You’ve probably heard of the term no-code recently. Some companies and developers also prefer to use such a thing as low-code. In our article, we will try to explain the difference between no-code and low-code, dig into basic use cases, define the cons and pros of using such tools and also introduce the third approach to solving the problem of developing the applications with less coding.

The brief history of no-code

Low-code/no-code platforms stem from earlier Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools such as Excel, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Access that likewise put some development-like capabilities into the hands of business users, i.e. non-IT professionals.

However, those earlier tools required users to have a thorough understanding of business apps and their development environments in order to build capabilities. In contrast, low-code and no-code options, with their drag-and-drop features, require users to have either minimal or no real knowledge of the tools or development in general.

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Another prerequisite for the emergence of no-code platforms was the lack of developers. Also, people have always sought to simplify software development and take it to a higher level – for example, software development through the User Interface.

What is a no-code/low code development?

No-code is a set of tools, applications or platforms that allows you to build a relatively complex application without the knowledge of programming language. But Wikipedia gives another, more concise definition: “No-code development platform (NCDPs) allows programmers and non-programmers to create application software through graphical user interfaces and configuration instead of traditional computer programming.”

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In addition to using a graphical user interface, developers of no-code tools also removed the necessity of creating frameworks, linking databases, and other tasks that are typically attached to hard coding. This made development simpler and easier: even those with no coding knowledge at all could now develop applications.

Common components of no-code:

User Interface builder

It usually contains the ability to use drag and drop to compile application components. You can also build tables and forms.

Visual modeler

This is a feature that allows you to manage data and the logic of the application through a simple interface.

Reusability

For rapid development, application components should be easily reused several times.

Integrations

For full use of the application and for rapid development, it is very important to have a wide range of integrations with other applications.

Is there any difference between low-code and no-code?

The line between the two is not sharp. The major difference between low-code and no-code is clear from the names. Low-code platform has very minimal coding requirements, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely exclusive of hard coding. If your implementation or software is highly complex, then there will be some necessity to do some hard coding.

A number of key differences:

  • No-code platforms are available to all employees, while Low-code platforms require at least basic programming knowledge;
  • No-code platforms are more adapted to work in a declarative approach through interfaces. Low-code platforms, in turn, are configured to work in hard code mode in order to configure the architecture;
  • No-code platforms most often rely on a preset user interface layer which simplifies and streamlines an app’s design. Low-code platforms give more freedom in UI interfaces for a more complex software configuration.

Check the table with the main differences between Low-code and No-code:

 Low-codeNo-code
Primary usersDevelopersCitizen Developers
Level of programming skillsBasicNot needed
App ComplexityCan create complex appsCan create basic apps
Platform Lock-In
MediumHard
Level of CustomizationHigh-level customization availableBasic customization features

There is another area of no-code development called Scaffolding, and I think it deserves your attention as it gives the balance between no-code and full-code.

Scaffolding

According to Wikipedia, Scaffolding is a technique supported by some model–view–controller frameworks, in which the programmer can specify how the application database may be used. In our own opinion, with the development of MVC frameworks such as Angular, the trend of scaffolding apps will increase drastically.

Scaffolding can occur at two different phases of the program lifecycle: design time and run time. Design time scaffolding produces files of code that can later be modified by the programmer to customize the way the application database is used. Alternatively, run time scaffolding produces code on the fly.

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In fact, for many projects this solution will be more acceptable than low-code and no-code platforms, due to the fact that developers will save a lot of time on creating the basic structure of the application, but in return receive code that can then be deeply customized. As a bonus, later in this article we will give a couple of examples of scaffolding platforms for your choice.

Types of applications you can build with no-code?

As a rule, no-code platforms are used by companies for which business in software development is not the main activity. Some applications have specific use cases such as workflow automation or project management, others have been widely used in different industries.

General Purpose

For most users, a general-purpose low-code app development platform will be enough. It can create a wide range of mobile and web applications. With the help of general-purpose low code applications, you can manage databases, improve collaboration, create workflow and workspace applications.

We agree with Kissflow that there are four main types of low-code/no-code tools:

Request Handling

As the name suggests, request handling low-code application development platforms handle the acceptance, processing and handling of requests.

Process low code application platforms

This type of application focuses on helping build applications to automate work processes, as well as to improve communication between employees and customers.

Mobile First

Mobile low-code application development platforms help create cross-platform mobile applications without the need for complicated development processes.

Database

Database low code applications help to manage and create relational databases. It is a great alternative to spreadsheets, which may be time-consuming.

We can also distinguish no-code development platforms by the problems that they solve:

  • Build a web app;
  • Migrate legacy app;
  • Build a website;
  • Manage data;
  • Develop a workplace.

