How do no-code tools actually work?

Fear not: you don't need to know everything, but a basic understanding matters.

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We’re not going to get super technical, but knowing the basics of how no-code tools work is going to be pretty important if you’re going to make the best use of them. 

When it comes to how no-code tools work, we could go deep. We could dig all the way down into how code works and talk about some 0s and 1s. But life is short and you’re probably not here for that. So let’s keep this as simple as we can. 

No-code tools are a layer of abstraction on top of writing code that lets you build software – without needing to understand how to write code. That means they’re still writing code, they’re just abstracting away all the complexity of writing those 0s and 1s by letting you, the user, create software with a purely visual interface. All of the code sits conveniently out of sight, letting you instead focus purely on what the app looks like and how it works (aka, if this happens, then that happens: the logic).

For example: 

Think of it a bit like drawing a house that you want to build on a piece of paper. You can sketch something out, but an architect needs to take your sketch and turn it into a real design. The no-code platform is like the architect. It takes the idea you want to create and figures out the hard, technical parts. They’re able to look at your design and say ‘okay this wall needs to be load-bearing’, or ‘the roof needs to be slanted.’ You provide simplicity, they look after the harder elements and the underlying complexity.

So a no-code tool, like Squarespace, lets you build the website that you want through the templates it provides and its drag and drop interface, but there’s still code beneath it. You won’t know how it works or what the code looks like and that’s okay. There are some specific tools which reveal their code, like Webflow, but they’re quite rare. 

Squarespace helps you easily build websites

The different elements of your app

Pretty much all software apps have the same broad elements that enable them to function; so when a user interacts with it and clicks a button, the right thing happens. 

  • The front-end is the part of the app that the user interacts with. This is what they see, the ‘face’ of the app. Using no-code tools, you’ll typically ‘drag and drop’ the different components you want and decide where they need to go as you design your app. The no-code tool will then convert that into working code for you. When a user clicks a button you’ve selected, the front-end then informs the back-end… 
  • If the front-end is the face of the app, the back-end is the brain. This is where logical decisions are made, based on what you want your app to do. The line between the front-end and the back-end can be quite blurry. When you add a button to an interface, you’re telling the button which route to take to the back-end. For example, a login button is saying ‘go and execute the login logic’. But it’s the back-end that looks at the database to see if the username is correct, if the password is correct, then effectively tells the front- end: that looks fine, now take the user to their homepage. 
  • The database is where all the data your app is working from is stored. The back-end will create, read, update and delete data from the database as appropriate. A no-code tool will create that database for you and take care of it. You just need to tell it what data you want in there and then how you want the app to interact with it. 
Airtable is a database platform – where you might store your data

As you can see, you don’t need to write the code yourself, and consequently, you’ll have far fewer decisions to make. But you do have a large part to play. You have to make sure that someone can able to navigate and use the app the way you want; that it looks right; and consider all the things that could go wrong

The takeaway

No-code tools build apps just like developers writing code, only a lot of the coding goes on in the background, which you’ll never see or have to deal with. That suddenly makes them usable by far more people. That’s not to say these tools will do all the work for you though – you still need to map out how a user will actually navigate their way through your app and what it’ll look like. To learn more about this, it’s worth checking out our specially designed fundamentals of no-code video course.



About the Author
Duncan Griffiths Nakanishi

Duncan is lead editor at NoCode.Tech. He's a writer and editor with 8 years experience working in the media across business, culture, lifestyle and tech.


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