E-commerce is constantly growing and evolving providing new opportunities for e-businesses around the world. On the other hand, e-commerce entrepreneurs struggle in a competitive environment that is based on the ability to keep pace with rapid technological advances. Luckily, Shopify cares about implementing new technologies to help businesses to win over competitors. In June 2021 Shopify announced a new tech stack, Hydrogen & Oxygen. The main idea of the updates is to support a headless e-commerce Shopify approach and create unique custom frontend experiences that access the backend of Shopify Plus. This way, the stores hosted on the platform will be much faster and a lot more user-friendly overall.
In this article, we will explain everything about the new framework from the ground up.
What is Shopify Hydrogen?
Shopify Hydrogen is a new React framework that offers powerful tools and components for creating genuinely unique custom Shopify storefronts. Before Shopify Hydrogen, to build Shopify-based websites developers used Shopify Liquid, the platform's own coding language. This is a robust solution, but it has some limitations, especially in site performance improvement.
If you are aware of headless development in Shopify Plus, React is a common choice for building headless websites. It has some benefits compared to the native Shopify solutions, the main ones being flexibility and scalability, which unlock the first-mover advantage for brands – to stay relevant in today’s retail landscape.
What is Shopify Oxygen?
A new platform, Oxygen, has been created to support Shopify Hydrogen. For headless projects, a third-party platform is always needed, and creating Oxygen was a necessary solution for easy integration with the Shopify Storefront API.
Moreover, thanks to significant investment, Shopify Oxygen is deployed worldwide on more than a hundred server locations. A global hosting infrastructure all over the world makes Shopify shops closer to their customers.
On top of all this, shop owners have a new checkout API, allowing them to sell thousands of products every minute in a blink of an eye.
What improvements does Shopify Hydrogen bring?
The need to harness the power of headless development in Shopify's native system is obvious. This approach provides the opportunity to deliver the highest level of e-commerce with the Shopify best practices and subsequently raise the overall standard of Shopify shops.
Before Hydrogen, merchants had to work with framework options that only allowed them to use bulky templates or create solutions entirely from scratch. Using static versions of sites based on JAMStack frameworks that required constant rebuilding was not very relevant to the demands of the modern e-commerce market.
That's why Hydrogen came along, aiming to solve all these problems for merchants by default and speed up development time. The dynamic React-based framework for custom storefronts simplifies the building process on the platform and allows you to build a memorable and distinctive store easily.
Let’s look closer at what benefits the Hydrogen framework Shopify provides:
Building unique Shopify custom storefronts faster
Shopify Hydrogen offers countless opportunities allowing to build quickly, without spending time on scaffolding or configuration. Now a custom storefront can be created faster and more easily with a smaller number of templates.
Hydrogen includes starter templates with the basic file structure of a project already integrated with a Shopify store. That means that you can skip the setup process and start coding at once. A variety of components, hooks, and utilities are integrated directly with the Storefront API, helping optimize data fetching by saving time from crafting GraphQL queries to interacting with Shopify APIs or other third-party data sources.
Shopify Hydrogen’s architecture combines fetching both static and dynamic content on the client and server sides. Here are some top current web development options:
- Dynamic content is generated by build-in cash-control to minimize API calls and upgrade speed and performance;
- Server-side tracking focuses on reducing the initial burden;
- React Server Components provide a better development experience allowing you to quickly see your work as you construct it.
Rapid development process
The development process is much faster with the help of the basic Shopify stack and a list of React components. Using Hydrogen UI components and hooks, like customer accounts and search, mapped directly to the Storefront API, provides fast data retrieval and speeds up the development process.
With the new Shopify framework, you get the starter kit for early parts development that can be reused as needed throughout your final website.
Drawbacks of Hydrogen Shopify headless development
Along with many benefits of becoming headless, there are also some disadvantages that come with this framework.
Only for professional developers
One of the essential drawbacks of Shopify Hydrogen is that building and maintaining the site’s front-end layer is only possible by professional developers. No drag-and-drop tools are going to be provided for users within the 2022 plan, as of the Shopify town hall event in December.
Thus, Hydrogen headless development may be appropriate for the teams which have experienced staff to assist in e-commerce development.
Need for a Content Management System
To develop Shopify Headless stores, a third-party Content Management System (CMS) functionality needs to be integrated into storefronts. There are several options available for excellent headless CMS systems, such as Sanity, Strapi, Storyblok, ContentStack, ContentFull, DatoCMS, and merchants can make a choice based on their needs and wants.
Poor app support
Shopify has developed a perfect script for app support, but the ecosystem of third-party apps is still in its early stages of development. There are restrictions on access to different APIs; and in order to ensure compatibility, it is necessary to create middleware for each Shopify app.
Shopify Hydrogen vs Shopify
Headless Shopify commerce is based on an infrastructure in which the frontend of your online shop is separated from the backend. In other words, with a headless approach, your storefront, or ‘the head’, will be separated from the platform itself.
The main advantage of the headless approach is the maximum flexibility that allows fast and consistent shop servicing, providing a personalized customer experience. In traditional architecture, the storefront and backend are closely related and usually operate as a single system, which results in some limitations in design and functionality. With the Shopify headless approach, the two separated layers work independently and interact by using APIs. This way, developers have the opportunity to customize a seamless and unique shopping experience, while retaining the existing backend.
The possibility of creating a headless shop using Shopify as an e-commerce platform was there even before the introduction of Hydrogen. However, there were some challenges in the process.
First and foremost, it was a more expensive and time-consuming process with many complex tasks to be solved by the development team. The maintenance process also required more time and effort, which made this approach not a perfect choice for Shopify sellers who run a small and growing business.
With the introduction of Hydrogen Shopify, the complexity and additional costs that went along with developing a headless Shopify shop are a thing of the past. Implementing the Hydrogen framework allows merchants to get Shopify's technology stack and necessary resources to customize the Shopify storefront, hit higher performance levels, and integrate more advanced content into native Shopify stores.
When you start your e-commerce journey, you need to decide whether you should use Shopify, or a headless Shopify e-commerce site will be the right solution for you. Shopify is a great choice for brands doing less than $10 million per year in revenue. You may start by building a basic site, adding some more advanced functionality, and bringing the value of your brand to current and prospective customers.
Initially, e-commerce emerged as a ready-made platform for setting up online shops. Such platforms served as a basis for building all the necessary sales processes. They included front-end features, presentation, and ready-made UI themes for your store, as well as digitized back-end functionality, such as customer registration, login, order management, and shipping.
As the e-commerce market is developing, many merchants tend to face a lack of functionality for their online stores. They began to look for other ways to develop unique store features to attract and retain their customers. This gave rise to Headless e-commerce. The Headless approach lets users easily create, change content, and design without adding code to the backend or hire a development team. It makes it possible to reduce IT costs, implement changes faster, and increase the site's capabilities and business overall.
Shopify Hydrogen & Oxygen approach is a perfect choice for a fast scaling store, which provides an e-commerce team with more flexibility for rich visual merchandising opportunities, realizes the speed Hydrogen promises, and makes a great fit for a unified frontend platform.
With lots of amazing features, Shopify Hydrogen & Oxygen are definitely creating a new way to satisfy customers' needs and bring more opportunities for global e-commerce development. If you need to dive deeper into this technology, we are happy to become a partner to assist your business in this field. We are confident to provide Shopify best development services and Headless Commerce development services to help firms stay at the forefront of innovation, remain competitive, and overcome challenges. Contact us for software development consultation to implement top-notch technologies in your e-commerce business.