You might have stumbled upon the term “hybrid CMS” in your quest for a new and future-proof headless CMS. But what does it mean? Let’s get straight to business.

Background: the traditional CMS

To understand hybrid CMS fully, we must first know what it is a hybrid of. The first component is the familiar and classical content management system you have known for years already—whether you have been blogging through a platform or working in an online newspaper, corporation, or NGO.

The traditional CMS manages the creation, modification, and publication of digital content in a collaborative environment for presenting to a website. It handles text, metadata, design, preview, hierarchy, URLs, user roles, search, publication dates, and page building, just to mention a few.

See also: 12 reasons why you need an alternative CMS to WordPress »

Headless CMS solves traditional woes

The second and final component of a hybrid CMS is headless CMS. This raucous newcomer breaks the tradition of the tight link between content and presentation in traditional content management systems—and solves additional challenges in the process: omnichannel presentation and the utilization of new front-end frameworks for building rich web experiences.

What the first generation headless CMS entails in real life is essentially a database of content with an API to deliver said content to whatever channel or platform deemed fit or worthy. Advantages of first-gen headless CMS include sending content anywhere and in any format you choose, fast deployment, and that it fits into the new developer frameworks—giving developers flexibility.

Don’t forget: 8 tools you need to run your digital experience »

Hybrid is the mature headless CMS

A hybrid CMS would certainly please Winnie the Pooh: why choose between a traditional or a first-gen headless CMS, when you can have both?

Whereas first-gen headless CMS has limited URL handling, no in-context previewing, no visual landing page editor, and no tree structure, a hybrid and mature headless CMS allows your editors to work in a familiar environment with all the features they expect. Simultaneously, the developers receive the much sought after flexibility to build custom solutions using their favorite front-end frameworks.

With hybrid you can choose if content will be rendered by the CMS in a “traditional” fashion or rendered by a front-end framework decoupled from the CMS in a “headless” fashion (or even both when needed). As a result, you decide what types of URLs will be determined by the CMS and the editors, and what URLs will be predetermined by developers for custom rendering. Due to its mixed nature, this type of system also lets you preview content delivered headlessly.

Read more: How to find a new CMS »

What’s the use case? Say you have a website with many products, which you wish to make available with an API, for instance available for a native mobile app. With a traditional CMS you can’t do this, and with a first generation headless CMS you can do this, but then you can’t run a website without great effort. A hybrid system handles both.


A hybrid CMS is essentially this: a headless CMS + addons—pleasing both developers and content editors alike. The choice to opt in for this route or not should be plain sailing when building websites.

Checklist: How to choose the right headless CMS

First published 25 February 2019, updated 27 April 2022.

Frequently asked questions

What is a hybrid CMS?

A hybrid CMS keeps the link between content and presentation, while simultaneously offering APIs to deliver the content headlessly to other channels.

When should you use a hybrid CMS?

If you maintain a traditional website while also sending content to other digital touchpoints, a hybrid CMS can do both tasks for you.

What is the difference between hybrid and headless CMS?

A headless CMS strictly separates content and presentation, while a hybrid CMS makes this optional—enabling the best of both worlds.

How does a hybrid CMS work?

A hybrid CMS works like a traditional CMS, while simultaneously having APIs deliver content to any chosen digital channel.

Vegard Ottervig

Vegard Ottervig

Vegard Hovland Ottervig holds a Master's degree in film studies and has worked with journalism and marketing since 2010. He loves cycling, philosophy, gaming, and writing.

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