Databases are the backbone of application development.
Whether you are building for the web, for mobile, or on your pet project on your Raspberry Pi: your application development will not get far unless you have sorted out where to store and retrieve your application data. Developers generally have to make choices regarding their database (such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, etc.), as well as the database server (typically, AWS, Azure, or GCP).
In recent years, the popularity of online database builders, which provide a hosted web database, has steadily increased. As more and more data gets stored and generated online, developers are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting the best online database builder. Different vendors offer seemingly similar solutions as an online database.
In this article, we want to pull back the curtain on online databases and highlight their differences. We will give you our list of the top five best online database builders in 2023. All come with robust functionality such as building your database schema or building online forms on a database.
If spending hours reading comparison tables on G2, or going through free trials to evaluate every online database builder out there isn’t your thing, then this guide is for you. Keep reading for the top five online database builders.
Online database builders allow developers to create web-hosted databases to store or retrieve data. Most online database builders are implementations of popular, open-source relational database management systems (RDBMS), such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or MariaDB hosted on infrastructure provided by one of the three big cloud providers (AWS, Azure, or GCP).
If you are entirely new to databases, it’s worth understanding how developers typically select their database. Thankfully, Stack Overflow has been asking this question consistently to developers in its annual developer survey. MySQL has always been on top of the ranks:
Online database builders take the complexity out of creating and setting up your own hosted database on the cloud. For example, to create a MySQL database on AWS’s RDS, a popular managed relational database service the typical steps are:
These three steps may not look very intimidating at first sight, but if you do care to go through each one of them, you will quickly find that configuring your database instance on AWS can get quite tedious. And the settings that AWS gives you can seem to be a bit of an overkill for accomplishing the simple outcome of getting a web-hosted online database.
Online database builders take the hassle out of your database setup, creation, management, and maintenance. They provide an intuitive and easy-to-use graphical user interface to create and manage your database, often without having to write a single line of Structured Query Language (SQL) or ever having to touch a SQL GUI, such as MySQL Workbench, DBeaver, or phpMyAdmin.
The best way to build an online database is to select the right tool for your particular purpose. This may sound trivial, but there are a lot of options.
For example, some online database builders are pure online database providers (Database as a Service, or DBaaS). Popular tools in this category are, for example, Airtable, Xano, or Firebase. Use these tools if you are primarily looking for a place to store your data, and wish to build a highly-customized front-end using a separate solution. If you decide to do so, bear in mind that you will most likely end up paying for two solutions: your hosted database, as well as the tool you are using to build a web front end on your database.
Other online database builders overcome this problem and offer a database that is integrated into an application development environment. They are full-stack application builders and give you everything from data modeling to application deployment.
This category includes Five, Zoho Creator, Knack, Caspio, or Retool. These five solutions are similar to online database builders in that they provide a web-hosted database. But they come with the added advantage of also providing advanced application development features.
For example, if you wish to build an online form with a database, this could easily be accomplished with any of these five solutions. You can also create different user roles and manage CRUD (Create – Read – Update – Delete) permissions for your end-users right from inside these solutions. This makes them the perfect place to create a web-based database, as well as a front end for your application end-users to interact with your data.
By integrating the database into the application development process, these online database application builders offer a more seamless experience for developers who want to go from idea to application, rather than just from idea to database.
In the age of digital transformation, online database platforms are increasingly becoming the cornerstone of many businesses. The appeal of these platforms lies in their ability to offer real-time access to information, which is crucial for making data-driven decisions. Various database software options are available, ranging from proprietary solutions to free online database platforms. Amazon RDS, for example, offers a managed relational database service that simplifies the setup, operation, and scaling of databases in the cloud. It provides cost-efficient and resizable capacity, and automates time-consuming administration tasks.
Despite the robust features of such paid solutions, not every project requires a paid database. If you’re just starting out, or if your needs are relatively simple, free online databases might be a good fit. There are several online databases available for free, offering basic functionalities that can cover a broad range of needs. Among these free online database software options, you’ll find Five.
Five offers a free tier that enables developers to build their applications locally without any charge. This makes it an excellent choice for those looking to test the waters of application development without making a financial commitment. Moreover, the real-time capabilities of Five’s online database software make it possible to create dynamic applications that respond to changes as they happen. It’s a brilliant choice if you’re a developer seeking a balance between cost and functionality. If you decide to scale your project, you can transition into a paid subscription to deploy your application to the cloud. This flexibility makes Five an attractive option for both beginners and experienced developers alike.
