E-Commerce Insights

Going Headless with Shopify Hydrogen in 2022: Why It’s The Now

In the past few years, headless commerce has become a prevalent eCommerce trend that is expected to change the way online commerce operates. Shopify, one of the current leading SaaS eCommerce platforms, has leveraged headless commerce to the next level with Shopify Hydrogen – its latest technology.

In this article, we will discover why Shopify Hydrogen is going to be the game-changer in headless commerce, and how Shopify merchants can benefit greatly from this latest Shopify technology. 

=> Read more: Best Examples of Headless Shopify Store

Headless commerce before Shopify Hydrogen

Headless commerce refers to the infrastructure in which the front end of your online store is decoupled from the backend. Simply understanding, headless commerce allows you to separate the storefront layer (the “head”) from the eCommerce platform itself (to make it “headless”).

But why do we want to separate the website frontend from its platform? Because it gives us the utmost flexibility to drive a fast, smooth, consistent, and personalized shopping experience at ease. 

With the traditional architecture, the storefront and backend are tightly connected and typically run as a single system, which limits our design and its functionality. Meanwhile, the headless approach allows two separated layers to work independently and communicate through APIs. Therefore, you have full ability to customize a seamless and unique shopping experience while keeping your existing backend intact.  

headless vs monolithic

If you are new to this technology, we recommend you some comprehensive articles for a better understanding of headless commerce:

It’s always been possible to build a headless store using Shopify as the eCommerce platform by utilizing StorefrontAPI. However, going headless doesn’t come without challenges. It’s typically more costly and time-consuming with a variety of complicated tasks that need to be fulfilled. Plus, it requires more time and effort in maintenance, which might not be a great approach for Shopify merchants who are running a small and growing business. 

Shopify Hydrogen is the perfect solution to eliminate all these complexities and additional costs that go hand in hand with developing a Shopify headless store in the past. There is no need to rely on third-party integrations, external systems, or additional technology to customize your Shopify storefront. Shopify wants Hydrogen to deliver “personalized and dynamic buyer experiences powered by Shopify’s platform and APIs.” That’s why this latest Shopify technology is believed to be the future of headless development.        

What is Shopify Hydrogen

We think the future of commerce on the web is fast, personal, and dynamic – and Hydrogen reflects how we see that vision coming to life.

Shopify Unite 2021 

Shopify Hydrogen is a React-based framework for building Shopify’s custom storefront. It includes all structure, components, and tools developers need to get started, build fast, and deliver the best personalized user experience.

 

shopify hydrogen

The ultimate goal of Hydrogen is to give you more flexibility and time to build and customize your Shopify store without frontend limitations or external software integration. Meanwhile, all the backend commerce functionality powered by Shopify still works smoothly without any disruption. By this, your Shopify store can achieve a headless approach without the hustle and complication of third-party integration. 

Hydrogen is Shopify’s recommended and opinionated approach to bringing out fast user experience, best-in-class merchant capabilities, and great developer experience. It is the intersection between commerce, UX, and coding. 

At this moment, Hydrogen is fully open source, and you can help build Hydrogen by trying it out and sending feedback to make it better.  

How Shopify Hydrogen works

Working with millions of merchants globally, Shopify developer team came to a realization that eCommerce required a fast and seamless user experience that remains personalized and contextured at the same time. 

Though this approach sounds promising, it poses a huge challenge for developers who are stuck between applying multiple technologies for a fantastic commerce experience and ensuring site performance. Hydrogen mitigates this problem by introducing a framework with a variety of technologies that enable you to create dynamic commerce experiences without giving up site speed.        

Hydrogen comprises a quick-start environment with commerce-specific components and developer tools that are ready to be utilized: 

  • Hydrogen framework: There’s a Vite plugin that offers server-side rendering (SSR), hydration middleware, and client component code transformations.
  • Hydrogen UI components: Components, hooks, and utilities that support features and concepts that already exist in Shopify.
shopify hydrogen component
Source: Shopify

Hydrogen framework acts like building blocks that allows you to achieve balance between great commerce experiences and user experience. Delivering these capabilities forced Hydrogen to utilize the highest potential of React and Vite, as well as pay careful attention to developing optimized components and developer tools. 

In addition, Shopify helps you save time on scaffolding and configuration of the Shopify storefront design by including a starter template that gets your storefront started within minutes. As this template processes the basic file structure of a project that is already integrated with a Shopify store, you can skip setup and start customizing your storefront in no time. 

Besides the starter template, Hydrogen accelerates the storefront development process with all UI components included that are built around Shopify data models. These pieces can be integrated directly with Storefront API to interact with Shopify APIs or any third-party data sources.           

TL;DR: Shopify Hydrogen helps merchants leverage commerce experience with its framework and accelerate the storefront development process with its ready-to-use UI components. By that, you can create dynamic commerce experiences without giving up site performance.        

Falling in love with Shopify Hydrogen already? Let us empower your Shopify store with a Hydrogen headless approach. 

Shopify Hydrogen vs Liquid

  • Liquid: a template language written in Ruby and created by Shopify. This is the backbone of all Shopify themes and is used to load dynamic content on the store’s pages.   
  • Hydrogen: a framework for building Shopify’s headless storefront. 

Though many developers often refer to template language and framework interchangeably, there’re actually some subtle differences between the two. 

A framework is a collection of ready-made tools and components to create applications.

Meanwhile, a template language is used to build web pages that combine static content, which is the same on multiple pages, and dynamic content, which changes from one page to the next. Templates focus on predetermined functionality, and it has fewer customization options compared to a framework.    

Think of it this way: a template is like a paint-by-numbers and a framework is more like a LEGO set.

