At first glance, it’s easy to confuse low-code and no-code. Even the big analyst firms seem to have a hard time differentiating between them. In Gartner’s 2019 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application platforms, “no-code” capability was one of the criteria for inclusion in the report. However, in its latest Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, 2020 (LCAP), Gartner stated that no-code platforms were not included. However, platforms or tools such as Honeycode and AppSheets, which their vendors say are no-code, were evaluated as LCAPs. It’s no wonder that we’re all a little confused.

Market confusion aside, it really is possible to distinguish between low-code and no-code platforms. There are literally hundreds of small details and capabilities that differentiate low-code platforms from no-code solutions. Most of them aren’t apparent at the UI level, which is where much of the confusion between the two comes from. This blog post addresses the capabilities that set the two apart from each other so that you can better understand where they can fit in your organization.

What Is Low-Code and How Do You Use It?

Let’s start with low-code. Low-code is a way for developers of all skill levels to design applications quickly and with minimum hand-coding by dragging and dropping visual blocks of existing code into a workflow to create applications. Building software with low-code is the same as building software any other way, with the main difference being the types of shortcuts offered. Rather than hand-coding a user management system, learning the latest programming framework, or writing 10 tests before a single line of your app’s code, you go straight to creating something new and valuable.

Low-code development

Skilled developers work smarter and faster with low-code because they are not hamstrung by repetitive coding or duplicating work. Instead, they focus on creating the 10 percent of an application that makes it different, using their development experience and skills to architect it all and leaving the grunt work to the low-code tool or platform.

Low-Code Advantages

There are numerous benefits to using a low-code platform. Let’s take a top-level look at the biggest perks of low-code development before we examine what no-code brings to the table.

Here’s the low-down:

  • Speed: With low-code, you can build apps for multiple platforms simultaneously and show stakeholders working examples in days, or even hours.
  • More resources: If you’re working on a big project, you no longer have to wait for developers with specialized skills to finish up another lengthy project, which means things get done more quickly and at a lower cost.
  • Low risk/high ROI: With low-code, robust security processes, data integration, and cross-platform support are already built in and can be easily customized—which means less risk and more time to focus on your business.
  • One-click deployment: With low-code, a single click is all it takes to send your application to production. Launch day is no longer a nerve-wracking experience.

Low-Code Disadvantages

If you’ve been enchanted by the list of advantages and you’re ready to adopt low-code, don’t be too hasty. Low-code has disadvantages. For one, if you only have a smattering of development knowledge, most low-code platforms will be difficult to master quickly. Also, although low-code makes it possible to create a working application fast, low-code tools can stop just shy of enabling the development of enterprise apps. Scalability, high quality, high performance, and other non-functional requirements are not always easy to meet with low-code, nor is it easy to change them with the platform. 

And What Is No-Code?

No-code solutions also feature drag-and-drop, visual development. Unlike low-code, they mostly cater to business people or others in IT who may not know any actual programming languages but want to develop an application for a specific use case—often for their department. In other words, no-code allows organizations to equip teams with the tools they need to create applications without formal development training.

Everything the no-code vendor thinks the user needs to build an app is already built into the tool. No-code solutions are similar to popular blogging platforms and e-commerce website design companies that have prebuilt pages you can use to launch your blog or business in minutes.

No-Code Advantages

No-code is great if you need a simple app to solve a single business or department problem, and you don’t want to wait for IT to build and deliver it 3-6 months from now. No-code platforms require very little training, so anyone in your organization can build an app, usually in the realm of business process management, such as expense approvals. No-code gives business users the freedom to address an immediate need without diverting IT from mission-critical development projects.

No-Code Disadvantages

The downside to no-code is that it can result in shadow IT, whereby people are developing apps without proper supervision or consideration. Predictably, the results can lead to security concerns, compliance issues, integration problems, apps that use more resources than necessary, and increased technical debt.  There is much to be said about having the technical know-how to consider all angles of automating a business process with a user-friendly interface before starting to build an application.

Low-Code vs. No-Code: When to Use What

Both low-code and no-code platforms are built with the same thing in mind: speed. But how do you know when to use one and not the other? The sections about advantages and disadvantages hint at the answer to this question, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Low-code is good for developing standalone mobile and web apps and portals that are likely to require integration with other systems and several data sources. In fact, it can be used for just about anything except highly sophisticated, mission-critical systems that integrate with multiple backends and external data sources. No-code tools, by contrast, should only be used for front-end use-cases.

So, unless you’re developing only the simplest applications, and require little in the way of customization, low-code is likely the better option. Low-code enables you to build user-friendly, responsive apps. Although not as simple as no-code, there is still enough simplicity inherent in low-code tools to get those apps up and running much faster than if you were to hand-code them. And, since low-code still requires some knowledge of coding, you know the people creating your applications will do so properly, and your new applications won’t saddle you with security risks or compliance issues.

Are Low-Code and No-Code the Future of Application Development?

The short answer to this question is yes. Low-code and no-code tools are increasingly playing a crucial role in speeding up the delivery of applications. Gartner predicts that by 2023, over 50% of medium to large enterprises will have adopted a low-code or no-code as one of their strategic application platforms and that low-code will be responsible for more than 65% of application development activity by 2024.

We believe that the pressure to deliver digital solutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the reasons for the accelerated adoption of low-code and no-code. Another reason is that only the largest, richest companies have access to the best tech talent and most advanced development tools. No-code and low-code tools level the playing field, giving organizations of all sizes the power to do more with their existing resources.

But in the long-term, neither is the future of application development, at least not in a vacuum. Even a no-code and low-code tool combo falls short. Sure, these tools give you the power to build version 1 of a simple department or mobile app fast. But, they don’t offer an easy path to enterprise-wide deployment, can contribute significantly to backlogs and technical debt, and are not equipped to deliver updates and changes needed for versions 2, 3, 4, and beyond.

For that reason, when looking for the right solution to support your digital goals, you should look for a platform that combines the visual development of low-code development with high-productivity and AI capabilities to help you build apps not just faster, but right and for the future.

The OutSystems High-Performance Low-Code Development Platform

The OutSystems low-code application development platform can address the full spectrum of enterprise use cases for mobile, web, and core systems. It offers visual development that is the mainstay of low-code, but it adds AI-assisted development to guide developers through processes, suggesting the next best actions and sources for help, eliminating friction and long lead times.

The platform enables individuals with a diverse array of expertise to participate seamlessly in the design, building, deploying and managing of applications—in what we call whole cross-functional team collaboration. For business users, creating useful and thoughtfully designed apps under the experienced guidance of IT offers the benefits of extending your IT team’s capabilities and bandwidth but with controls and governance. For professional developers, the ability to work faster and more efficiently, while also coding by hand as needed, means the perpetual backlog of needed applications shrinks, while IT’s business value grows.

To ensure your application is built right, platform services and a multitude of security checks provide scalability, governance, protection from threats, and compliance. AI finds and solves issues early, eliminating design errors and duplication of effort. Real-time application performance data helps identify anything that needs to be corrected or optimized.

Most importantly, OutSystems was designed to help manage change. Building for the future is not for the faint of heart, and that’s why it’s not on the low-code menu. OutSystems platform services, AI, and visual tools enable the continuous introduction of features and capabilities. Developers can evolve apps every bit as quickly as the business changes and new technologies are introduced.

Want to learn more? Experience it for yourself with the OutSystems free edition (yes, it’s free forever).