Low-code platforms have a proven edge over traditional application development in today’s dynamic business world, where agility is often synonymous with success. But what is the low-code vs no-code battle all about, in the context of business application development, and when should you select one platform type over the other?
While some perceive no-code (NC) as a more advanced alternative to low-code (LC), others believe that there’s little to no distinction between the two, with no-code often touted as a marketing spin on a decade-old phenomenon. To get better clarity on this, we must first look at what low-code and no-code platforms were originally conceived to be, and how they’ve evolved since.
Low-code vs no-code: A look back
Though low-code development platforms in their current form have been around for over decade, in principle they’ve actually existed much longer. If you hail from an IT background, chances are that you’ve stumbled upon low-code in one form or another—either as a high-level programming language (4th/5th generation) like Perl, Python, and SQL, or a derivative of computer-aided design and software development tools, which were popular in the 90s. All of these work on a common premise—what Gartner defines as “high-level programming abstractions,” i.e the ability of the platform to hide complexities (thousands of lines of code, in the context of application development) and show the user the bare essentials.
Abstractions in a low-code/no-code development context are generally at three levels—internal/capability-level, logical/behavior-level, and external/use-level. It helps to understand each in brief, as they constitute key points of differentiation between LC and NC platforms:
Internal/capability-level: This denotes the fundamental capabilities of a development platform, acting as a broad constraint to what can be achieved through it. For an LC/NC platform, this includes the set of tools and out-of-the-box functionalities available, and the degree to which these can be tweaked to suit your needs.
Logical/behavioral-level: This level signifies the business functionalities of the application, i.e. the manner in which different aspects and tools are integrated and made to function in a meaningful manner. This includes built-in automations, workflows, and custom and out-of-the-box integrations with other applications.
External/use-level: This level constitutes everything that is produced as a result of the application’s usage. This includes short-term processing changes, as well as the data collected and stored across the application’s life.
How is low-code different from no-code?
The Gartners and Forresters of the world define low-code as a visual development approach to application building that empowers even nontechnical users to build, test, manage, and deploy applications without traditional programming. Low-code and no-code platforms achieve this by creating ready-to-use code blocks—a collection of code for a specific functionality—that can operate within predefined constraints through a simple drag-and-drop interface.
For instance, if you’d like to trigger a workflow conditionally, when a certain set of actions are completed on your app, you could either use a programming language like Python, or an LCNC platform that has already configured the set of actions into code blocks that the machine can easily read and interpret.
Now imagine there are three standard conditions upon which these workflows get triggered. A no-code platform would factor these into their code blocks and train the platform to detect and trigger the workflows when these conditions are met. But what if there are two new conditions that are unique to your business environment? No-code platforms, that have historically been designed and positioned to ensure Rapid Application Development (RAD) through zero programming, would not be able to help you here.
Enter low-code development platforms (LCDP). In addition to factoring in the three standard conditions, an LCDP would also give you the means to quickly customize for new and unique ones. LCDPs achieve this without digressing from their central premise of empowering nontechnical/citizen developers to build applications and configure workflows, albeit in different ways. While Microsoft PowerApps uses a variant of DAX, Zoho Creator uses their own proprietary and highly user-friendly programming language, Deluge, for customizations.
When to opt for low-code over no-code
Both solutions were conceived to boost business agility and effectiveness, but they serve different segments in different ways. While no-code platforms have evolved rapidly to cater to the needs of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and solopreneurs, their more customizable counterparts have come to cater to enterprise needs as well, going hand in hand with the increased SaaS adoption at enterprises.
Businesses opt for no-code platforms to build simple applications that are intended to act as a standardized front to their end users, with low functional capabilities and customizability. Consider a situation where you’d like to deploy a simple post-event management app that collects feedback from participants and displays the results as a dashboard. In this case, an app built on a no-code platform might be just as capable as a low-code alternative.
But if, in addition, you’d like to selectively route users belonging to different satisfaction brackets to different teams to take further action, conditionally trigger responses, add users to different nurturing flows, or even push the feedback data to your CRM, you’d realize that no-code platforms very quickly begin to fall behind.
Simply put, you must factor in your long-term digital aspirations for your business when selecting your platform. Simple, standardized, one-off applications for primarily front-end needs? No-code is the way to go. Looking for something more? Maybe reconsider (and read on).
Key features of a low-code platform
So what are the key features that make low-code platforms better for enterprise-grade applications?
End-to-end digitalization: A low-code platform can take care of the entire gamut of your application lifecycle—from organizing and managing your business data and modeling your applications’ architecture to development, testing, deployment and performance management. And it’s all on the go, making it relevant for both technical and citizen developers alike and leaps ahead of no-code at the capability-level of abstraction.
Workflow management: Low-code platforms often provide a visual workflow editor with a simple drag-and-drop interface like no-code, but with adequate room to configure significantly more advanced automation workflows—often acting as a business process management (BPM) platform for several businesses to optimize operations—than just an application builder for front-end needs.
Tightly integrated & easily customizable: Low-code application development platforms also offer the ability to seamlessly integrate with any third party applications and customize to suit your needs, with little to no coding. In addition to advanced automation, this feature makes low-code platforms a clear winner in the logical/behavioral-layer of abstraction.
Tomorrow and beyond
Low-code is the most disruptive force in application development today, having empowered millions of nontechnical leaders, users, and businesses. In the years to come, low-code platforms will continue to expand on their integration ecosystem, identifying standard sought-after functionalities and building them into ready-made code blocks. Vendors will also focus on bringing more technical users into the fold, to foster greater collaboration, enhanced reusability of components, and smoother hand-offs.
A few no-code platforms, on the other hand, have already begun seeing the value in providing room for increased customizations in UI and reporting, improved functionality, and easier integrations. Many have consequently built low-code-like workarounds to help users achieve the same results, despite continuing to position themselves as no-code.
With the low-code market predicted to grow to $45.5 billion by 2025, one can expect both models to swiftly evolve and adapt to market needs, making the LC/NC battle an interesting one to watch!
Zoho Creator and low-code application development
Conceived and launched nearly a decade and a half ago, Zoho Creator was an early entrant in the low-code space, and continues to be a strong innovator. Creator has evolved to cover you across the entire application development lifecycle, from data management, architecture, and modeling to deployment and performance management, all without a single line of code, if you’d prefer!
With over 60+ prebuilt applications catering to several industry sectors and business functions, you have a time-tested framework and custom apps to get a jump start with. Creator’s intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes customization and app building a breeze, while its easy-to-learn and user-friendly programming language lets you configure advanced automation, establish deep integrations with third party systems, and infinitely customize your applications!