Low-Code vs no-code (and when to use code development)

Stefan Palios • Updated Jun 15, 2022 • 6 min read

The cracks are starting to show. As the no-code development gains steam, the community is splintering into different factions: no-code, low-code, and code. Inside each community, there are the enthusiasts and the purists. And between the three communities are the hybrid believers. 

It’s a busy time in the broader development, but these different fractions are closer to each other than they might think. In the end, we see the hybrid approach working best for all organizations, regardless of which community you’re in.

Table of Contents

  1. No-code vs. low-code vs. code: Comparison
  2. The main criteria for comparing low-code vs no-code vs code development
  3. When to use no-code, low-code, and code solutions
  4. When to use no-code
  5. When to use low-code
  6. When to use code

No-code vs. low-code vs. code: Comparison

Within the no-code, low-code, and code communities, pursuits and enthusiasts have a lot of strongly-held beliefs. Perhaps, for people seeking a black and white answer, every perspective has evidence and merit. Across these communities are the hybrids who believe in mixing no, low, and coded solutions. Below you can find a comparison table of the main arguments that are proposed by each of the above-mentioned groups.

Purists Enthusiasts Hybrids
No-code No-code is the only way forward. No-code is fast and fun. No-code is a great way to experiment.
Low-code Low-code is the only sustainable option. Low-code make development easy. Low-code makes it easier for newbies to build and learn.
Code Code is the only way to handle the complexity of the world. Code means more ownership and a sense of accomplishment. Code is the most scalable solution for proven-need technology product.

The main criteria for comparing low-code vs no-code vs code development

In general, the arguments hinge on a few areas: 

Speed: Most people tend to agree that no-code speeds up development since many web app builders (like Softr) are drag and drop.

Flexibility: Flexibility means both what you can build and how much you can customize. In both cases, low-code and coded solutions tend to offer the most flexibility, while no-code web app building platforms have increased flexibility on what kinds of web apps you can build.

Scalability: A lot of people wonder if no-code web app development tools can scale to a billion-dollar enterprise the way coded technologies can. While the short answer is “not yet,” this is the wrong way to look at no-code web app tools. It evolved to democratize who can build, not necessarily how much can be built. That said, it’s possible today to run multi-million dollar courses, communities, and other types of businesses with strictly no-code tools.

Security: Code is often said to be the most secure way to build web apps since you can set up your own hosting infrastructure. With low- and no-code web app building platforms, you’re reliant on a third party for at least some of your solutions. However, the opposite can be true with third-party platforms. For instance, 10,000 entrepreneurs individually coding their own website could mean unique security issues across each store depending on how it was built. If 10,000 people all used a single no-code web app builder, that website builder company is investing heavily in network security to keep everyone safe. 

Community: All three communities are large and growing. The code community is perhaps the biggest owing to it being the most mature, but the other two communities are growing rapidly. All communities believe deeply in their ability to grow, scale, and succeed - and they typically hold their beliefs with equal passion.

Developer resources: Developers are expensive and in short supply. With that simple fact, more people push toward low- and no-code solutions that don’t need as much, or any, developer resources.

When to use no-code, low-code, and code solutions

There’s a perception that you have to pick one community and stick with it. This is in many cases propagated by the communities themselves. However, the reality is these communities and the tools they build can coexist and complement each other.

When to use no-code

no-code development

Image Source: Zvolv

No-code tools deliver speed, ease of use, and democratize who can build technology. With that in mind, no-code platforms are helpful for a variety of use cases, including: 

Minimum Viable Products: Building a no-code MVP to launch a product quickly and with minimal cost.

Personal use cases: Make a tool that helps you live your life better.

Internal tools: Automate processes in a single environment for your team by building internal tools.

Small external use cases: If you need to develop simple systems (like client portals for customers with relatively static data), these types of tools are a fast way to build.

Side projects: A simple no-code technology (an online community, membership websites, or other projects) could easily generate a couple of thousands a month in revenue with no need to scale beyond that.

When to use low-code

low-code development

Image Source: Neptune Software

Low-code platforms offer flexibility and scalability, plugging into code bases easily. These platforms are especially helpful for:

Connecting internal tools to external-facing technology: Using code to connect the dots.

Extending functionality of coded apps: Add a feature easily. 

In-depth prototypes and beta releases: Get the core functionality in hard code, but build the rest quickly for easy testing and iterating. 

When to use code

code development

Image Source: Sevaa

Code is the foundation of all development and always will be. That means code is a powerful tool for: 

Totally custom technology: Build anything you want with code.

Building in highly secure or regulatory environments: For example banking, insurance, and healthcare.

Highly complex technologies: Building with AI, blockchain, NLP, and other fourth industrial revolution technologies.

Final Words

All development started with code, and even low- and no-code tools stem from an initial code base - a developer writes code in such a way that a non-developer can build without needing (much) code.

Some view this as a natural evolution and think that code will be made redundant. The reality is the opposite: code becomes even more important, with low- and no-code platforms complementing it. In short: the future of development is hybrid.

A hybrid future means that people and organizations approach their challenges not from a point of limitation, but a point of outcome. You don’t use code (or low-code, or no-code) because you have to.

Instead, having multiple platforms means you can choose the outcome you want to achieve then pick the best pathway to get there. Much like how aeroplanes, trains, cars, and even horses all have their ideal use cases for transit, low-code, no-code, and code do the same for development. It’s not about one or the other, but about which parts come together to get you to your destination.

About Softr

Softr is an easy-to-use no-code platform that turns Airtable bases into powerful web apps and client portals. Softr offers a way for you to authenticate your end-users, control access to your content and data based on conditional rules like roles, logged-in status, subscription plans etc. If you're using Airtable as a product catalog you can use a Softr template to build your e-commerce website. Or maybe you'd like to build a custom website for your travel journal, there's a template for that too!

Frequently asked questions about low-code vs no-code

The no-code movement is based on a belief that technology should support creation instead of being something sophisticated that has a high entry level. No-code development allows everyone from non-technical people to developers to create software without writing any code. No-code platforms usually have a user-friendly graphical interface (often pre-made blocks), using which, virtually anyone can build a functioning software within a comparatively (as opposed to traditional approaches) short period of time. The overall idea is to democratize software building and allow people with diverse backgrounds to implement and launch their projects without obstacles.

If you have a software development background, low-code will allow you to achieve more in less time. So, you should use it if you don't have the resources to build your project from scratch but still need a certain level of customizability through custom code and have the skills to apply those customizations.

Low-code development is similar to no-code development in that it also allows building at least some part software through a graphical user interface. However, low-code platforms may require coding in some cases on top of the components built without code. The idea is to reduce the amount of traditional hand coding as much as possible to speed up the delivery of applications.

No-code isn't a universal approach, there can be cases when other approaches make more sense. Therefore, each unique case needs to be analyzed to understand what tools and approaches suit the best. However, it doesn't have to be just no-code or just code. Very often a combination of two or more approaches can be the best solution.

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