It seems like the terms low code and no code have recently become buzzwords in the product community. Lots of prominent PMs have announced that they are fully going no-code or at least that they have started using this approach in their product development process.
But what are these approaches about? Is it worth trying for yourself? Let's discuss the specificities, benefits, and drawbacks of these development approaches and check out a couple of prominent products built with no-code tools.
What Is Low-Code App Development About?
When speaking about low-code development, we are usually referring to the process when you are creating your applications by using ready tools and packages instead of having to write code yourself from scratch.
Instead of working with a code editor, low-code platforms let you build your apps visually. For instance, if you want to build a backend logic for an HR application, you can use a drag-and-drop interface that reminds us of a regular flowchart. Here’s what it looks like on Flokzu.
In this case, we are building the logic for approving a vacation request.
- We can see that when the employee creates a vacation request, the backend we have built sends a notification to their manager and asks them to approve or reject it.
- Upon approval, the second evaluator receives a notification with a request to approve it.
- When both of them say yes, then the vacation request is considered approved.
Low-code application development approach moves a lot of work into visual editors like the one we saw above. However, as the name implies, there is still a little bit of coding involved in this process and you will still need to have minimal coding or scripting skills to be able to develop apps with the low-code approach.
You usually do scripting and basic coding when there is a need to connect to a specific cloud service (e.g. the AWS S3 for storing your data) or an API (like the ChatGPT API for using the AI service programmatically).
For instance, imagine you have built a bug-reporting tool that appears on a website as a small widget.
When users want to report an issue, they will click on that widget, fill in the details of the problem they are experiencing, and submit a bug to the website owner.
You want the website owners to see these bugs on their Trello boards. So, you will need to integrate your tool with Trello. For this, you can use the existing implementation by Zapier. All you need to do is to connect to Zapier API. Here’s what two of its API calls look like.
In this case, you have no choice but to get your hands dirty and write code that will interact with the Zapier API and automatically request a Trello card creation each time someone submits a bug with your widget.
To have a complete understanding of this development process, let's list some of its pros and cons.
Benefits of Low-Code
- A serious productivity boost: Low-code development platforms are highly popular among mid and large-size businesses that are creating internal tools and process automation workflows using these platforms. These automated workflows, in their turn, are increasing both the effectiveness and efficiency of the company’s business processes.
- Flexibility with custom features and code: Unlike no-code tools (that we will cover next), where everything is done visually, low-code solutions let you customize and write your own code. It means that you are not limited by the features your platform provides and can develop practically any custom feature you want by adding your code to your app.
- Foolproof maintenance: As you have created your app using relatively easy-to-use visual editors, maintaining and making fixes to it is much faster and easier than maintaining a code base.
Downsides of Low-Code
- Requires basic coding skills: Even though most of the development is done using visual editors, you will still need to write code for some parts of your app. Therefore, with low-code tools, you will still need to consider hiring someone with coding experience.
- Costs are still higher compared to no-code development: Low-code is much cheaper than hiring an entire software engineering team. However, when compared with no-code where everything is done with an easy-to-grasp UI that anyone can use, low-code tools require professional developers who know how to use that tool and write scripts in their proprietary language.
To sum up, thanks to its speed and relatively low complexity, low-code development has become popular among both large businesses that want to automate their processes and small companies that want to build apps with minimal effort.
But how does it compare to no-code development? Let's put them toe-to-toe.
How About No-Code?
While low-code tools have made it much easier to build and deploy apps, it is the no-code development platforms that will have the most impact on the lives of small business owners, startup founders, and product teams.
A no-code solution will let you build complete websites and apps without even bothering to know how APIs work or which CSS styles will make your page responsive. You can control everything (from UI design to API integrations and website hosting) with relatively easy-to-learn and user-friendly visual interfaces.
No-code tools usually come with visual drag-and-drop UI editors that look similar to design tools such as Figma or AdobeXD. Here’s what the editor looks like for the no-code website builder Webflow:
As we can see, the editor here gives you control over everything, from the size and position of elements to typography and visual styles.
