Why a Hybrid CMS Helps You Avoid Developer Lock-In

Stefan Schinkel

You’ve probably heard of vendor lock-in by this point, where businesses get trapped into an agreement with a single, monolith solution. Or maybe the SaaS trap, where SaaS companies promise you a certain number of features, but then alter the terms of the service.

While vendor lock-in and the SaaS trap are pitfalls which companies need to consider, there’s also a third kind of trap too: the developer lock-in.

The headless architecture in general and headless CMSs, in particular, are no different. They can also be very susceptible to developer lock-in because companies become too reliant upon developers to manage the ins and outs of the installation, making it unlikely for business users to even attempt managing things on their own.

At dotCMS, we strongly disagree with developer lock-in and want to give you the tools to make the most of our CMS. So, we decided to focus on an open source, hybrid headless architecture to provide every possible user with the tools to build things his or her way. Let’s dive deep into how we make that possible and go beyond developer lock-in.

What Is Developer Lock-in?

When it comes to building digital experiences, avoiding lock-in is one of the major timesucks for every person involved, which is why most companies look for solutions that, in appearance, prevent lock-in. However, what seemingly helps prevent lock-in, can sometimes lead to other restrictions that companies can fall victim to, even indirectly.

Types of Developer Lock-in

  • Product Lock-in: Sometimes, developers are used to working with a specific product. For instance, if they use Kubernetes or Cassandra, two open source products, chances are that even though they are free, that doesn’t mean that they don’t lock developers into a specific set of product APIs, configurations, and features. And if your installation needs heavy customization, you’re facing serious issues.

  • Version Lock-in: Often, developers only work with a specific version of the software, and they might refuse to upgrade because it can be costly to break existing customizations and integrations and build something in a new version. For example, this occurred with AngularJS and Angular 2, since they’re both completely different.

  • Platform Lock-in: In some cases, the root of developer lock-in is also a platform lock-in. In this case, devs are unable or unwilling to move forward if that includes switching to a different platform. This happens a lot with platforms that provide application-level services such as storage services.

  • Skill Lock-in: Once developers become familiar with a certain type of product or architecture, skills lock-in can happen. In case you want to switch to a platform or architecture your devs are not familiar with, chances are they will say no to your request. Also, with skills availability being one major constraint in the development space, businesses might simply opt not to change anything and remain locked.

  • Mental Lock-in: This is the most pervasive of lock-ins because it might seep into your decision making and lead you to reject alternative options and architectures only because they don’t seem as scalable when compared to what you currently have.

How Does Developer Lock-in Affect Companies?

Each company has different skill sets, and lock-in affects them differently. However, often projects are written by developers that might not be around anymore and independent contractors who moved on to a different project.

For instance, let’s say that a developer built a software product around proprietary APIs, switching to a different API standard can be much more expensive. For example, the same happens if you want to, let’s say, move an extensive application away from AWS Lambda, that might end up requiring a costly rewrite.

This is all crucial to keep in mind as businesses look for new, cost-effective ways of building and running systems. To avoid costly lock-in, companies opt to bet on open source standards and systems. This is perfect as a short term solution if you only have to migrate things from one place to another without changing code. However, if you need to actually go in and swap libraries or use a different language interface, things can get ugly.

And while headless CMSs have been touted as the magic pill that solves every developer’s pain, the headless architecture is not a stranger to developer lock-in. With a headless CMS, you move from a vendor lock to a different kind of lock because the content is exposed via APIs. Unfortunately, it’s not going to present itself, which means that you need developers to be able to present that content, causing marketing teams and business users to remain locked with a team of developers.

This makes it difficult for non-technical users to achieve self-sufficiency and reduces efficiencies, bringing your whole business to a halt if the marketing team and the development team aren’t aligned. The good news is that an open source hybrid headless CMS like dotCMS can be the foundation of a future without vendor lock-in and developer lock-in.

How dotCMS Goes Beyond Developer Lock-In With A Hybrid Approach

Headless CMSs are prone to developer lock-in and reduce the marketers’ autonomy, which will end up hindering your scalability in the long run. On the other hand, a hybrid CMS bridges the gap between technical and non-technical users. It gives marketers the tools they need to create omnichannel digital experiences without developers, enabling them to focus on building technology rather than managing layouts and the presentation layer.

What’s more, the hybrid nature of dotCMS, along with our open source architecture make it a robust option for companies who want to avoid both over reliance on developers and developer lock-in. Here’s how:

Open Source Tools

Companies are becoming used to open source software as the foundation for their projects, and this is also valid in the CMS space where open source alternatives have a big chunk of the market. Besides being open source, dotCMS is also a Java CMS, which means being able to leverage the broader community of Java developers around the world. This gives dotCMS a great flexibility, and a vast trove of data prospective users can browse to build whatever they want, as well as solid community support that proprietary alternatives simply cannot match.


Since it’s highly unlikely that a CMS will have the exact set of functionalities you need, a good CMS needs to embrace modular architecture that allows every member of the team to customize it. dotCMS leverages technologies like the OSGi to enable the introduction of new code without impacting core functionality.


Low-code reduces the learning curve for non-technical users and enables them to develop digital experiences with ease and confidence. With our low-code approach, marketers can build and test things quickly while developers focus on creating the business logic behind the processes. Minimizing customizations and helping to keep the system stable and less prone to errors.


One of the advantages of being API-first is that it provides much more functionalities and flexibility when compared to an all in one solution. APIs give you the possibility of choosing the best-of-breed approach so you can mix and match the most suitable applications to perform different solutions, customizing your tech stack to suit your business’ particular needs.

Hybrid Headless Architecture

Pure headless CMSs are agile and powerful, but they’re not the best tool for marketers who aren’t always tech-savvy. With a hybrid headless CMS, you get all the benefits and tools of a headless CMS as well as the front tools and templates that enable non-technical and business users to create digital experiences for customers.

dotCMS: Open, Hybrid, and Ready for Non-Technical Users

One of the things that makes dotCMS different to other pure headless, and even other hybrid headless CMSs, is that the platform was built from the ground up as a flexible, API-driven tool that aims to democratize development and make things simple for every stakeholder.

With dotCMS, companies gain a platform where they can standardize content storage and integrations, make customization easy and simplify deployment without having to change your underlying IT structure.

Our source code is freely available, and our systems are built using Java and Spring, which means that you don’t have to look too far to find a new team of developers in case you’ve gotten yourself into a developer lock-in. At the same time, we make development and coding simple, so the other kinds of lock-ins don’t happen to you either.

If you’re feeling like you’re approaching a developer lock-in, think twice and think fast before things get costly. The more open your CMS, the fewer chances you have to experience it. Open, hybrid, and low-code solutions take the burden away from IT teams and give marketers more control, all in an environment that supports every user and sparks digital transformation.

If you feel like your company needs a fresh perspective or you’ve experienced lock-in and want a way out, read our whitepaper on Choosing an Enterprise CMS Checklist to learn more about headless CMS.

Stefan Schinkel
Chief Revenue Officer
October 05, 2020

Filed Under:

headless cms hybrid cms

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