Pros and Cons of using a low-code/no-code approach.

Pros

  • Fast prototyping;
  • Fast learning curve;
  • Reduced costs: Developers are expensive. Good developers are even more expensive. No-code platforms somehow allow to replace developers with people without a technical background;
  • Better agility: Thanks to web-apps built with help of user interface and pre-built components, it is faster to build apps. It also allows your organization to be more agile;
  • Easy changing: When you use reusable components and build applications using the UI interfaces, it’s easier for you to make changes to the application;
  • More productivity: People can make more apps and features without any coding skills.
  • Deployment to several platforms;
  • Easy maintenance: You can literally update your app in minutes instead of the long process of changing something by digging into the code;
  • Collaboration.

Cons

  • Security problems: You need to understand that the safest application is the one that is written in your company and hosted on your servers. If something happens with a low code platform, there is a very big risk of losing the application;
  • Dependency on the platform: You can close on one platform, which leads, for example, to hiring engineers at sometimes even higher costs than would be the case with regular developers;
  • Lack of deep complex features: You never know when you might need a feature that cannot be done using only the drag and drop interface;
  • Debugging: It is not an easy task to debug your app made with the low-code platform, because you don’t know what’s under the hood of your app;
  • Lack of customization: Often, components in low code applications cannot be deeply modified. In other words, you will have to change business processes instead of tailoring the program to your needs.
  • Lack of integrations with legacy systems.

How to compare no-code/low-code applications?

In our review, we will rely on the following app evaluation factors:

  • Years on the market. In other words – company stability;
  • Price;
  • Number of Integrations;
  • Customization Features;
  • Ease of use.

The best no-code tools, platforms and apps in each category

Disclaimer: in this collection, we wouldn’t include the websites and e-commerce no-code platforms such as Webflow or Shopify. We assume that these tools are in the other niche. Thus, we focused on the tools that help create proper web applications, like workflow automation software. We also didn’t include things like Zapier because we don’t think they are a part of the no-code movement. But we included the platforms to manage content and automate your workplace (Fibery, Notion, etc.).

No-code platforms:

Bubble

Web-site: https://bubble.io/
Pricing: from Free to $475/month for Professional plan
Best for: Small and Medium
Customization level: Low
Integrations level: Dozens of different plugins
Years on the market: Company started in 2012

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://bubble.io/
Description

The bubble is a classic no-code tool for creating basic web applications with drag and drop editor. The process of application development consists of 4 parts: 

  1. Design tab: In this section, you drag and drop different components of your future applications.
  2. The workflow tab allows you to work on the logic of your future product. Just add blogs to create chronological action. You can set some conditions within each block.
  3. The third tab provides you interaction with the database. For instance, you can store profile information.

Additionally, you can change styles of your application and choose a plugin that can help, for example, accept payments with Stripe or embed a TypeForm.

Notable features
  • Workflow-based programming;
  • Real-time updates;
  • Version control;
  • Export user-generated content as CSV.
Pros
  • Easy drag and drop interface;
  • Fast prototyping and testing on real users.
Cons
  • API limitations;
  • Scalability;
  • Many people across the web think that it takes a lot of time to get into the process of creating apps with Bubble.
Conclusion

Bubble is a good way to do a basic web application, prototype it and test on real users. It just takes some time to get into it.

Kissflow

Web-site: https://kissflow.com/
Pricing: Free trial available, price starts from $480/month to 1300/month
Best for: SMB
Customization level: Low
Integrations level: Medium, needs to set up
Years on the market: Company started in 2012

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://kissflow.com/
Description

Kissflow provides you with a set of tools to create a digital workplace instead of using a dozen apps. Anyone can create an automated process, build a project board, handle a case flow and collaborate on work topics – an all-in-one, intelligent and easily integrated platform.

Notable features
  • Unique 5-Step App Wizard;
  • Hands-­off Workflows;
  • Zapier Support for SaaS Integration;
  • Collaboration Features;
  • Android/iPhone App.
Pros
  • Ease of use;
  • Great UI.
Cons
  • Some users say that the app itself is buggy;
  • Difficulty with saving work.
Conclusion

Kissflows serves very well to those companies that decided to create a digital workplace by using one tool.

Betty Blocks

Web-site: https://www.bettyblocks.com/
Pricing: Starting from 1250 Euro per month (billed annually)
Best for: SMB
Customization level: Low
Integrations level: No pre-built integrations, need to set up
Years on the market: Founded in 2012

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.bettyblocks.com/
Description

Betty Blocks is a cloud-based application development solution featuring a no-code, drag-and-drop interface for developing business applications. The UI-builder is flexible, adapting to various stages of development and maintenance.

