What Are Low-code / No-code Solutions, And Why Do You Need Them?
What are low-code / no-code solutions, and why do you need them?
In this article, we talk about what low-code / no-code solutions are, and how they help businesses succeed in building out MVPs and early-stage versions of their apps. You'll learn about the advantages and limitations that the low-code / no-code development brings to the table. Low-code / no-code helps businesses to quickly develop apps with the minimal amount of coding, speeding up the production cycle and empowering citizen developers across the organization.
Quick guide to low-code / no-code
Traditionally, applications have been built in custom code. Businesses would hire an internally-managed team or outsource work to an external provider. Often, the development cycle would take a long time with the core team not seeing any kind of deliverables to test out for many months.
Then, with more progress, the low-code and no-code platforms started to pop up. The low-code systems empowered users to build apps visually. Non-programmers would be able to drag and drop various visual elements on the canvas. For the back-end, easy-to-easy API connectors and workflows helped to build out the basic features.
The coding is still there, but it's being created by the builder itself, hidden behind the scenes. Users don't need to peruse the actual lines of code, while they build out the visual interface and data workflows. Some platforms allow you to take a look at the coding base resulting from your operations, and others don't.
Whenever the developers would need to implement complex features, they would be able to go into the custom-coding mode - provided that the platform allows for this. The resulting fusion has been helping to bring forward new and robust capabilities.
With more demand for such solutions, platforms started shifting toward serving wider pools of business users that had practically no previous coding experience. No-code platforms ushered in a completely visual-driven development pipeline, fully detached from the actual coding.
Citizen developers started to arrive on the development scene. More and more ordinary people were able to deploy a fully functional MPV based on their ideas in practically no time.
In exceptional cases, the users would be able to engage professional coders to build out specific features and functionalities where the builder’s capabilities would not suffice.
Currently, we are steadily moving toward highly AI-powered development pipelines with almost all actual coding done behind the scenes. Your team can easily harness the emerging power today, quickly creating a full-fledged MVP within days or weeks.
In particular, you should look into the ways to implement GPT and similar systems to deploy a more useful and value-add solution.
What's the difference between low-code and no-code models?
Low-code systems allow users to use both a visual builder and add lines of coding. Such systems are more robust, but they also heed for a deeper understanding of technical details. Having a certain understanding of coding and development is a must here.
No-code systems completely deal away with coding. Any citizen developer can hop in and quickly build an app that they envision using only a visually-driven builder.
No-code systems are very easy to use, but they also come with certain limitations in terms of what you can do with them. Let's take a deep dive into how low-code/no-code solutions stack up against the custom coding.
What are the pros and cons for low-code / no-code solutions?
Just like any technology out there, low-code platforms offer both strengths and weaknesses. Learning about these will help you better align tech and your goals, mapping out a more successful journey for your project.
Pros of low-code / no-code solutions
#1. Ease of use
Virtually anybody can quickly learn how to use low-code / no-code solutions to build basic-level apps. There's no barrier to entry on par with what users have to overcome when learning a new programming language and similar tech.
It's so easy to develop in no-code/low-code platforms thanks to the visual nature of the builders they offer and the fact that all of the code lines are hidden inside the platform behind the scenes.
#2. Visual builder for front-end
All no-code solutions, and most of low-code ones, offer an intuitive visual builder where you can easily drag and drop various elements.
#3. Workflows mapping for back-end
Just as easily, you can determine and engineer various processes to handle your data and deliver new insights to your end users.
For example, Bubble.io helps you manage your data workflows with a special editor where you arrange actions one by one. As a result, you can tackle all kinds of highly complex back-end operations.
In addition, you can create forks and branches depending on how the end-users decide to proceed with their interactions in your app.
In this manner, you can first develop the basic UI and then hook up the backend functionalities by mapping out the workflows and setting up the API connections to external apps.
#4. No exposure to actual code
To reiterate the point above, no-code platforms eliminate any exposure to coding, while low-code systems help you benefit from the fusion of coding/visual-building capabilities.
The code still lives inside the no-code platform, and you are still a developer. The difference is that you are using a visualized development language instead of writing out functions, objects and if-statements in code.
Though the benefits of such solutions are numerous and extensive, you'll have to accept certain tradeoffs. Let's talk about them now.
Cons of low-code / no-code solutions
#1. Platform limitations
All low-code / no-code solutions always feature certain limitations and restrictions in how you can apply them to deliver your projects.
If you develop a simple pet project or build an internally-used app, you might not experience any issues at all. But, whenever you dig deeper, you'll start exposing yourself to certain limitations and caveats that you'll need to process.
Here's a number of routes that you can take in such a case: (a) shift to custom code, (b) infuse your app with custom-code snippets, (c) do nothing and move on with your roadmap.
