Low-code/no-code platforms are making it much easier for startups and businesses to develop software. However, they are not the same.
Depending on your use case and situation, both are useful tools for developing an app. Below, we’ll explain their differences, pros and cons, and when it makes sense to use one versus the other.
Low-code vs. no-code: What’s the difference?
Both low-code and no-code offer faster, less costly alternatives to traditional software development done using conventional coding languages (see Full code vs. no-code: When and how to build software from scratch for more on this).
The difference is that low-code tools help developers write code faster, whereas no-code tools help non developers (i.e. business users who have vast domain knowledge but don’t know how to write code manually) create apps without using any code. Here, we break down the specifics even further:
What do low-code/no-code tools have in common?
- They both allow programmers to build software through a visual development environment (i.e. point-and-click/drag-and-drop building blocks to arrange an app’s interface, plain English) instead of writing lines of code
- They both translate the visual setup into code that a web browser can understand, so that users of the resulting application have the exact same experience as they would if it was written in code
- They both have many of the same benefits to various business teams that use them (see more on the benefits below)
Where do low-code/no-code tools differ?
- Low-code tools target conventional developers, helping to generate pre-configured code faster; no-code tools target non-coders, allowing them to build tools without writing a single line of code
- Low-code tools generally require a technical developer background to use (e.g. they use technical language and require modifying code directly from templates); no-code tools require logical skills and some programming concepts, but need zero code vocabulary or syntax
- Low-code tools are generally less complete/flexible in functionality because their audience can use code to augment/modify their output; no-code tools offer more control, at least within their specific use case (some target verticals/horizontals, such as Sharetribe, while others like Bubble.io are more general)
Benefits of low-code/no-code
Both low-code and no-code are similar in that they aim to abstract the complex aspects of coding by using visual interfaces, pre-configured templates, and built-in features like APIs and reusable plug-in modules to automate a significant portion of the app development process.
This offers a few keys advantages over traditional software development:
- Faster app development (i.e. quicker time to market)
- Less expensive (i.e. no longer need professional coders for the full development process)
- Lower maintenance burden (i.e. professional developers can spend less time fixing bugs and integration issues, and instead focus on more innovative work that drives greater business value)
- Increased understanding between business and IT (i.e. allows more business users who know their workflows and processes best to participate in app development)
- Rapid prototyping (i.e. enables app testing, evaluation, and quicker customer feedback at less financial risk)
- More customized software (i.e. off-the-shelf SaaS products can be expensive and have a one-size-fits-all approach, while low-code and no-code incentivize in-house customization, shifting the needle towards “build” in the buy vs. build dilemma. See more on the software build vs, buy topic here.)
When should you use low-code vs. no-code?
Despite offering similar advantages, there are a few situations in which it makes more sense to use one approach over the other. Below are 3 factors to consider to help you determine whether one approach might be a better fit for your app than the other:
1. Access to developers
- Low-code: low-code is primarily targeted at professional coders as it provides additional functionality to developers and IT teams by allowing them to create custom code when needed. If you already have developers working on an app they'll be better at low-code tools since it generates code.The unique benefit of low-code platforms is that they allow developers to avoid replicating basic code, creating more space for them to move quickly and focus on the more complex parts of development that lead to rich feature sets.
- No-code: while non-coders can also work with low-code platforms to build applications, they won’t be able to modify code in ready-made blocks. Because of this, it's often better to use no-code because it’s accessible to a higher number of people (i.e. users don't need to know how to code), so it provides more flexibility from a team perspective.
2. Stage of app development
- Low-code: if you’re looking to modify an existing app, low-code can be very helpful. Low-code platforms let developers switch between low-code and full-code. They can create apps using the visual flow representation, which generates app code that they’re then able to input within your existing code base for an app built traditionally. This can help traditional coders customize and tweak an app much faster than before.
- No-code: if you are building a new product from scratch, you're able to use no-code since it doesn't need to play with any existing code. And with no-code, you can always have new/old tools talk to each other through APIs.
Relevant: What is an API and how does it work?
3. Level of customization
- Low-code: if the concept of the app you’re building is close to existing templates/tools, low-code can be a great option. For example, if a low-code tool focuses on the exact type of modules you need, you’ll be able to customize it with code – using far less developer effort and time.
- No-code: the more customized your app is, the more you’ll want no-code. Its highly configurable, plug-and-play visual programming is faster than traditional development, so it's quicker to close the gap for apps in need of customized features.
Overall, the decision between using no-code vs. low-code platforms really boils down to whether or not you have professional developers who can manually write lines of code.
If you're a startup or existing business with little or zero software development resources, seeking a tech stack accessible to virtually anyone, or looking to rapidly deploy an MVP, you should consider the no-code option. It lends itself well to front-end apps that can be quickly designed by drag-and-drop interfaces. Good candidates are UI apps that pull data from sources and report, analyze, import, and export data. It’s also good for apps, like marketplaces and social networks, that require common, everyday web functionality (e.g. user signups, profiles, search, transactions, etc.) rather than new technological solutions.
If you have developers at your disposal, low-code is a great option for customizing any of these applications even further with your own source code, or speeding up their development.
Common misconceptions about low-code vs. no-code
Because both tools work for the same end result, there’s some confusion around the capabilities and use cases of low-code and no-code. Below are answers to the 3 most common misconceptions we hear about both:
- They’re interchangeable: while both help streamline app and web development through drag-and-drop, pre-made visual elements that are connected with easy-to-configure, pre-coded workflows, they are not the same. The difference lies in the name. No-code promises to completely eliminate the need for coding, while low-code does not.
- Low-code is for enterprise, no-code is for startups: while this has historically been the case, things have changed. In the past, enterprises had coders, and coders wanted low-code. However, more complex no-code tools have entered the market meaning that both types of tools can now scale, be performant, and take on the most complex use cases.
- Low-code offers more customization: this depends. Some no-code tools are fairly restrictive (e.g. Shopify), but tools such as Bubble’s visual programming have low-level building blocks, API connectors, and the ability to use code to create plugins so you can do anything (see more on this below).
How to use no-code for complex, custom apps
At Airdev, we’ve built complex, custom web apps for hundreds of businesses with all types of use cases who chose to use no-code. We’ve found that the no-code platform Bubble offers the speed advantage of no-code, without the restrictions of many off-the-shelf no-code platforms. It’s a full-stack visual programming no-code platform that specializes in responsive web and mobile apps with dynamic databases and complex functionality.
In other words, our clients found that Bubble allows them to retain complete control over their app’s design, functionality, and extensibility without running into hard guardrails in functionality or timeline.
One point to note: While Bubble is still faster and easier than traditional development, it has a higher learning curve than off-the-shelf no-code tools.
Below are several resources we’ve compiled around Bubble’s capabilities and uses:
- Capabilities & limitations of no-code & Bubble
- What is Bubble.io? The guide to building a Bubble app for beginners
- How customizable is a web app built on Bubble?
- 5 ways businesses use Bubble for no-code enterprise software development
- 4 reasons startups choose Bubble to create their marketplace app
Overall, no matter if the tool calls itself low-code, no-code, or both, it’s important to focus on the platform’s architecture and technology approaches to find the best fit.
The key is for businesses of any size to search for platforms that solve their critical problem, integrate with outside vendors and data sources, and scale/evolve to meet new needs in the future.
Ready to build with no-code/Bubble but need help?
If you want the speed and lower cost of no-code, but can’t spare the time to build and refine a complex, customized no-code app, Airdev can help. We’ve worked with many entrepreneurs, startups, and large businesses to rapidly build complex apps on Bubble.