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How does the average person imagine app development? Usually, it’s a collaboration with a team that provides software development service to implement different algorithms with help of ready-made software modules and frameworks. However, even despite the use of such advanced tools, the need to write code still remains, although some of it is automatically generated by the frameworks. 

That’s why, in recent years, so-called low-code (LC) development has become increasingly popular. LC involves the use of alternative tools for developers with a graphical interface that allows them to quickly create applications and automate business processes with almost no coding.

Initially, LC solutions appeared to make web development services or mobile app development services more affordable to startups and small businesses. In turn, today these solutions are actively used in projects where high development speed is required, or the scope of work is too large to manually write program code for literally all components. Below we’ll discuss all the advantages and disadvantages of this approach, as well as consider special cases of its use.

What is Low-Code Development: Definition

So, what is low-code? It’s an approach to designing and developing software using intuitive graphical tools and built-in features that reduce the professional requirements of developers to write code. At the same time, these tools don’t eliminate the need to write program code in general; however, they simplify the creation of most of it. 

Initially, such solutions were created to reduce the cost and speed up the development process, but today they’re also actively used in the creation of narrowly focused mobile and web projects that require the involvement of industry specialists who don’t have programming skills, but who know the specifics of the niche for which they create a project.

In recent years, the term “low-code tools” covers a fairly wide range of solutions—from the simplest ones that allow users to create the necessary forms using templates, to full-fledged development environments with visual programming languages. The following types of low-code platforms exist:

  • Solutions for visual modeling
  • Ready-made components, built-in services
  • Rapid application deployment solutions
  • DevOps orientation solutions
  • Design templates

As for the entry threshold, low-code app development platforms (LCDPs) do require some basic programming skills, so you won’t be able to cope with completely zero knowledge here.

Some Statistics on the Use of LCDPs in Recent Years

Let’s take a look at the statistics:

As you can see, in the coming years, low-code tools will no longer be used only for simple mobile and web projects or projects that require an early launch on the market —the low-code approach will become a global programming trend. By the way, if you’re interested in web development trends, you can check this article.

So how do you know if such tools will be useful to you in the implementation of your project? Let’s figure it out.

How Are Low-Code Platforms Organized?

Often, a low-code platform consists of three components.

  • Basic functionality. This component includes business logic blocks, integration with various services, working with databases, and support for artificial intelligence and machine learning. The functionality is provided in a ready-made form or requires minimal refinement based on the API.
  • Integrated Development Environment (IDE). Here, developers implement business logic by composing it from ready-made blocks using simple drag and drop of elements or other methods.
  • Panel for manual coding for complex and specific cases. Such data processing components are connected to the business logic via an API.

Together, these three components form a universal set of tools for specialists with different skill levels. However, even though they seem to be comprehensive, the functionality of such platforms is much more limited than of traditional IDEs.

How Did Low-Code Solutions Arise?

Actually, the low-code approach to software development is by no means new. About thirty years ago, the IT world was shocked by innovative tools for rapid application development (RAD), which either automated the procedure for writing program code or provided programmers with a set of highly specialized tools with a very limited set of basic logic blocks. 

At the same time, to make even minor changes to the architecture of an application created using RAD tools, developers needed to re-generate the code, which means that all manual changes must have been made again. In addition, RAD tools were presented mainly in desktop and server formats, while now the vast majority of businesses are focused on developing web and mobile applications. In fact, low-code solutions were invented for this.

They allowed developers to replace the cumbersome generated code that is typical for RAD tools with a universal system with limited scalability. This eliminates the need to re-make changes to the code if the application structure needs to be adjusted. This approach greatly simplifies the development of new functionality, providing access to already implemented components.

Thus, low-code still requires the creation of program code, but already generated, and not written by hand. As a result, it’s more stable, predictable, and cleaner.

What are the Main Benefits of the Low-Code Development Approach?

Pros and cons of low-code development

The fact that low-code tools have managed to become a real IT trend is directly determined by the numerous benefits they bring to projects. Here are just a few of them:

  • Ease of use. Since the software built with such tools can reduce the amount of handwritten code, developers can focus their main efforts on building business logic, creating eye-catching visuals, and providing an excellent user experience. In general, applications based on low-code platforms usually go to market faster than those that require developers to be fully involved in the coding process.
  • Introduction of automation. The ability to not code “in and out” actively contributes to the introduction of complex automation concepts like artificial intelligence and machine learning. You can read more about the most popular app development technologies here.
  • Cost reduction. Reduction of time costs invariably entails a reduction in the project budget. Moreover, teams get the opportunity to increase the number of development cycles to thoroughly sharpen their products to the needs of the target audience. This is especially true for startups and innovative solutions.
  • Simplified integration with third-party solutions. Automatic code generation, typical for low-code platforms, also provides tools for the secure integration of third-party solutions—APIs, applications, program modules, plugins, etc. As a result, the integration process is smooth and without any errors.
  • Increased flexibility. Thanks to an accelerated development cycle, solutions built using low-code platforms can respond more quickly to user feedback and thus strengthen their competitiveness even in the toughest market conditions.
  • Security. Finally, low-code app development reduces the risk of cyber threats and violations of user and business data security policies, which ultimately allows companies to independently develop and implement applications that cannot be outsourced to third parties.
  • Components reusing. Low-code solutions allow developers to create applications that can be reused in new projects or scaled or reconfigured to update existing ones. Thus, it’s possible to reduce the development time for solutions with a long life cycle.
  • Scalability. LCDPs provide developers with the ability to quickly deploy new applications and upgrade existing ones according to new business requirements. At the same time, as a rule, they support continuous delivery, which means that your business will not face downtime.
  • Seamless data integration. And finally, low-code platforms provide seamless integration of data from any sources, even if they are outdated. For this, APIs and connectors available out of the box can be used.