In case you want to build applications with relatively-complex business logic, no-code tools also come with visual editors similar to the ones we have discussed previously. Here’s what the business logic editor looks like for the no-code web app builder Bubble:
In the example above, we can see a simple logic for a user registration that starts running when the user fills in their credentials and clicks on the sign-up button. After the click, Bubble will create a new user in its database, send the user a confirmation email, and redirect them to the homepage.
Apart from helping you build your UI and business logic, no-code tools can also help you with different website and app management tasks such as:
Search Engine Optimization
Including the ability to dynamically set meta titles, descriptions, canonicals, and robot tags, as well as control the way your pages appear in the rich snippets of search results by setting schema markup.
Some no-code tools even come with SEO assistants that analyze your website and give actional advice on fixing the issues they have found. Here’s an example of such a feature by website builder Wix.
As we can see, the Wix SEO Wiz (that’s what they call their assistant) has found a page title duplication and suggests you change it.
Connectivity with Different External Services and APIs
Unlike the low-code tools, you don’t need to write code to connect to the APIs of the different tools and services that you need for your app to work.
No-code tools usually let you connect to a given service with a single click on the “install” button and give you a visual configuration panel where you can place your authentication credentials and change the way your app interacts with the said service. Let’s look at an example of it from the plugin store of Bubble.
The screen you see here is from a test Bubble website that I made a couple of months ago to check out the capabilities of this no-code tool (the result - I was impressed). Naturally, I wanted my demo website to have Google Analytics installed on it, in order to track its performance.
All I did in Bubble was to find this plugin in their store, install it, and set the tracking id of my Google Analytics Account.
Deployment and Scaling
Finally, no-code tools are also helping you with deployment on production and development environments, hosting, and scalability (if you are getting lots of traffic) of your website or application on their servers without having to tinker with Shell scripts and server configurations. Again, everything is done via simple user interfaces. With Wix, for instance, deployment is as easy as clicking a single “Publish” button in their dashboard.
Now that we are familiar with the capabilities of no-code tools, let us check out their pros and cons as well.
Benefits of No-Code
- It’s fast: The world of software services is exceptionally competitive nowadays and your ability to ship products quickly has become one of the key factors for succeeding as a software business. No-code tools have everything prebuilt for you. All you need to do is assemble the components together with a drag-and-drop editor and launch your product.
- Does not require coding knowledge: Software developers, QA engineers, DevOps Specialists, and everyone else in a typical software team are skilled professionals and it is sometimes hard to find and hire them. With a no-code tool, on the other hand, there is no need in having an entire engineering team, as any non-technical user can build that app too.
- It’s cheap to make: Hiring an engineering team is expensive. The team members we listed above are among the highest-paid professionals in the job market. So, using a no-code tool will also let you create your app with a fraction of the cost of hiring an entire software team.
Downsides of No-Code
- Limited flexibility: The number and types of features that you can add to your app are not endless with no-code tools. You will not be able to create any unique feature of your own and will have to use the existing features that your tool provides.
- Security is out of your control: While most no-code tools will build your applications using the general best practices of privacy and security, you will not be able to ramp up your defenses and protect yourself from more advanced vulnerabilities.
- Limited performance: Apart from the limited number of features, you are also stuck with a limited tech stack with no-code tools. No matter what kind of product you make, the no-code tool will always use the same programming language and database systems to run them. So, you can forget about using specialized technologies that run fast (e.g. C++ or Clickhouse).
To sum up, both low-code and no-code application platforms are great at reducing your development costs and speeding up your shipping cadence. Thanks to the ease of building apps with them, they have become a great tool in the hands of small businesses that cannot afford to create an in-house IT team, as well as product managers who want to discover the business needs of their users with rapid tests and various initiatives.
But does it mean that the age of regular software development is over? Let’s find out next.
Is Traditional Development Dying Off?
Not at all!
