Low-Code vs. No-Code: Differences, Similarities & Use Cases
Both low-code and no-code application development follow the principle of abstracting away from code to provide the benefits of visual modeling. However, there’s a fundamental difference in the scale and type of application that can be built via the two approaches.
Read on for a low-code vs. no-code comparison, including tips to choose the right platform for your business needs.
Both low-code and no-code development platforms provide the means to build software applications without the need to write code. Instead of requiring a developer to have any knowledge of traditional programming languages, they both provide a visual approach to application development. This makes app development accessible to a greater number of people, specifically tech-savvy individuals working in the business lines.
Low-code and no-code development platforms promise to help professional and non-professional developers alike create applications with greater efficiency, thus, increasing productivity. And both strip away the overhead of standing up environments and maintaining infrastructure by virtue of almost always being offered in a Platform as a Service (PaaS) form factor. But that’s pretty much where the resemblance ends.
No-code platforms are the simplest of the two. A visual-based, drag and drop no-code platform allows you to create basic, but functional apps. You won’t be overhauling legacy systems here, nor will you likely be able to scale it very well, and there’s a limit to integration capabilities. Instead, this mode of creation is best used to help teams with specific needs within a limited scope.
The simplicity and ease-of-use that no-code platforms have going for them are also its downfall. With so much of its framework determined by those who developed it, the ability to customize it is limited to non-existent. This leaves potential gaps for security and compliance issues to fall into, and the ability to work applications into the wider enterprise architecture is limited, if available at all. Without the oversight and consideration that comes from developer-driven creation, no-code apps can also end up contributing to the prevalence of shadow IT.
If they are limited in capabilities, why have no-code platforms been able to stick around for as long as they have? The answer is that they’re easy to use by people with no coding knowledge or experience, especially those who don’t want to (or can’t) wait for their internal IT department to create something for them (assuming they even have the bandwidth to do the extra work to begin with). No-code platforms can also be a great way for non-technical people to work out prototypes for what they need before bringing their ideas to IT for full development.
While the ease, simplicity, and rigidity baked into pure no-code development works at the department level, scaling to the enterprise presents challenges like:
- Architectural considerations: There is an increased risk of monolithic application architecture due to developer inexperience with application architecture patterns. Most no-code platforms require deployment to their public cloud and do not give the flexibility to deploy to private cloud or on-premises infrastructure.
- Extensibility: Because no-code platforms lean toward operational efficiency use cases, they don’t possess the capability to focus on user experience and can’t connect to legacy systems. Creating custom integrations for third-party solutions or home-grown systems are not supported by the vendor.
- Governance: Due to the stand-alone nature of apps built with no-code tools, data governance is a common challenge. It is often the case that you will find multiple versions of the truth dotted across the organization as well as varying/unmanaged data structures and levels of data quality. (Think about customer records management and GDPR).
In contrast, low-code platforms are more malleable — a sort-of middle ground between no-code and full-fledged manual coding. Like their no-code counterpart, low-code platforms can be visual-based, with drag and drop elements. They are also open, extensible, and allow for manual coding or scripting, giving developers a best of both worlds scenario where the speed of development can be increased without the need to continually replicate basic code.
Additionally, low-code platforms allow for scalable architectures, along with open APIs for reusability, and flexibility with cloud or on-premises deployment. Developers are also able to exercise control over application testing, and quality and performance tooling.
Beyond these capabilities, however, lies another advantage to low-code: The potential for developers to extend the platform capabilities with their own code, empowering them to build or modify sophisticated and complex applications that would otherwise require extra team members or specialized knowledge.
The all-purpose nature of low-code platforms opens the door for a wide variety of exciting use cases, including those with next-generation technologies. Low-code platforms often come with a comprehensive component library built by technology leaders and allow you to draw on third-party smart cloud services like AI, blockchain, machine learning, voice and facial recognition, in addition to open-source community tools. Pre-built user-interface templates help organizations leverage applications focused on a range of needs from mobile customer service, to productivity and efficiency, to legacy system modernization.
Low-code platforms support the creation of more sophisticated applications and can handle more use-cases due to their general-purpose nature, including:
- Innovative use cases with next-generation technologies. Many low-code platforms not only come with a very comprehensive component library built by technology leaders, but also allow you to draw on third-party smart services offered in the cloud, such as AI, machine learning, blockchain, and voice and facial recognition services, as well as tools available via the open-source community.
- Customer experience applications for mobile leveraging pre-built user interface templates designed to help you optimize user friendliness and uptake, while also serving to ensure corporate branding consistency.
- Productivity and operational efficiency apps spanning across departments and domains
- Legacy system modernizations that bring to bear current architectures with microservices, component-based development using containers, and continuous deployment opportunities for existing mission-critical applications.
Related Reading: What Can You Build with a Low-Code Platform?
The workflow in a low-code platform will be a familiar world to developers and development-minded business folks, though there may be a learning curve for the latter group. However, even a very curious, enthusiastic, non-development minded business person can pick up on how to use most low-code platforms.
The fact that this type of platform is appealing enough for developers as well as business people alike actually opens up the potential for cross-departmental collaboration. One of the most innovative aspects of low-code platforms is how two groups that have historically had a hard time communicating with each other can come together in one space and flesh out an app that will meet both IT’s requirements for security, compliance, etc., as well as the business’ goals and needs.
The ongoing challenge when deciding which route to take is that no-code development platforms are perceived as too simplistic to support complex use cases, and low-code development platforms are considered too complex for non-professional developers to use.
To compound this challenge, if you implement a no-code solution, you are going to be considered shadow IT to the greater IT organization. Once your apps grow beyond your business developer’s ability to support them, what are you going to do? All the efficiency and cost savings are going to go out the window because your choices are limited. You’ve alienated the IT developers, so it’s contracting or consulting to the rescue.
If you implement a low-code solution, it may make your developers code faster, but does it increase the accuracy of the delivered solution relative to the business requirements? Is time-to-value really reduced when your developers have to rework and fix solutions because the business remains outside the application development lifecycle? At what cost is it to the business to have apps faster that don’t do what they need them to do?
In deciding which route to take, there’s clearly more to it than just the technology. Like any strategy for application development, you must consider how you’ll align deliverables with what users actually want, need, and will take up enthusiastically. This lies in partnering a variety of skilled IT developers with key business domain experts in ways that facilitate collaboration and pooling of expertise. Only through close collaboration in the act of application development can larger and more sophisticated applications be built efficiently, accurately, and optimized for the business outcome.
When it comes to low-code vs. no-code, make sure to include these questions in your evaluation to ensure that the interests of the business and IT are met:
- What does the solution do to promote and facilitate business and IT communication and collaboration?
- Is collaboration integrated or additive to the solution?
- How does the solution support business and professional developers to create applications?
- Are specialist developers able to enhance the solution to deliver custom design language and custom code in a reusable format to business and professional developers?
Video: The similarities and differences
In this video, we review the similarities and differences between low-code and no-code to help you identify which is the right fit for your organization.
Where does Mendix fall in the no-code, low-code space?
While the Mendix Platform can certainly be used as a no-code platform, where it really shines is in the low-code space, allowing rapid application development to live up to its name. By taking the basic grunt work out of coding, businesses have the opportunity to gain ground in the race to update aging legacy systems and improve customer experiences with digitized products, among other benefits.
This blog post was originally published on August 17, 2018, and has been updated to include the most current information.