The difference between no-code and low-code tools

The two tool types are meant for very different skillsets. Here's how to know what's right for you and your business.

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The problem: You know that using certain kinds of software would level up your business, but you’re not sure what’s right for you or your team. Terms like no-code and low-code are thrown around often interchangeably. It’s hard to know the difference – and what’s right for your situation.  

The software space has a bit of a problem with its semantics. No-code and low-code tools are often spoken about in the same context (often by companies pushing their products on you), but the truth is they’re really very different. It’s pretty common for individuals or businesses to start out trying low-code tools, find them too challenging, and then be put-off using any kind of tool. Which would, naturally, be a shame. 

A useful analogy for outlining the difference: 

Using low-code tools is like creating a piece of custom furniture from scratch, while using no-code tools is like assembling a piece of furniture from IKEA with instructions. 

If you’re making the big calls at your organisation on which tools, platforms and methodologies to bring in, you need to know the basics. This guide will help you understand who the two tool-types are for, what they can build, and where each tool can best be used to serve your business. 

Low-code tools

Low-code tools are for people with some technical or coding expertise. They’re not right for non-technical people because they require some coding ability. They’re very useful in speeding up the process of building software, but they do require some coding knowledge of how stuff like logic and databases work to actually build a fully functional product. 

Low-code tools tend to have complex interfaces and more functionality in comparison to other types of tools. They may build the same types of products (mobile apps, portals, web applications…), but they’re usually more open-ended, meaning you can custom-code features or add more complex logic to your app. 

You can divide low-code tools loosely into two camps:

  1. The first type are tools that do the exact same thing as no-code tools, except they support code. That means they can build more complex, customised software. Retool is a great example of this: you start off with a simple drag-and-drop interface, but you then need to type SQL queries and hook up databases to get it fully functional.
  1. The second type are tools that automatically set up code for developers, saving them time during projects. For example, a developer might create a login screen which needs to have a login, logout, email confirmation prompt, and forgotten password function. Instead of a developer writing that code over and over again, low-code tools can immediately write the code, so all the developer has to do is customise it. Microsoft Visual Studio is a good example – it supports the actual code-writing process, even auto-completing lines of code as you write them.
Retool: a certified low-code tool

How low-code tools can help your business

Low-code tools are great for speeding up the work of your IT and engineering teams. They can take repetitive tasks off their plates, make app development easier and faster, and basically reduce their workload. Given the fact developers and engineering teams are often stretched thin, they may even come to you with a specific tool they’d like to make use of. 

Who they’re for

Low-code tools should only be used by technical teams or team members with coding skills. They’ll generally be able to get up to speed quickly and begin building apps right away. 

Good examples

Draftbit. You'll need some coding skills to really use it.

No-code tools

No-code tools don’t require any coding skill to use, meaning that anyone can build their own apps. Generally, no-code platforms will have a fairly narrow function: like building a specific type of web app or mobile app using visual development, drag-and-drop design, or by selecting settings from pre-built options. They often usually have a more accessible user interface so that anyone using it feels comfortable.

How no-code tools can help your business

There are all kinds of uses for no-code tools within an organisation. Teams or departments can create customer-facing apps that can help how customers engage with you; or internal tools that streamline specific team’s operations. Dashboards, portals, and mobile apps — anywhere where people see, share, or manipulate information — are all perfect use cases for no-code. You can also prototype or test new software with customers, create automations or help manage databases or documents.

You can also use them to create apps to improve day-to-day work within departments. If your teams have been cobbling together solutions for internal workflows with tools like Excel, Airtable, or Google Sheets, a no-code platform will likely be exactly what you need.

Building software with no-code is faster, cheaper and enables teams to respond directly to problems or opportunities. If, for example, your marketing team sees a great opportunity to build a loyalty app, they can do it and respond to customers far more easily. With no-code, teams don’t have to go through a long development process with IT as an intermediary – where you might have had to send a request, get a budget together, wait for it to be delivered and then send revision requests. You can build it yourself. 

Who they’re for 

Most people in a modern working environment with some computer skills should be able to learn the average no-code tool within a week. Plus no-code tools offer online courses, resources, and communities that help get new users up to speed. Given the fact more people within your organisation can use no-code, it’s generally a better choice for most teams. 

  • Analyse the types of skills you have within your teams to help choose the right no-code tools. Teams that already have a high level of fluency with computers will do extremely well with no-code tools. Eg, designers will already be comfortable with visual development tools like Photoshop or Figma, which will make it easier to learn no-code development.
  • People comfortable with databases and formulas, such as Excel macros, will quickly get to grips with the logic and databases that are needed to build apps. Tools like Airtable and Zapier can also serve as good gateways into no-code development. Teams using those already will have an easier time learning more complex no-code development.

Good examples

The homepage of Adalo

How to tell the difference

If you’re looking at a software tool and not sure whether it falls into the no-code or low-code category, it’s helpful to keep in mind three key factors:  

  • Does it require you to enter actual code to build a working app?
  • Does the website or tool use technical terms like “IF Statement", "Loop", or "MVC"?
  • Are you required to write an SQL Query or some other way of telling the database what you want?

If any of those are true, you’re dealing with a low-code tool. Have a chat with the sales or customer support team of the tool in question and get the lowdown. 

It’s also worth noting that some no-code tools straddle the line between no-code and low-code. One example is Webflow. You can design a website using visual development, while the tool generates code behind the scenes, and then host the site entirely on its platform. However, it also allows developers to download or edit that code directly to add functionality.

Final thought

Low-code and no-code are very different technologies with very different functions. It's worth considering both types of tools for your business. Low-code tools enable your IT department to move faster and serve its customers better; no-code lets your business respond to changing environments using your unique knowledge quickly and easily. Both can benefit your business – it’s about bringing that power to the entire organisation.



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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