There’s a lot of buzz around the no-code/low-code.
What is it actually? And can you use it for free?
No-code is a way of making software, that doesn’t require any code and technically, any engineering knowledge. It generally provides a drag and drop interface, with pre-defined components. Its shortcomings are customizability and a limited number of standard functions. Usually, it’s made for one domain like database, automation, or graphical web development.
It’s associated with the wet dream of citizen development – everyone being empowered to ship software for the corporation.
Low-code is meant for people with engineering knowledge. It is not “citizen development” It’s supposed to make people “code and deploy very fast”
A low-code platform reduces the complexity of development (e.g. takes care of hosting), therefore time to market. Its shortcomings are again, customizability, and types of structures it’s not designed to handle. As Veselin Pizurica described in his blog post on waylay.io – if the platform is designed vertically – for one use case, not horizontally, any deviation will require extensive work, or even re-write.
Because of these issues, most devs ignore low code/no code. There’s yet another snake oil that’s supposed to fix everything and make everything run 10x smoother. Yet once you start using it, most of your work is work around some constraints – the most known example would be probably WordPress, the content management system that can be described as no-code. It’s certainly not a great experience for developers and the most productive one.
Having that in mind, it does have its merits. Take it as an example – no-code is great for making small, non-critical internal tools. You probably don’t want a tool, being used by your organization all the time, to be suboptimal. It doesn’t matter if it costs 1k or 50k to develop. Costs won’t matter here. However let’s say there’s a tool, that you’d want one department in one branch to have, maybe it’s an MVP, no-code platforms can enable you to have that, at 0.01 or 0.1 times the cost. As an example of citizen development – my friend, a non-programmer, just the other way made a tool at his workplace for dumping information about clients in a table, into an MS Teams chat, specifically into a OneNote document that’s pinned, using PowerAutomate. Certainly not the optimal solution, but it works.
Bubble – a platform that has a mission to make technical co-founders obsolete. The drag-and-drop platform claims to be able to build almost anything – even sites like Facebook or Airbnb. Of course, it will be not greatly engineered and could be difficult, as a non-developer to think in an algorithmic and system design way. But it works! (ish)
When it comes to no-code platforms you should know, as they also could prove quite useful:
- Bubble.io – web development
- Zapier, IFTTT, n8n, Integromat – automation
- Airtable – “spreadsheet and a database in one”
- PowerApps, PowerAutomate from Microsoft
- Google Sheets, Excel; AppSheet – turns spreadsheet into an app
- Waylay.io – enterprise automation
- Notion – reportedly people consider it as a no-code tool
When it comes to Free and Open Source Software, here’s a list, you can use:
- Databases – NocoDB – like Airtable, but FOSS and more focused on the database
- Internal tools: AppSmith, ToolJet, BudiBase
- Web apps: BudiBase, WordPress (if you call it no-code)
- Automation: n8n, Huginn, Pipedream