Notable features
  • Custom back office for SMB;
  • Mobile app;
  • Custom CRM application;
  • Custom Project management application;
  • Pre-configured blocks.
Pros
  • No deployment needed;
  • Easy learning curve.
Cons
  • Has no external funding;
  • Buggy applications.
Conclusion

Betty Blocks is a good fit for professionals that know the business logic of their applications. People say that there is an easy learning curve, so you can start a basic application within a day.

Low-code platforms:

Outsystems

Web-site: https://www.outsystems.com/
Pricing: Free to custom pricing depending on the number of end-users
Best for: Enterprise
Customization level: High
Integrations level: High
Years on the market: Founded in 2001

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.outsystems.com/
Description

OutSystems is designed to help users build enterprise-grade apps incredibly fast. The vendor says their low-code platform is ranked number one by Forrester. This solution lets users visually develop their entire application, easily integrate with existing systems and add their own custom code when they need it. Please note that the application is not suitable for individual use.

Notable features
  • Visual development environment;
  • Deploy to any device;
  • No technology lock-in;
  • Offline mode.
Pros
  • Easy integrating with your custom code;
  • Good support;
  • Scalability.
Cons
  • Not a good suite for SMB;
  • The tool isn’t quite flexible;
  • No macOS client.
Conclusion

This is a great tool for building enterprise-grade applications. The company has existed for more than 18 years, so there is no risk to lose application because of company fault.

Zoho Creator

Web-site: https://www.zoho.com/creator/
Pricing: Starts from $10/month per user to $35, billed annually
Best for: SMB
Customization level: Themes and Layout are customizable
Integrations level: A big marketplace of apps which you can integrate with one click
Years on the market: Launched in 2006

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.zoho.com/creator/
Description

Zoho Creator‘s cross-platform app builder helps to make native mobile applications faster. You can create apps on the web, publish and use them on your iOS and Android devices with multi-platform access. The company provides so-called App Deck with 50+ ready to use business apps. A notable trait of this tool is that it uses its own scripting language called Deluge.

Notable features
  • Drag and drop App builder
  • Workflow builder
  • Mobile Builder
  • Roles and Permissions
Pros
  • Mobile apps;
  • Ease of creating forms;
  • Dashboards and reporting features are excellent.
Cons
  • Limited GUI customizations;
  • Manipulating data is not easy.
Conclusion

The tool is interesting for its pre-built business template and marketplace of integrations.

Mendix

Web-site: https://www.mendix.com/
Pricing: Starting from $1,875 per month (billed annually)
Best for: Enterprises
Customization level: High
Integrations level: Need to setup integrations
Years on the market: Founded in 2005

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.mendix.com/
Description

Mendix is a low code platform helping enterprise businesses to build applications faster as a service tool. The company says they aim not only at people without tech skills, but for proper developers as well.

Notable features
  • Offline mode;
  • Multi-channel deployment;
  • Wide range of collaboration features;
  • App Store.
Pros
  • Scalable;
  • In many cases no coding needed;
  • Data management system.
Cons
  • Pretty expensive;
  • Some companies noticed performance issues, especially with handling large datasets.
Conclusion

Mendix is another tool for creating apps that serves primarily enterprise companies. Personally, we didn’t notice any critical differences with OutSystems or Caspio. So, it is a matter of taste what tool to start using.

Caspio

Web-site: https://www.caspio.com/
Pricing: Starts from $159/month paid annually or $198.75 monthly
Best for: Enterprise-level companies
Customization level: Layout customization thought UI
Integrations level: Limited number of integrations
Years on the market: Founded in 2000

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.caspio.com/
Description

Caspio is a low-code platform for creating database applications. The development process with Caspio consists of 3 phases:

  • Planning of database, designs, workflows, permission, etc.;
  • Building with visual tools;
  • Deployment to the web-site, CMS or intranet portal.
Notable features
  • App templates;
  • Visual Application Builder;
  • Interactive Reports and Data Publishing;
  • Online Forms;
  • User Management.
Pros
  • The number of online training and learning materials;
  • Great at creating online forms and reports.
Cons
  • Steep learning curve;
  • Aggressive sales team 😉
Conclusion

If you are looking for a tool for manipulation of a large set of data, it may be a good fit.

Workflow management platforms:

Notion

Web-site: https://www.notion.so/
Pricing: Starts from $4.00/month/user
Best for: SMB and Sole entrepreneurs
Customization Level: No customization
Integrations level: You can connect apps to Notion through Zapier or other similar tools
Years on the market: Founded in 2016

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.notion.so/
Description

The notion is the all-in-one workplace for creating texts, wikis, project management and collaborative work. You can create and manage databases, projects and notes. The product aims to replace Google Sheets and Docs, Trello, Asana, Jira and other tools.

