Full code vs. no-code: When and how to build software from scratch

Full code vs. no-code: When and how to build software from scratch

No-code has burst onto the scene promising to make software development (which is typically really hard and expensive) faster and cheaper by a 10x margin. In response, many companies are now flocking to no-code, causing rapid growth and hype in the space.  

The key questions everyone asks when they approach us to evaluate our no-code software development services are, Where’s the catch? What are the limitations? This seems too good to be true – will it serve my use case?

In our experience, no-code software is actually the best approach for most web applications, 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 use a no-code tool like Bubble – so that you can determine if it might be right for your project. 

Full code vs. no-code: What’s the difference?

Both full 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. To make a well-informed decision of which one you should use to build your app, let’s first 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.

Each of these languages (e.g. Python, Java, Javascript, C, C#, etc.) have a vast array of commands, including their own grammar and vocabulary. This allows them to cover virtually any use case for what the software should be able to do, giving the developer maximum control over the application build.

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 essentially 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 no-code tools include Webflow for landing pages, Airtable for databases, Zapier for workflow automations, and Bubble for full-stack app development. 

When should you use no-code?

Thanks to the hundreds (if not thousands) of no-code tools now available, you can now truly build just about any app a consumer or business might need with no-code. Because of this, you should use no-code whenever possible for its time/cost savings. See more on this in our other article addressing the software build vs. buy dilemma.

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. Refer to our other article When to build your marketplace app with no-code? to learn more why no-code is ideal for marketplaces. 
  • 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. Learn what types of business tools you can build using no-code in our article Should my business build a custom internal tool with no-code?
  • 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 build a web app from scratch?

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. custom AI and 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 for different parts of the 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?

Since you’re reading this article, it’s clear that you want to limit your risk of hitting a wall during and after app development. Now, you might be asking: What no-code tool has the most capabilities and customizability? Which app builders can actually handle the feature sets and scale that I 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. It allows us to field the widest array of client requests, without fear of hitting a limitation several iterations into a build. 

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 other blog article How customizable is a web app built on Bubble?

Ready to build with Bubble but need help? 

While Bubble is still faster and easier than traditional development, it has a higher learning curve than some off-the-shelf no-code tools. 

If you’re looking for an outside Bubble developer to help you build your custom app fast, check out our guide on how to choose the right Bubble developer or agency

Airdev is the largest and most highly-rated Bubble agency globally.

If you need to launch a custom, production-grade app fast, contact us about your project today!