Low-code and no-code platforms are the next evolution of software development platforms that create applications in less time than traditional coding languages.
Low-code and no-code platforms are the next evolution of software development platforms that create applications in less time than traditional coding languages. There are many platforms that offer either no-code or low-code and there are many differences in the flexibility and capabilities between no-code and low-code solutions.
Generally, there are three primary differences between these types of platforms:
- Ability to access and customize the source code within the platform: No-code has limited-to-no access to customize the source code, while low-code allows customization capabilities while still using drag-and-drop interfaces for most of the development lifecycle.
- Availability of plugins, themes, and templates to speed up the development process: No-code platforms have made substantial investments in this space – which can make it complex to find the template that works for your app, while low-code platforms tend to have less capabilities with pre-packaged screens and plugins.
- Hosting requirements (where does the source code live): No-code solutions (and some low-code solutions) offer PAAS (Platform as a Service) and includes hosting as part of the platform costs. However – that means you are at the mercy of the platform to ensure your server is running and issues can have extensive timeframes for resolution. Once you sign up for a PAAS, you are married to them for the life of the app.
What are No-Code Solutions
No-Code solutions generally have the most limited capabilities, but are the easiest to learn. These support a drag-and-drop interface where a user adds pre-configured modules. They offer limited capabilities for customization, personalization, and integration to third-party systems. If it’s not in the box, in general you can’t do it.
Generally these solutions cost roughly 10-20% of the cost of traditional development, but have severe limitations if you need anything beyond simple capabilities and simple integrations.
No-Code solutions are best for:
- Event Management Applications: App for a weekend conference for single event
- Content Management Applications: Pictures and blog article content for subscribers
- Form-Based Applications: Simple apps that collect data from end users
- eCommerce Applications: Simple eCommerce applications can be supported, however, there can be limitations on additional features that professional eCommerce platforms provide
Popular No-Code Solutions
Flexibility is judged by the following criteria:
Can the platform be customized and extended
Can the data be exported easily out of the platform and into other platforms (for example for KPI reporting and CRM integrations)
Mobile and Web
Mobile and Web (Pro Plan only)
Mobile and Web (Platinum only)**
*Business/Enterprise plans have custom pricing options
**Apps support either Web or Mobile – not both
- Can be easy to learn and set up with limited to no technical background
- Hosting services are included in the monthly fees
- If you cancel your plan, your app no longer works
- Vendor Lock-in: cannot migrate source code to another system or hosting provider if you are unhappy with your service
- Customizability: Limited capabilities to customize the solution when plugins don’t support the requirements
- User Limits: Some solutions support a limited number of users able to log into the platform
- Web/Mobile Support: Some solutions support either web or mobile solutions but not both
- Data Limits: Can have strict data size limitations (either by number of records or data size in total)
- Data Extraction: Can be challenging to get data out of the system
- Limited App Downloads: Some platforms limit the number of app downloads available in the app store
- Limited number of Pages: Some platforms only support a limited number of pages within the app
- Third-Party Integration: Many solutions support a subset of third-party solutions available in the market. For example, there are thousands of email marketing platforms available – no-code solutions tend to support a few of the most popular ones. Often plugins are sold for an additional fee to support these capabilities.
- Development Workflow: limited or no capabilities to access source code, code history, versioning, multiple developer support, scheduled tasks, debugging capabilities
- Learning Curve: The learning curve and support options can vary greatly. Some platforms have large communities, extensive training documentation, and support options and some have limited support in this area.
Crystal Taggart - VP of Development
What are Low-Code Solutions
Low-code solutions tend to streamline the code generation process and provide tools to make common traditional programming frameworks easier and faster to develop with. Because low-code solutions have source code access and use common development frameworks, this makes them more flexible to develop on and open source libraries for the framework are available to the low-code application.
The biggest difference between no-code and low-code solutions beyond the flexibility is the amount of development knowledge you need to be successful with ramping up. Most require some development background (some HTML, CSS, API, and database design) to understand how the platform works.
Many low-code solutions provide PAAS which offers hosting capabilities as a part of their service offerings. Some PAAS providers also offer the ability to host software on your own servers at their enterprise-level pricing (this is unpublished but usually ranges from $50-250k/year.)
Low-code solutions tend to cost more than no-code solutions (typically 20-50% of the cost of standard development projects – depending on the capabilities and customizations required.)
