To code, or not to code. That is the question.
There is a difference between no code, low code, and high code approaches to software development. Each approach describes a different way of building applications. And low-code and no-code vendors offer different solutions that solve different problems for different types of users.
Sounds complicated? Well, worry not. Let’s shed some light on the differences, so that during the next low code vs no code debate, you, dear reader, can impress with your knowledge.
In this article, we take a closer look at each approach. Low code vs no code: what is the difference?
Now, before you continue reading, let’s first clarify who this article is for. Is it written for people who have never written code before, or is it for experienced software developers?
The answer is: both.
Regardless of whether you are new to coding, or have years of experience writing, reading and debugging code under your belt – this comparison of no code vs low code is for you. In fact, I’d highly recommend reading this article, especially if you are an experienced software developer.
IT consultancy Gartner, for example, predicts that by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies. This means that if you are currently working in application development, or aspire to become a web developer, chances are you will be working with a low-code tool. So why not get ahead of the curve and start reading more about low code vs no code?
Rarely have technology gurus come up with a more descriptive name for technology than no-code.
No-code allows people without coding skills to build applications without using code. Who would have guessed? (Compare this to “NFTs” or “the metaverse”. Good luck guessing what those are).
No-code environments are usually visual, What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) development environments. They enable people who have never written software before to build applications. Typical users are non-technical founders, entrepreneurs, or anyone else who wants to spin up an MVP quickly and at a low cost. Vendors that are dominant in this category are companies such as Bubble, AppGyver, or AppSheet.
The first thing you will notice when you visit these vendors’ websites is typically their headlines. At the time of writing, these are:
What’s the common denominator? Right: the emphasis on not needing or eliminating code.
While these companies started off as niche products outside of big tech companies reach, Google, SAP, and Microsoft eventually took notice and flexed their M&A muscles.
AppSheet was acquired by Google in 2020. SAP acquired AppGyver in 2021. Bubble is still privately held, but is working very closely together with Microsoft. For example, Bubble is now part of Microsoft’s Founders Hub, a program dedicated to start-ups and entrepreneurs.
No-code platforms have done a tremendous job in getting people who have never coded before interested (and capable of) developing applications. Especially in the start-up world of limited capital and resources, no-code platforms can provide a quick-and-dirty, no-code way of building a minimum viable product for people without a technical background.
In the realm of business processes, the advent of no-code app development has changed how both web and mobile apps are created. By eliminating the need for intricate computer programming knowledge, these no-code app builders have democratized app creation, allowing individuals without a background in computer science, or citizen developers, to build sophisticated applications. This shift in code status, where coding knowledge is no longer a barrier, has enabled businesses to rapidly prototype and deploy functional applications outside of traditional IT.
However, the no-code approach also comes with limitations: inside a no-code tool, there’s very little wiggle room to customize or change anything. If something is not provided as a pre-built component, you can’t do it. Speed and simplicity of development come at the cost of application complexity.
Now that we’ve understood what no-code is, let’s move on to part 2 of “low code vs no code”, and take a closer look at low code platforms. Again, let’s start with the name: low code.
Whereas “no code” is a great name, “low code” is just the opposite: it’s neither descriptive nor accurate. Nor do the intended target users of low code platforms, professional software engineers, particularly seem to like it. Trained developers enjoy writing, reading, and de-bugging code: why would they want to get rid of it?
The truth is they don’t. Professional developers understand that the ability to use high code means two things: full flexibility and full control. Code, after all, is the language that a computer is designed to understand.
Software developers give instructions to a computer using code. The idea of eliminating it is tantamount to taking away the sharpest tool in their toolbox. As Robert Martin, author of “Clean Code” says: “There Will Be Code.”
“Some have suggested that we are close to the end of code. That soon all code will be generated instead of written. That programmers simply won’t be needed because business people will generate programs from specifications.
Nonsense! We will never be rid of code, because code represents the details of the requirements. At some level those details cannot be ignored or abstracted; they have to be specified. And specifying requirements in such detail that a machine can execute them is programming. Such a specification is code.”
