Headless Magento: Can the giant pivot in time to stay relevant?

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What’s better, to be born headless or to overcome your monolithic nature through great effort? Well, the answer isn’t so simple.

Magento used to be the monolithic king, but massive market adoption reduced their agility to pursue new technologies. It made it difficult to keep up with smaller, more innovative competitors. They face the challenge of redefining their technology quickly enough to stay relevant in modern eCommerce.

Magento evolution: a changing paradigm

Here are two charts that can help you grasp the dynamics of Magento’s popularity in the top 100,000 websites. In the first one, you see a worrying decline in the last year that’s connected with the end of support for Magento 1.

magento popularity in top 100,000 websites


Here’s a more optimistic version presenting the adoption of Magento 2, which seems to be on its way to take over 1% of the top 100,000 websites.

magento 2 in the top 100,000 websites

Finally, the top 10,000 websites show a healthy trend for adopting Magento 2 by also crossing the 1% line.

Magento 2 in the top 10,000 websites


Headless and microservices

Let’s simply say that there’s no doubt there are plenty of benefits in adapting headless architecture and microservices. For more info, you can check out our previous posts on what is headless eCommerce, top 4 headless eCommerce platforms, headless CMS, headless architecture, and headless web development.

Now, Magento wasn’t built with either headless or microservices in mind. It started and gained the peak of its popularity as a modular monolith application. Introducing service contracts in the 2.0 version was an attempt to isolate its modules and aim for more microservice-based architecture. 

As Gartner recently stated, “having an API is not the same as being built 'API first.'” Simply adding the API doesn’t provide all the benefits of the new approach. It’s tough to achieve the same performance that you can get from API-based solutions.

The power of Magento

The power of Magento lies somewhere else. It has four main advantages:

  • It always has had excellent customization possibilities that can be tailored to any project. 
  • It’s an open-source project, so you can adapt it free of charge. 
  • It has a large community, and there’s a much bigger supply of Magento talent. There are a lot more developers out there who are experienced in working with Magento than with headless solutions.
  • It has a marketplace with an amazing portfolio of third-party plugins. That’s where headless solutions are far behind right now.

You can say that Divante was born at a similar time over 12 years ago. Almost from the beginning, Magento was a big part of our stack. We’re glad that we’ve been able to play a role in its massive market adoption. As examples, take our stories with Odlo, 237% growth of revenue after migration, and Solar with a 103% higher mobile conversion rate.

However, just as with every breaking technology, once you adopt it, you’re off of the new technology market for a couple of years. You have to settle with what you have and build on it. You can’t redefine your tech stack and architecture every year or your early adopters will be left out.

Adjusting to the new reality

Magento does recognize the new tech opportunities. In the last couple of years, it’s at the point where we can see it trying to pivot towards the MACH stack, which consists of microservices, API-first, cloud-native and headless architecture. The problem is that it’s slowed down by its own success, mainly, a colossal installment base. When the support for Magento 1 was finally abandoned in 2020, there was still a massive base of old shops built on it.

“Having a massive installment base makes it harder to innovate if your product is not based on a MACH stack. Your updates are painful and costly to implement. This is why Salesforce is doing better than SAP and Adobe and why the latter are now both 100% in the cloud. There’s no other way to stay relevant in the future of eCommerce software.

“These companies are investing massively in MACH stacks, starting from being cloud native and headless. This is, of course, slowing down the development of their product, but they are great companies, and I do believe that they can safely navigate through this pivot.”

Piotr Karwatka

Headless toolkit

The transition from monolith to headless

We can take a look at it from the other side. Starting from the monolith can be an advantage. When it comes to building new microservice-based eCommerce, Magento might have just what it takes: a huge, working, battle-tested solution that it can cut into microservices piece by piece. 

Here’s a fascinating insight from Martin Fowler, a British software developer and evangelist of microservices, that mentioned this a couple of years ago:

“Almost all the successful microservice stories have started with a monolith that got too big and was broken up.

“Almost all the cases where I've heard of a system that was built as a microservice system from scratch, it has ended up in serious trouble.”

Martin Fowler


Of course, it’s easier to rebuild something that you already have. If you have a monolithic system, you know the features and data flow inside out. You can predict many issues that might occur during the development. You can deploy new microservices step by step and keep the whole system going. It’s easier to translate it piece by piece.

When you start from scratch, you may not have the legacy issues, but you also don’t see the whole picture or the traffic across all the elements. This might be a promising starting point for Magento’s pivot. Still, the cost is the internal structure legacy that doesn’t promote API communication and may get in the way of its efficiency.

 Magento microservices and API

The modern Magento 2 is capable of serving as a back end for a headless build or a hybrid eCommerce solution. You can find the details in the Magento Service Isolation Vision on GitHub.

The developers broke down the structure into service modules. Every service module has its own API. The modules can call each other through their service contracts.

“In later releases, we introduced more service contracts, and more modules were switched to service contract communication. However, legacy undesired dependencies (direct inter-module model-to-model and presentation-to-model dependencies) still exist. This fact does not allow true module separation. Most of the undesired inter-module dependencies reside in the UI (presentation-to-model).”

Magento Service Isolation Vision 

As you see, it’s a work in progress. At the moment, Magento 2 endpoints can still be limited, and you might have to create custom endpoints to utilize all the features. 

 Magento headless front and connectors

When it comes to front ends, we strongly believe in a new technology that started its life here at Divante: Vue Storefront. It allows you to create an excellent progressive web app (PWA) front for your web store. You can easily integrate it with Magento through the official Divante VueStorefrontIndexer Extension for Magento 2

There’s also a lot of connectors that you can use to extend the features of Magento. As an example, you can check out the Pimcore - Magento connector developed by Divante. 

The market landscape of the current headless eCommerce platforms

What’s coming next

“I’ve heard the opinion that ‘Platform X is Magento 3.’ But there won’t be another Magento. The market has changed and the technology paradigm has shifted.”

Piotr Karwatka

Headless and other modern technologies that will replace existing eCommerce platforms 

The sheer popularity of Adobe and Magento earned them an honorable place on the list of eCommerce technologies maintained here at Divante. You can use it in your project. We still have a couple of projects and clients that specifically called for this technology. 

If you’re considering Magento, let’s talk and evaluate how we can fit it in your project and determine whether it’s the perfect fit for your needs.

We can see Magento opening up to new technologies. However, after a short internal discussion, Magento didn’t make the cut in our shortlist for the “Headless toolkit.” You can read more about this in its “Our approach to the tech stack of the future of eCommerce” section.

The toolkit shows 14 top headless eCommerce solutions. Some of them are built from scratch as API-only solutions, and they are much better prepared and optimized for quick and efficient API queries.

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The biggest challenge for Magento

Magento might be a bit late to the headless party, but it’s still a powerful and customizable solution. It’s had to navigate through some huge shifts in eCommerce technology in recent years, but it still maintains an impressive position on the market. With such a vast customer base, very few tech companies are able to pivot to new technologies quickly enough to keep up and stay competitive.

To stay relevant for longer, Magento will have to adapt even more to the changes in the market. New technologies are opening up new ways to get better agility, performance, and scalability than ever before. It’s a huge challenge that requires a bold and clear vision. This is the real challenge that Magento has to face right now.

Published August 2, 2021