5 reasons to use headless components

Guillaume Clement

What are headless components?

Headless components are libraries of well-tested and accessible (often web) application components that do not include any defined user interfaces. Headless components are either configurable or extendable, allowing developers and designers to rapidly render and style UI components however they like, and in many cases allow for control of functionality and behavior. Headless component libraries are tested across countless browsers and devices to ensure consistency and come with features such as logic and accessibility baked in.

Examples of headless component libraries include:

Headless vs headful

Headless components on their own do not provide an end-to-end solution for user interaction but they do accelerate development and facilitate customizations. It is very common in web development for projects to use multiple third-party libraries, frameworks, and plugins which means considerable challenges for creating unified user experiences (we're looking at you Node.js and NPM).

Many frameworks and component libraries offer opinionated style definitions and implementation approaches, making it difficult to retrofit or accurately brand them. Headless components remove the friction of overriding default styles or themes. 

The biggest challenge with headless components is that before they can be used by end-users, they must be made headful. On the web, that often means writing cascading style sheets (CSS) from scratch or using yet another framework. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what makes headless components so powerful.‍

1. Significantly reduce development time

Headless components are like building blocks. They can be used, reused, and organized in many different combinations to create rich user interfaces and can usually be configured and extended for advanced use cases. The fact that they can usually be imported and used with as little as 1-2 lines of code is what makes them so easy to work with which ultimately reduces development time.

2. Sensible Defaults

They are generally well-tested and offer all of the basic goodies you’re after such as accessibility, logic, and configurations but one of the features that makes them very powerful is the fact that they usually offer sensible defaults. Simply using the right component usually gives you most of what you’re after. If you’re looking for anything fancier, you can configure additional properties to your liking without having to update the component’s source code.

3. Multi-channel Experiences

Although headless components are usually referred to within the realm of web development, they can also at times be used to create experiences in other channels such as mobile, desktop, and sometimes even in documents. Certain libraries make use of concepts like compilation or transpilation to convert certain channel-specific languages (e.g HTML, JavaScript, CSS) to others like Android or iOS native code. Being able to leverage the same code across multiple experiences of course also speaks to our first point - reducing development time.

4. UI as a feature

While drawing somewhat of a parallel with headless content, headless components can at times also be used in contexts where user interfaces are not needed or at least not included in the initial referenceable implementation. We can think of examples like email marketing where templates are developed with purpose-built tools but where developers may choose to reference components or content from other sources rather than hard coding it. This allows for the creation of user interfaces only when necessary which is a powerful tool when aligning a brand image across multiple channels.

5. Generative UI

Lastly, we have generative user interfaces (UIs) which is a feature offered by Morf. Generative user interfaces allow both users and machines (through automation) to generate user interfaces by referencing our headless or headful components. Leveraging generative UIs is quite simple once we establish a communication standard that can be used by both users and machines. For that reason, Morf uses a JSON-based syntax to declare user interfaces rather than develop them. That means that web applications such as forms can be created very rapidly by users or instantly by computers!

We’d love for you to try it out and provide some feedback by heading to https://getmorf.io

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