Let's see how each of these options can potentially impact your development pipeline.
#2. Codebase as blackbox
The underlying code that the platform generates is always blackboxed. This means that you as a builder aren't expected to read through this codebase, since they are building on the visual layer.
As a result, the codebase might be of low quality and pretty unreadable. Deciphering the messy codebase might take an unfathomable amount of time. You'll find it hard to recruit the development talent ready to take on the tedious tasks of this nature.
A good strategy is first launching an MVP in low-code and then redoing the overall architecture in custom node (something like PERN).
#3. Platform lock-in
In certain cases, nocode vendors might point blank refuse your access to the underlying code. Known as "platform lock-in", this limitation might pose a huge risk to the future roadmap that you are charting for your app.
If you see that a potential migration to the custom code is in the cards, investigate how various nocode vendors operate and whether you'll see a serious case of the platform lock-in with them.
Again, just like with a previous restriction, recoding your app from scratch might actually be the best route to take. We'll talk about this in the next section that covers the best use cases for nocode solutions.
#4. Inability to solve for edge/corner cases
At some point, you just might bump into a pesky edge case that you aren't able to implement the architecture for.
If you develop an internally-consumed app, you can easily step aside or implement a half-baked solution.
However, any such edge case would quickly turn into a major competitive advantage when you are building a customer-facing SaaS. If you don’t treat edge cases in this manner, you’ll find it hard to compete against more agile competitors in your niche.
Best use cases for low-code / no-code
As we've seen above, no-code systems offer both appealing benefits and certain limitations. In this light, some projects stand to win much more from leveraging this innovative tech.
Let's take a look at several examples of projects that our clients usually seek to deliver with low-code / no-code, and how each of them will potentially win or lose from implementing the no-code solutions.
#1. Building an internally used app for your HR department: Strong YES
As a Reddit message aptly points in the Nocode Subreddit, there's so much to win and so little to lose from going the nocode route here.
The redditor emphasizes that you can be highly flexible in terms of what tools you use and how effectively you solve for specified needs from your target audience.
And you'll gain a huge benefit of being able to build out the whole app in 10x less time, compared to doing the custom code!
Less time means a faster roll-out, higher agility of your HR organization and faster feedback to see how you might need to pivot to serve your users better.
All of those features are expected to be fully doable in no-code, since they wouldn't require that much work and no complex actions.
#2. Building an MVP for a customer-facing app: Strong YES
Just like with the above example, you'll benefit from a much faster development cycle. This will empower your founding team to invest heavily in marketing and sales. The redditor from above also covers this use case.
If you want to succeed in a highly competitive niche, moving fast is the key to success. Don't underestimate the value of the first-mover advantage in something like crypto banking or AI-powered healthcare solutions.
#3. Staying with nocode after Series A and other major wins: Strong NO
Another pick from that message is a hypothetical customer-facing app that is growing fast.
Such an app might be getting through the investment rounds with the seed round and A series successfully completed. With a CTO securely in place, most of the nocode tech is expected to be replaced by custom code by this time.
With a backlog of requested upgrades and a fast-growing user base, the development team needs to leverage the fully custom-coded architecture to build out the best version of the app.
In this light, we can see that no-code exposes its limitations whenever the app starts growing fast, scaling up and requiring major upgrades.
What are the best no-code / low-code platforms?
Among our best picks are Bubble for PWAs and Adalo for mobile apps.
Bubble > PWAs
Bubble.io is extremely easy to learn. The builder is highly intuitive and offers all kinds of elements that you just might want to use.
You can set up the fully functional backend thanks to easy ways to manage the database, connect with APIs from other apps and develop intricate data handling processes via the workflows.
Adalo > Mobile Apps
For mobile apps, our favorite is Adalo. Just like Bubble.io, it's super easy to use.
The layers-based approach helps you easily shift between the layouts. You can set up a highly smooth customer journey in no time and deliver an awesome UX for your user base.
A great benefit with Adalo is that you can edit the codebase and add up the chunks of code to work around any bottlenecks you encounter.
Adalo allows you to upload the app to both mobile systems. You can start processing the feedback from users and monitoring the use of your app, looking for potential upgrades down the road.
We've covered the basics of no-code / low-code, and helped you understand how this innovative tech stacks up against the custom-code.
Our no-code development agency Xmethod works hard to develop and deploy amazing apps that beat competitors at development speed and agility.
Consider the pros and cons that the low-code/no-code offers, as well as the use cases above to decide whether this is something that your project will benefit from.
Based on our experience, we're seeing powerful results for those teams that decide to use low-code for their MVP production. Whichever tech you decide to use for your earlier-stage versions, you can also upgrade to the custom code as the time goes.