Headless PWA: Everything You Need to Know

Are you interested in a headless PWA? Thanks to Google, a progressive web application appeared in 2015. It’s one of the promising solutions to revolutionize the online shopping experience, especially from mobile devices. But is it another trend, a buzzword that’ll disappear?

In this article, we’ll answer this question. All you need to know for now is that PWAs provide swift, app-like experiences to website users. Plus, they simplify the development and content management processes in the backend. It’s something that traditional platforms can’t offer, hence all the talks about the PWA headless commerce. Sounds intriguing, right?

If you’re here, you may have heard the term “headless PWA” but want the full scoop. To understand whether this solution is the right fit for your project, plunge into this post, featuring the following aspects:

  • PWA advantages;
  • PWA challenges;
  • a comparison with other web development solutions like SPA and native apps.

Understanding Headless PWA: Combining PWA with Headless Architecture

Let’s define headless commerce and PWAs separately. First up, a progressive web app (PWA) is a solution that works in a browser like any other site but looks and behaves like a native app. It caches the page content, works offline, sends push notifications, and performs many other native-specific functions. However, it’s a website developed with some functionalities in mind, such as:

  • service workers;
  • web app manifests;
  • application shell architecture.

They work together to keep things speedy, reliable, and engaging.

And then there’s headless, a modern approach to building websites. It’s about decoupling the frontend of a web application (what users see) from the backend (where all the data manipulations take place). They’re connected via APIs (application programming interfaces), delivering information between the user and the server.

Many content management systems offer this solution. For example, Magento, BigCommerce, and Shopify support headless commerce architectures, progressive web applications, microservices-based backends, and so on.

In traditional web architectures, the frontend and backend are stuck together. While it’s a tried-and-tested order of things, it has some drawbacks. For example, making changes to the website is a bit of a sticky situation. Developers need to ensure nothing breaks on the frontend if they tweak the backend and vice versa. With headless, you can switch up the frontend without messing with the backend. As a result, the website is more agile, customizable, and unique.

In conclusion, headless PWAs offer the best of both worlds: an app-like experience with the scalability and adaptability of cutting-edge architecture. If you run an eCommerce website and want rapid content updates and the introduction of new features, a PWA and headless CMS are your go-to solutions.

They allow for the speed and engagement of a native app with the added bonus of real-time updates and personalized content. It’s a win-win situation for customers and businesses alike. You can scale the store and evolve while making shoppers more likely to come back.

How Did Technologies Develop into a Headless PWA?

Most of the websites available today are traditional or static. This is because headless technology is new, and the leap from the current architecture to headless commerce is a complex endeavor.

Nevertheless, the solution has potential. It emerged as a result of the relentless pursuit of a better digital experience. What’s good about it is that these attempts were successful. Thanks to headless, websites become faster, more accessible, and infinitely more engaging. They not only display information but also remember visitors and adapt to their needs.

Compared to any other dynamic web application, headless architecture doesn’t compromise speed and efficiency in exchange for interactivity. PWAs work perfectly on any device with a browser, increasing your reach and accessibility.

Note: All PWAs are headless websites, but not all headless websites are PWAs. The key feature of a PWA is the native-app user experience. So, it’s not enough to opt for headless architecture to get a PWA. You need to dedicate time to UX design and optimization as well.

A PWA is the evolution from the traditional approach and single-page application (SPA). What’s an SPA? It’s a website that loads all the necessary HTML, JavaScript, and CSS code with a single-page visit. When the user clicks on other pages within the website, the SPA updates the content dynamically and doesn’t reload the full page. It’s like navigating a native app. So, any PWA follows the same principle but calls for UI/UX considerations, too.

If you’re still in doubt about whether to invest in building a PWA, look at the statistics from renowned companies:

  • The number of pages per session on Twitter’s PWA increased by 65%, while the bounce rate dropped by 20%.
  • Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce site, attracts half of its audience with the help of a PWA, as 60% of these visitors have already deleted a native app due to its heavy weight.
  • Forbes’ PWA doubled the average user session length, boosted the completion rate sixfold, and brought 20% more impressions.
  • Lancôme saw a 17% increase in conversions and a 51% rise in mobile sessions.

Key Benefits of Headless PWAs for eCommerce

Now, let’s explore the advantages of switching to PWA headless commerce:

  • Faster load times and app-like performance

The three essential PWA technologies are service workers, cache API, and web app manifests. They enable the application to load so rapidly. For instance, when the user visits the website for the first time, their browser caches the page to return its content instantly upon subsequent visits. Headless commerce also leverages client-side rendering (CSR), reducing the server load and increasing loading speed.

  • Enhanced user experience with offline mode and mobile responsiveness

Let’s assume a user loses the internet connection when browsing the website. A traditional one wouldn’t allow them to do anything. But not a PWA. Service workers step in and allow visitors to continue looking through products and even complete actions like adding items to their cart. Once connectivity resumes, the site syncs up.