Unlike no-code platforms, which are designed to eliminate or reduce code to a minimum, low code platforms celebrate code. So: the number 1 difference between low code vs no code is the role of code.
This is why we agree with this definition of low code found on Forbes:
“Typically built to componentize the more easily defined and repeatable tasks associated with coding software, low code is not for dummies and still requires a professionally trained and qualified software engineer to handle it”.
A better name for “low code” would be “efficient code” (Chiefs of Marketing would probably beg to differ with this assertion). Low code solutions speed up the work of experienced software engineers through pre-built components. They are designed to increase developer productivity. But they don’t eliminate high code.
That’s how low code platforms allow for increased complexity compared to pure no code platforms. They usually also come with much more developer-focused features, such as multiple application environments (development, staging, and production), or multiple application instances (i.e. one codebase supporting multiple instances) compared to pure no-code tools.
Low code platforms are closer to traditional development, but try to make the overall development process more efficient by giving developers access to higher level abstractions. This accelerates the overall app development process, but is typically not something that a business user or citizen developer should be in charge of. Rather, low-code platforms do require some coding knowledge and technical skills.
To conclude: low code vs no code – what is the difference?
No code platforms, on the other hand, are designed for use by everybody, from non-technical founders to business users. A no-code user would be overwhelmed with the complexity inherent in more cutting-edge low-code tools, but can easily create their first application in a no code platform.
So how do you know which platform is right for you?
Here’s a simple test: if things like application environments, instances, libraries, relational databases, or queries don’t mean anything to you, or if the only code you’ve ever read is “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, then you are not the right user for a low code tool. You’re better off using a no-code solution. If, on the other hand, you enjoy writing code and believe that code gives you the necessary flexibility to build complex solutions, then low code solutions are the right tool for you.
Last but certainly not least, let’s also characterize high code development.
High code is the best approach for a web development project with a set of bespoke requirements.
But what are the issues inherent in full-code development?
Writing high code is time-consuming, complex, and requires the expertise of trained software engineers. And learning how to build a full-stack application from scratch takes years of practice. Managing a large codebase can also be a challenging task, especially when multiple developers are working on the same project or when fluctuation in software development teams is high.
The reality of today’s software development is that it is hard to spin up a production-ready application at the pace at which users would like. A solid knowledge of the full stack, i.e. back end and front end, as well as deployment, is required to ship an application to end users.
Staring at a blank IDE at the beginning of a new project can sometimes lead to a developer’s version of writer’s block. That’s what low code platforms, by providing some guardrails around development and deployment, can help overcome.
So, to sum it all up: low code vs no code (vs high code). These are three unique approaches to software development. Each category has its own vendors and solutions. And each solution is best suited for particular use cases. Depending on who you are (or rather, what your skills are and what your client requires), there are pros and cons to picking a low code vs no code platform.
And, last, to a coding purist: you may still reject the idea of both no code and low code. But bear in mind, that software engineering is a constant evolution with more and more reuse of existing code. Low code solutions are not so different from using a library or a framework (think React, Flask or Ruby on Rails). Low code platforms are just a higher level of abstraction.
In case you have enough of reading, here’s a handy table to sum up the differences between low code vs no code and high code.
Five is a low code development environment that helps software developers build and deploy custom online database applications faster.
Inside Five, developers can rapidly build release-ready software using Five’s pre-built features, such as a hosted MySQL database, authentication, or setting up access control. So where does Five sit on a low code vs no code spectrum?
Five doesn’t restrict developers to just drag and drop or WYSIWYG. It accelerates development through wizards and drag-and-drop: for example, Five’s table and form wizards make it very easy (and fast) to create database tables and forms.
With Five, developers can combine speed and simplicity with the complexity and customizability of high code.
Keen to learn more about low code vs no code? Why not sign up for a free download? Or check out our infographic on trade-offs between low code vs no code and full-code.
Whatever approach you are choosing to develop your next application: happy coding!