In Shopify case, thanks to template language, it’s possible to reuse the static elements that define a webpage layout, while dynamically migrating data from a Shopify store to the page. Combining Liquid with other templating languages, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, you can build and customize a Shopify theme.   

Hydrogen includes all the structure, components, and tools needed to build custom Shopify storefronts. With its framework and UI components, Hydrogen helps you build custom storefronts that can deliver the best user experience.     

As Liquid requires static and non-static elements to build a theme, it can be seen that Liquid poses some limitations on storefront customization and performance. Plus, it’s time-consuming to create and customize a theme using Liquid. Therefore, Hydrogen serves as the next-generation solution for Shopify-based storefronts, thanks to its opening endless possibilities to build unique website UX & UI. It is forecasted that Hydrogen is developed to replace Liquid in Shopify storefront development.        

At this moment, both Liquid and Hydrogen are fully open-source on GitHub for everyone to download and try.  

Why going headless with Shopify Hydrogen 

1. Optimize site performance

One of the obvious benefits of following the headless approach with Shopify Hydrogen is excellent site performance, especially site speed. 

By separating the frontend from its backend, you acquire the ability to unlock a lightning-fast loading page speed, while still maintaining all dynamic content and functionalities within the backend. Switching to Shopify Hydrogen can help you reduce the page load speed from a few seconds to milliseconds, thus leveraging the store’s Core Web Vitals

In short, Shopify’s headless solution allows you to deliver fully personalized and dynamic content that can be customized in a timely manner without slowing the server and your site’s speed. By that, you can satisfy any visitors and customers coming to your store.    

2. Better ability to scale

Another common issue that often goes hand in hand with site speed optimization is scalability. Before Hydrogen, developers have been struggling to determine the trade-off between speed and site experience when it comes to site optimization. 

Any seasoned developer will well acknowledge the fact that it might be uncomplicated to deliver a highly interactive and personalized shopping experience with an ultra-fast web performance if there is relatively low traffic. However, as your store scales up, the site is unable to handle a new influx of visitors every day, thus leading to speed issues and poor site performance.       

Now, Shopify Hydrogen has solved this problem from its root with Shopify Oxygen – the global hosting solution for Hydrogen storefronts that will be launched in 2022. You don’t need to rely on third-party hosting services since your Shopify store will be hosted directly on Oxygen. 

Shopify has invested heavily in Oxygen global structure with more than 100 server locations worldwide. Oxygen ensures your customers will always enjoy instant store loading regardless of their locations. This upcoming infrastructure enables fast communication between dynamic storefront content and commerce structures, leaving the speed and scalability issues a story of the past. 

shopify oxygen

Shopify claims that Oxygen is the fastest way to deploy Shopify-backed commerce experiences. The combination of Hydrogen and Oxygen is paving the way for modern headless commerce in the near future. 

3. More design freedom

As Hydrogen follows a headless approach that separates the storefront of your Shopify site from the backend holding all data and site functionality, it presents more flexibility and freedom to build and customize your storefront the way you want. The design ability with Shopify Hydrogen is endless, and you can create unique UX/UI designs to deliver a personalized and dynamic shopping experience for visitors. 

Utilizing a page builder tool specializing in Hydrogen storefronts can make the design process even faster and smoother. Shopify merchants can simply drag and drop the layout from scratch, or make use of premade templates and blocks to build pages without any coding or design skills involved.   

tapita hydrogen demo
A Hydrogen frontend built with Tapita page builder tool 

Also, as the front and back ends of your Shopify site communicate through API, you can make changes to the frontend design freely without worrying about complicating or breaking the backend functions, which commonly happens with traditional commerce. 

Effortlessly customize your existing pages and build your Shopify storefront with Tapita Page Builder. No coding or design skills are needed. 

4. Outstanding commerce experience

While personalized marketing for eCommerce business is not something new (take Amazon product recommendations as a popular example), this is not a common approach that non-headless stores can easily adopt. 

Shopify Hydrogen with frontend flexibilities and separate CMS introduces a simple, lightweight solution that any Shopify store can utilize. You have full control over storefront design and content management to customize personalized storefronts to satisfy customers. Plus, combining Hydrogen with Oxygen ensures a millisecond page loading speed while still maintaining stable web performance. 

A great commerce experience should not aim at satisfying customers solely, but carefully balance customer experience and store capability. Shopify Hydrogen helps you approach an outstanding commerce experience that can satisfy both store performance and customer experience at the same time. 

5. Fast development 

By utilizing the foundational framework and ready-to-use UI components, Shopify Hydrogen could accelerate the frontend development while still giving merchants endless design capability. Also, Hydrogen helps reduce all the complexity that often comes with third-party integrations and software needed for building a custom storefront in the past.   

Thus, Shopify Hydrogen is one of the fastest routes that Shopify stores can adopt to achieve the best headless commerce features without the long, complex, and costly development process. 

Shopify Hydrogen limitations 

As Shopify Hydrogen is only available in developer preview, there is not much we can say about this Shopify-powered headless development yet. At the moment, Hydrogen can only be used to build Shopify storefronts. Any other types of custom storefronts, including mobile apps, video games, and smart devices are currently not supported. We will update this latest Shopify technology regularly to inform you of other potential limitations and drawbacks.    

Going headless with SimiCart today

While there are many approaches to headless commerce, Shopify Hydrogen is definitely a game-changer that we can expect a lot more in the future. Although it won’t replace Liquid anytime soon, following the latest technology trend can take you one step ahead of your competitors. 

If you want to have limitless design capability, lightning-fast page speed, and full control over storefront to deliver an excellent commerce experience, Shopify headless is definitely the path you should follow. Let us help you empower your Shopify store with headless commerce. 

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