At first glance, it’s easy to confuse low-code and no-code. They sound the same for one. Even the big analyst firms seem to have a hard time differentiating them. Gartner views “no-code” application platforms as part of the low-code sphere, lumping them together into its latest Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, 2019 (LCAP).

But there are a number of very significant differences between low-code and no-code platforms. If you’re considering moving away from traditional application development, or even just want to try out visual application development, you’ll want to be aware of what you’re getting in each offering.

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

Let’s start with low-code. Low-code development is a way for developers to design applications quickly and with minimum hand-coding. We use low-code as a noun, as in it’s a “thing” the same as Python or C#. We also use low-code as a verb to indicate a literal method of developing applications because as you develop your application, you are using less handwritten code than you would use normally. 

Using a low-code platform is similar to an IDE in that it contains a suite of functionality that complements the way developers work and the tools they need. But, it’s so much more than a traditional IDE. Very simply put, low-code is the process of dragging and dropping visual blocks of existing code into a workflow to create applications. Since it can completely replace the traditional method of hand-coding an entire app, skilled developers can work smarter and faster, not getting tied up with repetitive coding. Instead, they can focus on creating the 10 percent of an application that makes it different.

Low-code vs  no-code

The alternative is writing thousands of lines of complex code and syntax (and then debugging it). By bypassing this and building applications visually, you can develop applications at least 10x faster and get the best out of your skilled developers.

This is a big reason why Gartner expects the low-code market to be responsible for more than 65% of the application development activity by 2024.

The Low-Down of Low-Code

You could write a whole blog about the benefits of low-code. In fact, we have. But for now, 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, with low-code 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.
  • Rapid deployment: Launch day can be a nerve-wracking experience. With low-code, pre-deployment impact assessments make sure your apps work as intended. And if there are any unexpected behaviors, you can roll back changes with a single click.

And What Is No-Code?

No-code solutions are built for citizen developers who may not know, nor do they need to know, any actual programming languages to use the product. 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 pre-built pages you can use to launch your blog or business in minutes.

However, applications built with no-code tools are usually very difficult to customize and have no unique functionality—which can be troublesome if you need to address challenges around digital modernization. Also, most no-code platforms were initially designed to solve a single business problem, such as business process management.

So, What’s the Difference Between Low-Code and No-Code?

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.

But, strictly limiting our discussion to the act of application development, certain types of users and what they need to develop may drive their preference for low-code vs. no-code.

  • No-code solutions only cater to the business user or citizen developer. The greatest advantage of no-code platforms is that they require very little training, so anyone in your organization with a technical background can quickly create business applications. The downside is that it may encourage the creation of shadow IT: a situation where people are developing apps without proper supervision or consideration. Predictably, the results can lead to security concerns, compliance issues, integration problems, and poorly designed apps that, at best, use more resources than necessary and at worst, turn your users away.
  • Low-code is designed to serve both business users and professional developers alike. 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 using a visual-based modeler, while also allowing them to code by hand as needed, means the perpetual backlog of needed applications shrinks, while IT’s business value grows.

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

Both low-code and no-code platforms are built with the same thing in mind: agility. And although at a distance they look similar, each is suitable for very different purposes.

Low-code is good for developing sophisticated applications that run important, often mission-critical processes at the core of your business. It’s also good for building standalone mobile and web apps that may or may not require sophisticated integrations. In fact, it can be used for just about anything.

Conversely, no-code’s limitations mean it should only be used for front-end use-cases.

Having said this, there’s room for both, or at least a combination of both, in the modern enterprise. And for those embracing DevOps—another methodology designed to create greater agility in development—the combination of low-code and no-code could present the perfect application development environment.

In a world where everything has to happen faster, both low-code and no-code platforms can provide a competitive advantage for developers and the organizations employing them. However, unless you’re developing only the simplest applications, and require little in the way of customization, low-code will always be the better option.

Low-code offers greater flexibility and control, which means you can build more varied, powerful, and responsive apps. Yet, it still has the simplicity 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.

OutSystems for Low-Code Application Development

OutSystems low-code development platform can address the full spectrum of enterprise use cases for mobile, web, and core systems. We have a large library of design templates for developers to use, or you can make your own and apply them to the apps you create with our tools.

If you’d like to see how easy it can be to create beautiful and responsive digital experiences for your mobile, web apps, or both, be sure and check out the OutSystems Digital Customer Experiences page on our site. And if you want to evaluate the strengths and cautions of the top 18 low-code vendors, check out Gartner’s latest report.

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