Building an App with Strapi? Strapi vs. Custom Node/Express API:

Strapi is a cutting-edge, open-source headless CMS that has been increasingly popular among developers for web app development. It is designed to work seamlessly with Node.js, offering a flexible and developer-friendly platform. This report examines the pros and cons of using Strapi as opposed to developing a custom Node Express API for your web applications. This blog encapsulates the considerations for using Strapi in comparison to developing a custom backend with Node and Express. It should serve as a guide to help stakeholders make an informed decision based on their specific needs and circumstances, it is under development so the article will be updated with new comments and findings.

What is Strapi after all?

If you don’t know what it is, that is ok. Strapi is an open-source, Node.js-based Headless Content Management System (CMS) that enables developers to build, manage, and distribute content easily. Here is a detailed exploration of its benefits and pain points, as well as considerations for building a full-fledged application with it.

Benefits of Using Strapi:

  1. Quick Prototyping:
    • Strapi offers a fast setup and allows developers to create a prototype quickly, with its auto-generated REST or GraphQL APIs based on the data model.
    • The admin panel is user-friendly and can be customized, which means less time is spent on boilerplate code and more on the application’s unique features.
  2. Flexible and Customizable:
    • It provides a flexible and extensible framework that can accommodate a variety of use cases, and developers can extend the functionalities through custom plugins and integrations.
    • The codebase is accessible, which means developers can modify the CMS to suit their specific needs.
  3. Headless CMS:
    • Being a headless CMS, Strapi allows the content to be consumed from any client-side framework, making it versatile for use in websites, mobile applications, or any other web service.
    • This decoupled architecture also means that the front end can be re-designed without impacting the back end, and vice versa.
  4. Community and Ecosystem:
    • Strapi has a strong and growing community, which means there are many plugins and integrations available. This community support can be invaluable for troubleshooting and extending the CMS.
    • The ecosystem around Strapi is also growing, with more third-party services offering direct integration.
  5. Security and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC):
    • Strapi includes built-in role-based access control, which allows fine-grained permissions for users accessing the CMS.
    • Security measures are a core part of Strapi, but they can also be enhanced with customizations.

In a bid to continuously improve, the Strapi team, led by Derrick Mehaffy, has once again reached out to its community on GitHub through issue #13430. This initiative, which started three years ago, seeks to understand the main challenges users face with Strapi. With the recent release of Strapi v4, the feedback is ever so crucial. The structured approach, asking for one pain point at a time, enables a focused discussion, showing Strapi’s commitment to addressing user concerns and enhancing their experience​, this shows you how the community oriented nature of Strapi also sums up.

Pain Points of Using Strapi:

  1. Performance Concerns:
    • As with any CMS, there may be performance overhead, especially if the application scales up significantly. Optimizations may be necessary to handle large amounts of traffic or data.
  2. Steep Learning Curve:
    • For those not familiar with Node.js or headless CMS concepts, there can be a learning curve. Developers must also learn how to work with Strapi’s API and plugin system.
  3. Limited Built-in Features:
    • Out of the box, Strapi may lack some of the extensive features that traditional CMSs offer, which means developers might need to invest time in building custom plugins or integrations.
  4. Upgrade Path:
    • Keeping Strapi up to date with the latest versions can be challenging, especially if there are many customizations or plugins. This can lead to compatibility issues.
  5. Deployment and Scaling:
    • While Strapi itself is easy to get started with, deploying and scaling the CMS on a server or cloud platform can require additional DevOps skills and resources.

Building a Full-Fledged Application with Strapi:

Strapi can be a good choice for building a full-fledged application, especially if the application is content-centric and requires a robust CMS for content management. Since it is headless, it can serve as the backend for various types of applications, providing a great deal of flexibility.

Extending Strapi’s Functionalities:

Strapi’s architecture is designed to be extended. Developers can:

  • Create custom plugins.
  • Extend the functionalities of existing plugins.
  • Integrate with third-party services.
  • Customize the admin panel and API responses.

Strapi vs. Custom Node/Express API:

Choosing between Strapi and a custom Node/Express API depends on several factors:

  • Time to Market: Strapi allows for quicker development and deployment compared to building an API from scratch.
  • Customization Needs: A custom API allows for complete control and customization, which might be necessary for complex applications.
  • Resource Availability: Strapi might require less specialized knowledge and can leverage its community for support, while a custom API might require experienced Node.js developers.
  • Long-Term Maintenance: Strapi’s updates and community plugins can ease maintenance, but a custom API gives you full control over updates and changes.

In conclusion, Strapi is a powerful tool for web app development, especially when the application needs a strong content management system. Whether to use Strapi or build a custom API with Node/Express should be decided based on the specific requirements, resources, and goals of the project.