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No-code vs. low-code: A guide to getting started

You may have heard the phrases “no-code” and “low-code” being used in reference to building software. If you’re new to the world of no-code/low-code, you might be wondering what these terms actually mean.

At a high level, “no-code” is all about building software without writing any code. “Low-code” involves writing some code, usually when adding custom elements to a no-code project.

Here at Codecademy, we’re excited about what’s possible with no-code/low-code technology. After all, our mission is not unlike that of the no-code movement. That is, we want to empower people to build something meaningful with technology — whether it’s with no-code, a little bit of code, or code that’s written entirely from the ground up.

In this article, we’ll look at the differences between no-code and low-code in more detail. Plus, we’ll share some tools and resources to help you decide where to get started, with help from the team at Makerpad.

What is no-code development?

No-code development lets you build entire applications without writing a single line of code. Instead of working with code, you work with templates and drag-and-drop elements to create fully-functioning software.

"No-code is the first, most accessible, step of web and software development. It allows anyone to create software, visually, without writing code,” says Ben Tossell, the Founder of Makerpad, a no-code community.

If you’re new to programming, no-code tools can be a great place to start. Working with no-code can help you get a sense for how software is built — that there’s a front end, back end, and application programming interfaces (APIs) that talk to external apps, to name a few things. Getting that high-level understanding can be really helpful before diving into a specific programming language.

No-code tools also help software developers get projects off the ground quickly. Instead of building routine applications from scratch, no-code tools can be used, leaving developers with more time to tackle the interesting and challenging problems.

No-code tools

What tools are used in no-code development? Here are some tools that show what’s possible with no-code:

  1. Zapier links web applications together to create automated workflows. For example, you can program Slack to notify you when you get an important email, or when a calendar event is about to start. Zapier takes care of the communication between web APIs that make these integrations possible.
  2. Airtable lets you work with databases, all while interacting with a spreadsheet. You can create databases to manage digital assets, track bugs, and schedule content. And you don’t need to know any SQL.
  3. Webflow helps you get your website off the ground, with a visual editor that functions much like front-end coding. With some web development knowledge, you can mix and match HTML elements and add CSS styling, all without having to write any code. Webflow also lets you integrate CMS and ecommerce capabilities into your site.
  4. Circle helps you create a community space for hosting discussions, sharing content, and creating unique membership experiences. You can host communities around your courses, products, coaching services, and more.
  5. Gumroad sets artists and creators up with an e-commerce solution, taking care of things like payment processing, file hosting, and aspects of marketing and communications. Creators can put their work up for sale, including illustrations, music, games, films, ebooks, and much more.
  6. Carrd lets you create simple one-page sites for pretty much anything. You can quickly build and launch profile sites, portfolios, landing pages, and forms, to name a few examples.
  7. ConvertKit helps you automate emails and stay in touch with clients and customers. You can design your own email templates, and even program emails to go out based on actions taken in apps like Shopify, Teachable, and Crowdcast. ConvertKit also lets you build landing pages and sign-up forms to help grow your email list.
  8. Obviously AI trains machine learning algorithms to help you make data predictions. You can bring data sources, such as PostgreSQL, MySQL, and Salesforce. And get predictions for revenue forecasts, inventory demands, customer behavior, and much more. All without having to work with Python, R, SQL, or other data science languages.
  9. Glide helps you build mobile apps directly from a Google spreadsheet. You can build anything from an employee directly, to a conference app, to a habit tracker.
  10. Landbot creates chatbots for your website. You can use it to greet visitors with fun GIFs and visuals, guide people through your site, and create forms designed as conversational prompts.
  11. Bubble lets you create a variety of web applications, with powerful database and API features. You can build anything from analytics dashboards, to marketplaces for physical goods, to job boards.
  12. Coda brings together your documents, spreadsheets, kanban boards, calendars, and more. It’s kind of like a central hub for teams, or individuals, to house their knowledge.
  13. Niro helps you create multi-page web forms, called “clickflows.” You can turn forms into quizzes and questionnaires that help you identify potential customers, ask existing customers for feedback, or match site visitors with products that they might like.
  14. Scapic helps you create 3D product visuals for your online store. Your customers can view the product on your site, or in their own space using augmented reality.
  15. Voiceflow lets you build voice apps for Alexa and Google. You can easily create voice apps using drag-and-drop blocks that represent the logic and structure of your app.

Getting started with no code

Interested in learning more about no-code? Check out a these resources at Makerpad to learn more and get started:

You can also find out more about the world of no-code in our recent interview with Ben Tossell.

What is low-code development?

Low-code development lets you build software with minimal coding. Working with low-code tools, you can build most of an application using templates and drag-and-drop elements. For features that are not readily available, you can add code snippets that bring these elements into your application. Unlike no-code, low-code development requires some basic understanding of programming.

“I think code, low-code, and no-code are all on the same spectrum of ‘software development.’ No-code is the first step — the lowest rung on the ladder. Traditional coding, as we all think about it today, is the very top rung of the ladder. And low-code sits in the middle,” Ben tells us.

Low-code tools

What tools are used in low-code development? Many of these are no-code tools that let you take things to the next level with code snippets. Here are a few to check out:

  1. Velo by Wix lets you add JavaScript to your Wix site. You can make your site elements more interactive, whether that’s programming a pop-up message or displaying information from a third-party API. You can also change how certain site elements look by adding custom CSS to the Wix Editor.

    To learn more about Velo, check out our Create a Professional Website with Velo by Wix course to get started.
  2. Code by Zapier lets you add snippets of JavaScript or Python code, for tons of custom functionality. You can add code snippets for extracting data from large amounts of text, or for limiting the number of times your automation runs per hour.
  3. Airtable Developers helps you take a low-code approach to Airtable. With a bit of JavaScript, you can pull images from Unsplash, uncover insights across different tables, and automate repetitive tasks. You can even install pre-written code snippets using the Airtable Scripting App marketplace.
  4. Retool lets you build internal tools for your team. With basic knowledge of SQL, you can bring in data from other places to build all sorts of apps, dashboards, admin panels, and more. Retool lets you connect to most databases or anything with a REST, GraphQL or gRPC API. And you can write JavaScript code to change how data appears in your custom tools.
  5. 8base helps you set up back-end infrastructure through what’s called backend-as-a-service. You can spin up servers, manage databases, store images and videos, safely authenticate users, and more. With knowledge of GraphQL, you can query your back end through a single API point. 8base is great for helping front-end developers build full-stack applications.
  6. Autocode lets you build custom integrations between web applications like Discord, Strava, and Slack. Using an in-browser development environment, you can access an API library and generate code using features like autocomplete. Autocode is great for more complex workflows and integrations that are harder to create using purely no-code tools.

Getting started with low-code

Interested in learning more about low-code development? To find out what programming languages you can start learning to bridge the gap between no-code and low-code, check out Makerpad’s article on coding languages every no-coder needs.

Let us know what no-code/low-code tools you love to use in the comments below!

Get more practice, more projects, and more guidance.

Lillian Xiao

Lillian Xiao

Lillian writes about tech & engineering. She has a background in user experience design, and loves coding as a way to turn ideas into reality.

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No-code vs. low-code: A guide to getting started
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