When it comes to building apps, there are now two development options: full code vs. no-code.
No-code allows users to build an app without coding, promising to make software development (which is typically really hard and expensive) faster and cheaper by a 10x margin. In response, many startups and businesses are now flocking to no-code to create custom apps from scratch.
The key questions everyone asks when they approach us to build an app without code are, Where’s the catch? What are the limitations? Will it serve my unique use case?
In our experience, no-code software is actually the best approach for most web apps, but it’s not right for every case. Sometimes, traditional programming is a better fit depending on the specific product and team needs.
Below, we’ll explain how we think about the full code vs. no-code question – and when it makes sense to build an app without code – so that you can determine if it might be right for your project.
Full code vs. no-code: What’s the difference?
Both code and no-code represent two distinct, but valid, approaches to creating an app. Each of these two building options has its own pros and cons. Below we review a few major differences.
What is full code development?
Most of us have seen coders typing colorful gibberish into a black screen – this is the process of developing software using a conventional coding language (i.e. full code development). This involves writing lines of instructions to the computer to perform various tasks using commands written in a specific syntactic form called a programming language.
What is no-code?
Unlike custom programming, no-code platforms allow you to build software applications through a drag-and-drop interface instead of writing lines of code. The end result is the same as with traditional coding: a fully-functional web application that users interact with (unaware of how it was made). But by using a more intuitive visual building interface, no-code tools make software development faster and more accessible to people without coding experience.
What this means is that no-code tools have lowered the technical barriers that have historically prevented entrepreneurs and businesses from building their own apps. If you have a clear vision and goal for your app/solution, you no longer need the deep technical expertise and training to execute it.
Today, there are a growing number of different no-code platforms. Each has its own editing environment (i.e. programming language), capabilities, and limitations. Examples of popular tools to make apps without coding include Webflow for landing pages, Airtable for databases, Zapier for workflow automations, and Bubble for full-stack app development.
Refer to our What is no-code? guide for a full overview on building apps without code.
When should you build an app without code?
Thanks to the hundreds (if not thousands) of no-code tools available, you can now build just about any app a consumer or business might need with no-code. Because of this, you should consider building an app without code whenever possible to save time and money.
Common types of apps, features, and functionality that people are turning to no-code tools to build include:
- Marketplaces and e-commerce sites: i.e. platforms that connect buyers and sellers of goods or services with each other and provide the infrastructure for the transaction.
- Social networks: i.e. an app that incorporates social features that allow people to connect or engage with other users. See how we built a Twitter clone using no-code!
- Internal tools: i.e. apps for internal users in an organization to run business operations and performs various actions.
- User logins and permissions: i.e. graphical interfaces that replace time/resource consuming hard-coded changes to the user login process
- Complex workflow automations: i.e. apps that streamline essential business processes, like communications and documents
- Dashboards and analytics: i.e. apps for visually tracking statistics and data in your industry/business
- Connections to 3rd-party APIs: i.e. ability to pull in data from external services, such as Stripe for building in payment systems for your app
When should you create an app from scratch using traditional development?
Because custom code is slower to build and requires more ongoing maintenance effort than fully-hosted no-code platforms, it’s best reserved for cases where no-code tools can't achieve what you need. In other words, traditional code should be used on an "as-needed" basis.
Common reasons for bypassing no-code and instead needing code include:
- Novel technology (e.g. machine learning algorithms)
- Huge scale (e.g. app needs to support millions of daily users)
- Custom visual interface (e.g. create something like Photoshop or iMovie within app)
- Team capabilities (e.g. you have existing developers who need to stay busy)
When can you take a hybrid building approach?
Sometimes the full code vs. no-code dilemma isn’t an all-or-nothing question. At times you’ll find that there are a number of different ways to use both approaches for different parts of your build. Examples of hybrid builds include:
- Embedding a code-based tool into a no-code application
- Using an API to have a no-code tool send requests to a code-based algorithm or service
- Using single-sign-on (SSO) to allow users to link between different parts of an app built with code/no-code
- Having a no-code user-facing tool connect to a custom code backend database
- Creating workflow automations in a no-code tool, that get triggered by code-based tools in your existing stack
What is the most customizable no-code tool?
To limit your risk of hitting a wall when building a custom app without code, it's important first find a tool that offers a lot of flexibility and extensibility to handle the feature sets and scale that you need.
As a no-code development agency that’s built hundreds of different custom apps for clients, we’ve chosen Bubble as our preferred solution. With Bubble, we've found that there are very few limitations when it comes to the kind of a web application that you want to build – almost any UI, functionality, and integrations are feasible.
Sometimes we will recommend our clients use other no-code tools, like Shopify if they’re creating a standard e-commerce site or Webflow if they’re making a website without complex functionality. But when it comes to building unique, complex software, Bubble offers us the closest alternative to custom code.
To see an overview of Bubble’s capabilities and limitations before investing time and money building your custom app, check out our list of what's possible with Bubble.
Learn if no-code is right for your project
Download The Quick Guide to No-Code to see how you can use no-code in your startup or business to build faster and leaner, as well as how to choose the right no-code platform for your app.