Notable features
  • Pre-built templates;
  • Comments;
  • Version history;
  • Importing data from many sources.
Pros
  • Smooth work;
  • Great design;
  • Many blocks in the free version.
Cons
  • Mobile and Desktop apps are awful;
  • Not the best spreadsheets;
  • Lack of integrations with other software.
Conclusion

Notion is a great tool if you want to replace many different apps. We personally think that tools like Notion and Coda are the next step of no-code apps evolution. And in some cases, it is better to use these tools than, for example, bubble.io or Betty Blocks.

Coda.io

Web-site: https://coda.io/welcome
Pricing: Starts at $10.00 per month
Best for: SMB and Sole entrepreneurs
Customization Level: No customization
Integrations level: You can connect apps to Coda through Zapier or other similar tools
Years on the market: Founded in 2019

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://coda.io/welcome
Description

Coda blends the flexibility of a document, the power of a spreadsheet, and the utility of applications into a single new canvas, enabling anyone to make a doc as powerful as an app.

Notable features
  • Coda comes with building blocks – like tables and buttons;
  • Templates;
  • A lot of tables, charts and reporting components.
Pros
  • Many use cases;
  • Fast work;
  • Wide range of integrations.
Cons
  • Not good mobile app;
  • Not easy to use at the start;
  • The vast majority of applications are all available within one app, making it very difficult to search for what is available.
Conclusion

Like Notion, Coda.io is a good tool for managing your business. It has many templates and integrations with other tools, so you can create something valuable for you in just a couple of days. The pricing is also flexible.

Scaffolders (Generators):

Generato

Web-site: https://www.generato.com/
Pricing: Starting from 99 Euro per month + 0.00495 Euro for additional lines of code
Best for: Software development houses, Developers, System integrators
Customization level: Very high, you can download the source code
Integrations level: High, but you need to set it up manually
Years on the market: Started in 2019

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://www.generato.com/
Description

Generato is a visual code generator. You create a visual part of the application and its logic, then generate the source code of the application and decide where to deploy it and how to customize it.

Notable features
  • Collaborative Development;
  • Workflow management;
  • Full control of code;
  • Wide range of pre-built templates.
Pros
  • Highly customizable;
  • Security;
  • No lock on the platform;
  • You own your applications.
Cons
  • A startup with a lack of financing;
  • Very complex interface;
  • Steep learning curve.
Conclusion

The product is a new approach for developing web applications in the low-code market. The company is trying to attract classic software developers instead of non-tech citizen developers. We think it is a good fit for web agencies and web development service providers.

Skaffolder

Web-site: https://skaffolder.com/home
Pricing: Starts from $8/user per month
Best for: Software development houses, Developers, System integrators
Customization level: Very high, you can download the source code
Integrations level: High, but you need to set it up manually
Years on the market: Started in 2019

Low-Code and No-Code Development Platforms
Image source: https://skaffolder.com/home
Description

Skaffolder is a documentation driven code generator. Skaffolder allows users to generate frontend and backend code in multiple languages such as AngularJS, Angular 4, Express NodeJS, Java Spring Boot and Slim PHP through a graphical interface. Users can also define APIs, data models and pages of their web applications with a visual interface.

Skaffolder allows users to manage security roles using JSON web tokens and run scripts on servers or trigger Jenkins jobs.

Notable features
  • API converter;
  • Supports many frameworks;
  • Deployment with Docker;
  • VS code plugin.
Pros
  • Full control of code;
  • Integration of legacy projects;
  • CLI;
  • CRUD interface.
Cons
  • Young company;
  • There are still bugs;
  • Generated code has errors too.
Conclusion

Skaffolder is a good tool for hardcore developers who want to save time creating basic features when starting a new project.

Conclusion

In this article, we introduced you to different approaches for solving the task of software development with minimal effort and time. We examined the classic no-code/low-code solutions, as well as not quite typical scaffolding solutions and tools such as Notion and Coda.

In our opinion, the no-code movement will develop quickly, as more and more businesses will go online or be automated. At the same time, no-code platforms are still suffering from a lack of customization and integration. It is still difficult to build mission-critical applications on low-code/no-code platforms. 

We believe that you should use a no-code / low-code platform in case you want to quickly test an idea or if your business is not directly related to software development.

Additionally, you should be very careful choosing the no-code/low-code tool to make your application with. Carefully look at the price list, as in the future it may turn out that developing an application using the low code approach may turn out to be more expensive than staying with the traditional development approach.

In conclusion, we want to say that in the near future we will have an increasing number of no-code tools, as humanity will not abandon attempts to automate and simplify all areas of life, including taking software development to a higher level.

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