel
Chief Revenue Officer
May 11, 2023

Filed Under:

hybrid cms

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