Low-code and no-code tools will help you quickly build and deploy a basic version of your app with limited features. However, it is traditional software development that will let you:
Create unique and original features: Both no-code and low-code tools come with a set of standard UI elements and backend features that you can use to cover a variety of use cases. However, if you want to create something entirely new and unique, then you will have no choice but to code it yourself.
Great examples of such features are the infamous machine learning filters and avatars of TikTok. They are so unique and complex, that an entire department of engineers and scientists has worked on them (making a couple of significant contributions to the science of artificial intelligence along the way).
There is just no way that you could build anything close to that with a low-code tool.
Get exceptional performance: Sometimes high performance and resource efficiency are fundamental parts of your product (e.g. if you are building a AAA game that needs to run on older PCs). If that is the case, then you will need to use specialized high-performing programming languages like C++ or even Assembly as well as highly skilled programmers who can fine-tune every line of code in your app to achieve that speed.
What Are The Benefits Of Low-Code and No-Code For Product Managers And Startup Founders?
Two words—speed and cost!
If you are building your products following the lean philosophy, then low-code and no-code tools will become your best friends as they let you quickly build an MVP of your product, deploy it, validate (or invalidate) your core hypotheses, iterate based on the feedback, and deploy again.
Apart from the speed at which you can ship new iterations of your product and test your ideas, no-code, and low-code tools will also let you mitigate the risks associated with hiring engineers and spending significant time and money on an app that the market might not accept (which is completely OK).
You can build the first couple of versions of your product all by yourself without hiring anyone. Thus, if your idea fails, your financial losses will be minuscule.
No-code and low-code tools are great for building MVPs, but can you make finished products with them too? Yes! Let me impress you with a couple of great-looking websites and apps that people have built using these tools.
Showcase: Apps Built On Low-Code And No-Code Platforms
The internet is full of small sites and apps built on no-code platforms. But, in order to show you the true capabilities of these tools, I want to point out a couple of impressive, well-known projects.
No-code tool used: Bubble. (Obviously.)
Would you be surprised to find out that Bubble's website is built using Bubble? We're talking about the entire website, along with its educational section with lots of online lessons, the CMS system for the blog, and the content of other pages.
This example proves that you can build entire full-size websites with no-code tools, not just a couple of casual landing pages.
Comet: A Freelance Job Platform
No-code tool used: Bubble.
Comet is a platform for freelance work where companies can post permanent positions or temporary tasks and individual freelancers can apply for them.
The platform is highly functional. It comes with separate dashboards for both freelancers and companies where they can manage their jobs, give feedback, and collaborate with each other.
This platform shows that you can build business applications with multiple types of users, proper user experience, real-time dashboards, templates, modules, and complex logic for freelancers and business users by using only a no-code tool.
Chant: A Social Network for Artists
No-code tool used: Adalo.
Chant is a platform where artists of all kinds (illustrators, photographers, musicians, etc.) can gather, socialize, organize events, and even find jobs.
In terms of functionality, it is a complete social network where you can fill in your profile, visit and check out the profiles of others, make posts, create events, chat with friends, and more.
It showcases yet another key aspect of modern no-code tools—the ability to build and publish mobile apps on Google’s and Apple’s app stores.
Poshmark: A Fashion Apparel Online Store
No-code tool used: Wix.
The final website that I want to showcase is the eCommerce store Poshmark which runs its shopping engine using the website builder Wix.
The engine is quite functional and provides everything an online shop would need—from checkout functionality to inventory management.
What impresses me the most is that the eCommerce stores built on Wix can also let any user register, list, and sell their own products on the shop.
The Future Is No-Code And Low-Code
At least that's what I (firmly) believe.
Although these tools will never be able to replace a professional development team, they will be able to cover most of the casual needs of small businesses as well as let product teams do rapid MVP development and testing.
While having a no-code tool at your disposal will help you build your products faster, you will still need to make sure that you are building the right thing. For this, you can check out our guides on:
- Choosing the right Product Development Tools to speed up your processes.
- Doing Minimum Viable Products right.
- Measuring and reaching your Product-Market Fit.
- Setting up your Software Development Lifecycle.
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