Let’s go through the five best online database builders and their strengths and weaknesses: Five, Caspio, Knack, Retool, and Zoho Creator. Let’s start with the commonalities. All five companies
Though there are similarities, there are also important differences between these five solutions.
First and foremost, only three out of the five solutions use standard relational databases, and only two rely on open-source RDBMS. This is important for three reasons. By building on an open-source, commonly used RDBMS
The two providers using standard, open-source relational databases are Five, which gives you a MySQL database, and Retool, which gives you a PostgreSQL database. MySQL is the world’s most popular database technology, according to StackOverflow’s Annual Developer Survey.
Secondly, only three out of the five solutions are designed for use by trained software developers. These are Five, Retool, and Zoho Creator. Caspio and Knack, on the other hand, are made for non-developers. What’s the difference?
If you are familiar with relational databases, SQL, or primary and foreign keys, then the more advanced online database application builders (Five, Retool, and Zoho Creator) are a better choice for you. Their reliance on established concepts in software development makes them easy to use for trained software developers. However, be careful with Zoho Creator’s reliance on a proprietary language, which is unique to the Zoho ecosystem. If, on the other hand, you are not familiar with coding at all and primary and foreign keys do not mean anything to you, you are better off choosing a no-code tool, such as Knack or Caspio.
Now, let’s go through each solution one-by-one: here is our list of the five best online database builders.
Five is a low-code development environment that lets software developers rapidly build and deploy custom online database applications. It offers granular access control, CRUD permissions, and full code extensibility. It closely resembles a professional IDE and is best used by software developers.
Applications built with Five run on a standard MySQL database.
Five is best used to build responsive business applications for internal or external users.
Five offers a free, fully-featured download on its website . Five is an easy free database creator. Developers can build their applications locally free of charge and sign up for a paid subscription, once they have built something that is production-worthy that they would like to deploy to the cloud. To read more about Five’s online database capabilities on MySQL, check out its features.
Caspio is a no-code online database builder, used by business users and business analysts to create database business applications. Caspio’s user interface is designed for tech-savvy business users, who are advanced Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Access users.
Applications built with Caspio run on a hosted Microsoft SQL Server database.
Caspio is best suited for creating web widgets (also called data pages). These data pages can be embedded into other websites to create business applications.
Caspio offers a free trial, and a free account: A free trial lets you try a full-featured version of Caspio for 14 days, whereas a free account is limited in features and resources, but never expires.
Knack is a no-code online database builder, designed for people new to application development. It is a user-friendly, entry-level database builder for non-engineers.
Applications built with Knack run on a proprietary MongoDB and Solr database.
Knack is best suited for building online databases for web applications for internal or external users.
Knack offers a time-limited, 14-day free trial through their website.
Zoho Creator is an online database application development environment with comprehensive software development lifecycle (SDLC) features. It is best used by developers.
Applications built with Zoho Creator run on a proprietary relational database.
Zoho Creator is used by software engineers to develop custom database applications.
Zoho Creator offers a 15-day free trial of their Premium plan.
At the time of writing, Retool’s integrated database feature is still in beta, which is why we’re putting it last on our list.
Retool is a developer-focused low-code environment that enables the rapid development of internal tools. Internal tools are business applications used by employees in the same company.
Applications built with Retool run on a PostgreSQL database.
Retool is used to build internal tools.
Retool offers a hosted free plan that is limited to five end-users.
Which one is the best online database builder?
Based on our review, the five best online database builders with comprehensive application development features are Five, Caspio, Retool, Knack, and Zoho Creator. This is not an ordinal ranking: each tool serves its use case. And even though each platform allows you to build an online database with a web front end, there are important differences. Most importantly, each vendor uses a different underlying database, ranging from MySQL to proprietary databases.
Also, each vendor approaches the application development differently, with three out of the five platforms being more developer-focused (Five, Retool, and Zoho Creator), and two being more no-code-focused (Caspio and Knack).
As developers, we always prefer tools that enable us to use tried-and-tested technologies that we are already familiar with. That’s where Five and Retool tick the most boxes.