Why Low-Code Development Isn’t a One-Stop Solution

Pros and cons of low-code development

Though it seems universal, low-code web app development in fact isn’t—and it’s not suitable for all projects.

On the one hand, low-code tools are attractive because they help you build software in a visual editor without programming, which is cheap and fast.

However, low-code technology often doesn’t allow teams to overcome the problem of increasing complexity of the software they create, as it can increase much faster than the speed of optimizing this software for new business requirements. As a result, the project may become poorly structured, which at some point will make its further scalability impossible.

In a more primitive way, low-code programming justifies itself in the long run only with simple projects that don’t require further major improvements. Conversely, in the case of projects that are constantly expanded and replenished with new functionality, low-code software development can limit the team’s capabilities and, as a result, lead to the need to refactor code.

In particular, here are the typical problems that many teams face when they mistakenly choose low-code web application development for complex, large-scale projects:

  • Difficulties with refactoring. When using low-code technology in large projects, refactoring and reducing technical debt turns out to be very difficult and sometimes even impossible to implement. Given that all updates must be made safe for both the software and the business in general, the low-code platform won’t give you any guarantees for this and won’t provide the necessary functionality to the same extent as any average IDE does.
  • Issues with auto testing software. Since it’s impossible to accept updates without conducting auto tests—in the case of low-code solutions, this procedure may be very difficult to complete. Of course, the update can also be tested manually, but such time expenditures most likely won’t pay off.
  • Difficulties in creating solutions with specific business and technology requirements. Special attention deserves projects that must support integration with custom third-party solutions or comply with specific industry security standards. The low-code platform will definitely not offer you out-of-the-box functionality that would be suitable for meeting these requirements.
  • The impossibility of transforming a low-code solution into a program code. And finally, it’s impossible to translate a low-code project into program code from beginning to end. Therefore, if you understand that you may have such a need in the future, it’s better to immediately abandon the choice in favor of low-code programming.
  • Performance issues. Low-code platforms are known for their versatility. This is justified since no tool can be good at everything. As a result, low-code platforms can have issues when running under heavy loads, resulting in performance issues. When such problems arise, the only way out is to rewrite the application using traditional programming.

Thus, we can conclude that changes to a solution based on a low-code platform can be much more resource-intensive than the initial choice of a traditional approach to software development (for example, with IDE).

Who Should Consider Low-Code Platforms?

As you can already understand, the main target audience for low-code solutions are startups and small businesses that need to use software products to solve particular problems that don’t require significant improvement in the future.

However, low-code development may also be of interest to large companies. The fact is that the more global the organization, the more often deeper adaptation from the development team is required. Applications that are built to automate workflows in such organizations usually have a lot of specific operations, and to perform them, developers will have to spend a lot of time on training and analysis. In this case, low-code platforms can come to the aid of such companies.

In particular, low-code web development platforms will allow them to avoid such substantial time costs and at the same time provide sufficient flexibility in setting up processes. Also, company employees won’t need to plan architecture, create prototypes, analyze, or develop the UI, since it’s assumed that this is all implemented in the platform itself.

Ultimately, since the company’s IT professionals using low-code platforms won’t have to write a lot of code, the need for developer competencies will decrease and their ability to create software solutions from ready-made components will be a priority.

3 Examples of Low-Code Platforms Worth Knowing

Pros and cons of low-code development

To conclude our review of this approach to software development, we propose you consider some worthwhile examples of low-code mobile app development platforms.

Back4App

Back4App is a one-stop low-code solution for simple and flexible app development. It provides an easy way to create, host, and deploy applications on a single platform. It’s a centralized API and backend platform.

Backendless

Backendless is an advanced low-code application development platform for persistent data storage. It combines a user interface builder, database, and API management functionality. Developers can either use the Codeless Logic Builder or customize applications with written codes to create applications.

Zoho Creator

An analytics and business transformation company, Zoho is a cross-platform software that offers low-code solutions to enterprises through Zoho Creator. Zoho Creator comes with a set of personalized tools, including an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. Developers can use this low-code platform to gather information, run workflows, evaluate data, and effectively collaborate with application users. Zoho Creator applies industry-standard security measures to keep your data safe and regularly backed up.

Final Thoughts

Low-code development is considered a low-cost approach to the implementation of software solutions and will be effective for testing hypotheses, conducting experiments, and implementing simple tasks. 

As for large-scale software solutions that require regular scaling and/or compliance with specific requirements such as increased load or security, these are best created using traditional programming that doesn’t entail any unexpected costs for updates. If you’re looking for a team of specialists who can tailor the best approach to your project, feel free to contact us.

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