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Low-Code vs No-Code: The Differences & Similarities

Michelle Gardner, Appian
October 19, 2023

An Intro to Low-Code & No-Code

The demand for new software has exploded. According to IDC, over 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed by 2023—the same number of apps that have been developed over the last 40 years.

Unfortunately, the number of new developers who can help build those applications has not exploded. Demand for coders doubled in 2021, driven by the pandemic. Morgan Stanley found there is currently a shortage of 1.4 million professional software developers in the US alone. According to research from The Economist, IT already faces backlogs of up to 12 months, and the demand for new projects is increasing.  

Enterprises can't hire their way out of this problem, so IT teams need a more efficient way to quickly build powerful applications. That's where low-code and no-code platforms come in. Low-code and no-code capabilities let development teams rapidly build applications using visual design tools and a drag-and-drop interface.

With these capabilities, rather than developing enterprise applications by writing lines of code, you can build software by drawing a flowchart. The platform translates the flowchart into code for you. By reducing or even eliminating the need to code an application, low-code solutions make it easy for developers of any skill level to build and deploy business applications. With the right platform, a developer with two years of experience can perform as if they've spent decades in the field. Organizations can release software 10 times faster than they could with a traditional development approach.

[See How to Research and Evaluate an Enterprise Low-Code Platform with Our  Ultimate Low-Code Buyer's Guide]

Low-code vs. no-code.

Many vendors have started calling their platforms “low-code” or “no-code.” Competitors often pit the terms against each other. But what do low-code and no-code really mean? And what's the difference between the two? Both platforms offer improvements over traditional high-code approaches. The biggest differences are the target user groups.

What is no-code development?

“‘No-code' is a marketing term, implying the tool is for non-professional developers,” writes Gartner in the recent research note, Quick Answer: What Is the Difference Between No-Code and Low-Code Development Tools?1 “Fundamentally there is really no such thing as ‘no-code.' There is always code and software running somewhere, just hidden.” 

“No-code does not necessarily mean no technical skills needed,” Gartner continues. “No-code implies no programming language is used, but even some visual modeling tools require technical expertise or understanding programming metaphors.” 

No-code solutions are typically marketed to citizen developers or non-developers, not to IT or expert developers. The buzzword “no-code” makes these tools feel more approachable to non-developers. Because no-code tools try to avoid making users code, customization options are limited. But a no-code platform does not always truly mean no code is needed. Especially if you ever want to customize your application, you'll likely need to add code somewhere.

What is low-code development?

“Low-code development is rapid application development or high-productivity development, with an option to use code or scripting,” writes Gartner. “These tools can use a variety of approaches that both automate and abstract application development activities, such as drag-and-drop editors, code generation, component assembly, and model-driven and metadata-driven development.”

Low-code platforms are typically marketed toward professional developers, but they don't require coding expertise to use. A junior developer or technical business user with a little development experience can be very productive with a low-code development platform, using pre-built templates and other built-in features.

And low-code doesn't always require coding. With many low-code platforms, it's possible to create an application or automate a business process and integrate data without any coding at all.

Some tools claim to be both low-code and no-code.

“Tools that are labeled both low-code and no-code (‘low-code/no-code' or ‘LCNC') are just low-code in approach,” writes Gartner. “The no-code aspect means that, for certain app use cases, the tool does not require any coding. However, this is also usually true for most low-code marketed tools.” 

It's also important to note that the terms low-code and no-code are not just used for development platforms. Other tech solutions are starting to bill themselves as low-code and/or no-code. “For example, an asset management application can be no-code or low-code if it allows for some extensibility beyond what comes out of the box,” notes Gartner. “This is very different from buying a general purpose low-code or no-code development tool, which can build many different types of applications or solutions.”

Low-code vs. no-code: a comparison on what’s right for your organization.

With so much confusion around the terms “low-code” and “no-code,” how can you know what to look for in a rapid application development platform?

“Ignore vendor hype and promises, and instead focus on the underlying platform architecture and technology approaches of the tools to find the best fit ones regardless if they call themselves low-code, no-code, or both,” writes Gartner.

Enterprises should look for a platform that solves their crucial business problems, integrates with outside vendors and data sources, comes with related tech built in (such as business process management, process mining, and automation), and can scale to meet new challenges in the future. Consider factors related to how you will use the platform and who the main users will be.

“When evaluating no-code and low-code development tools, go beyond the vendor's marketing message to assess the underlying approach to their development tools or platforms,” writes Gartner. “Just because a vendor is marketing ‘low-code' may not mean it's for professional developers, and another marketing ‘no-code' doesn't always mean it's for citizen developers.” 

[ Get the latest on the low-code market in the 2023 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms (LCAP). ]