Popular Low-Code Solutions
Flexibility is judged by the following criteria:
- Can the platform be customized and extended
- Can the data be exported easily out of the platform and into other platforms (for example for KPI reporting and CRM integrations)
- Is the code hosted on your own servers or within the platform
Web and Mobile
$5-$150/mo for most hosting providers
Web and Mobile
Web or Mobile
$75-Varies* – per end user per month pricing
Web or Mobile
- Custom solutions where that require functionality that low-code platforms don’t support
- When more complex integrations are required (I.e. integrations to AI solutions or Blockchain)
- High number users and data requirements to support the application
- Applications that need to scale for both quantity of data and quantity of users
- Low-code solutions are more flexible and scalable and some can leverage open source libraries to expand the capabilities similar to traditional coding languages
- Some low-code solutions support scaling techniques similar to traditional coding languages such as load balancing
- Some low-code solutions do not have vendor lock-in and support strong developer workflows (multi-development support, source code history, automated deployments and versioning.)
- With some low-code solutions, you own the source code and the solution is deployed to hosting providers such as AWS. The benefit of the platform agnostic solutions is that if you cancel your subscription, your app will continue to work as long as the hosting service is running.
- Low-code solutions have better integration to third-party platforms and APIs and more flexibility in this area
- Generally require some development experience to learn how to create applications
- Generally have fewer pre-designed templates and plugins available
- Can be harder to find skilled developers on these platforms – look for an engaged community to find talent
- Some low-code solutions charge per end user licenses per month
How to Choose a Solution No-Code vs. Low-Code Solution
- For a budget of less than $20k or for the non-technical DIY founder, a No-Code solution is the best use of resources. Find the solution that best fits the capabilities you need out of the box and supports some level of user growth. Plan for re-writing the application to a low-code or traditional software project in ~1-2 years, and depending on user adoption, this could come sooner.
- For a budget of less than $50k, target a Low-Code solution. Find the solution that has the most flexibility and least amount of vendor lock-in and supports the features and capabilities you need. Generally these solutions can scale up to a large number of users and larger data sets. Usually a rewrite is planned when a CTO joins the organization and chooses a new technology stack that aligns with their experience and preferred development platforms.
- For large businesses that require integrations to complex infrastructures, target enterprise low-code platforms that support SSO and supports integrations to enterprise systems.
- For SMBs and startups who need to reduce development costs/timeframes from traditional development methods, choose a no-code or low-code solution.
- If the no-code solutions plugin marketplace contains all the functionality required, verify the pricing of plugins and if the features meet the needs.
- If you need complex capabilities that are beyond what a no-code plugin and marketplace supports, choose a low-code solution with custom code abilities.
Data and Users
- If you only need a small app with a small number of users, choose a no-code solution.
- If you wish to extract the data for reporting and analytics, choose a low-code solution that has either API access or database access.
- If you want to support an unlimited number of users, choose a low-code solution that offers flexible authentication options.
Advanced Technology Requirements
- If your application targets advanced technologies such as AI, Blockchain, and VR, these solutions must be built in traditional software languages, but some no-code and low-code solutions can use those solutions via APIs.
- If your application targets rich video content, image filtering, health kit data, both no-code and low-code options have limitations in these spaces and are unlikely a fit.
Company Size and Maturity
- Proof of Concept: No-code is an excellent option for ideation and getting feedback (other tools like Figma can be used as well)
- Startup/SMB: Both no-code and low-code are excellent options to reduce the cost of development. If you have the budget, choose low-code over no-code for the additional flexibility and capabilities.
- When fundraising: A hybrid low-code and traditional code strategy should be used while fundraising. (Investors tend to invest in IP that is not easily reproducible.) Web and mobile apps can be built with low-code with advanced capabilities like AI algorithms coded in traditional programming languages.
- When scaling: Different low-code options have different failure points in the application. Create load tests to understand the failure points and transition heavy services from low-code to traditional code where needed.
- Enterprise: If SSO is important to the company, use an enterprise low-code solution. If that’s less important, use a commercial low-code solution that leverages development frameworks the existing team can support.
For basic applications with limited capabilities and smaller user bases, no-code solutions can be an economical route to create an app for 10-20% of the cost for traditional development.
For more complex applications with extensible frameworks and larger user bases, low-code solutions can be delivered at 20-50% of the cost for traditional development.