Mobile responsiveness is in the headless PWA DNA. They follow the mobile UX best practices, ensuring your digital storefront looks and functions equally perfectly on smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

  • Increased flexibility and scalability for developers

The separation of the frontend from the backend (thanks to the headless CMS) provides the ability to build, tweak, and optimize the store without being bogged down by the complexities of coupled websites. Implementing new features, testing out different user interfaces, or scaling up for high traffic becomes a breeze.

  • Easier maintenance and updates

When you want to update the store, say, add a new feature, you most likely need to make it unavailable to users or limit its functionality for some time. This is because you need to test and deploy the changes in a live environment to avoid a negative impact on the user experience when launched.

Compared to traditional websites, a headless PWA offers a modular approach. You may work on the needed part without closing the store or affecting the user’s interaction. Developers may roll out the functionality step-by-step (incrementally), upgrading the site more seamlessly.

  • Improved SEO

First and foremost, a headless PWA remains a website. So, potential customers can find it in search results, unlike native apps. At the same time, the speed, mobile responsiveness, and offline capabilities of headless PWAs are positive signals to Google for improving the website’s position in search results. A PWA may also have better behavioral metrics, which is another SEO benefit. Higher positions translate into more traffic and, potentially, more conversions.

Implementation Challenges and Solutions

Despite all the advantages, you need to understand the disadvantages of a headless PWA to determine whether to opt for this solution. The best part is that there are already remedies to these problems. And the more this technology exists, the more issues developers resolve. So, let’s unpack the common obstacles relevant to PWA headless commerce.

Learning Curve

Headless PWAs are still new on the market. Not all developers can smoothly switch to this web development innovation. They require time to learn various technologies and concepts, including service workers, APIs, and languages like React, Angular, or Vue.js.

Specific tasks like performance optimization and implementing offline functionality can also hinder website deployment. From handling images to caching, you need careful planning and execution. What functionalities and data should be available offline? How do you preserve the image quality when ensuring smaller file sizes?

The Solution: Tools like Google Lighthouse assist with analyzing and improving PWA performance. Coders should navigate modern image formats like WebP, lazy loading, and IndexedDB (a robust API for storing and accessing data offline).

Don’t rush things. Look for experienced developers who have worked with progressive web apps for several years. Explore their portfolios and certifications to learn what they know about PWA and headless CMS functionalities.

It’s advisable for them to complete online courses, watch tutorials, and actively participate in community forums dedicated to web development. For example, beginners and seasoned professionals alike frequently hang out on sites like MDN Web Docs and freeCodeCamp.

Integration Complexities

Connecting various parts of a PWA and headless CMS can be daunting. As the front and backend are disconnected, frictionless data transfer may require custom solutions.

The Solution: Select a content management system with a strong focus on headless commerce. It should provide comprehensive documentation, API support, and developer-friendly features. Some examples include Sanity, Strapi, and Contentful. These are the next-gen headless CMS platforms created to satisfy the particular needs of a headless PWA.

Headless PWA vs. Other Solutions

Let’s compare a headless PWA with traditional websites, native apps, and SPAs and decide whether you need it and when.

Feature Headless PWA Traditional Web SPA Native Apps
Speed & Performance Lightning-fast, app-like experience Varies, can be slower due to server-side rendering Fast after the initial load Extremely fast, fully optimized for the device
Offline Capability Strong, thanks to service workers Limited or none Limited or none Strong, built-in
SEO Good, with the right setup Good, but depends on the optimization Potentially problematic, requires extra work Not applicable
Development Flexibility Very high thanks to decoupled frontend and backend Limited by the architecture High, but limited to web High, but requires platform-specific development
User Experience App-like, frictionless Can be clunky or slow Frictionless after initial load Optimized, device-specific
Update & Maintenance Easy, with no downtime Can be cumbersome and slow Easy, but requires full app reload for updates Easy, but requires app store approval
Cost Moderate to high, depending on the complexity Low to moderate Moderate High, multiple versions for different platforms

When to Choose a Headless PWA for Your Project

Go for a headless PWA if:

  • You want to combine the web reach with an app’s smooth interactions.
  • If your audience needs access to your content or services offline or without a steady internet connection.
  • You want the flexibility to update content seamlessly.
  • You aren’t ready to pay for the development of native app versions for Android and iOS but seek accelerated experiences.

Think twice if:

  • Your project is simple and doesn’t require complex functionalities or offline capabilities.
  • People frequently return to your brand and don’t mind installing a native app.
  • You don’t want to navigate the nuances of optimizing a headless PWA for search engines, such as content fetching and rendering.


So, what’s PWA headless commerce? It’s an innovative approach to building websites. In this guide, we’ve explored how headless PWA merges the best of web and app features, offering lightning-fast load times, app-like performance, offline capabilities, and flawless updates—all while keeping SEO firmly in the picture.

If you’re in two minds whether to choose a PWA over a native app, consider their main difference: A PWA is accessible from search and can attract potential customers without the need to install heavy solutions. If you weigh a PWA against a traditional website, keep in mind that it’s a more flexible technology that will future-proof your business.

So, make informed decisions based on your requirements, expectations, and even the frequency of repeat purchases. In any case, starting with a PWA and headless CMS can save you tons of time and effort compared to rebuilding the existing store with traditional architecture.

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