Skip to main content

Low-Code vs. No-Code vs. High-Code: Which Will Serve You Best?

Elizabeth Bell, Appian
February 22, 2023

Picture that you’re working through requirements for a development project, only to find out that IT won’t have resources to work on your project for months. Or perhaps the team’s already deep into the development stage when you find out the requirements you outlined are not what’s coming to life.

These are all-too familiar scenarios for business leaders trying to collaborate with IT. And this debate is neither group’s fault, really. High-code (or traditional development) doesn’t make it easy for the two groups to speak the same language about business requirements and what developers can deliver.

Now imagine there’s a way to turn your vision into reality because you have a shared framework for both teams to work from. This is no dream: with development styles like low-code and no-code, you have options beyond high-code to build the solutions you need.

To be clear, low-code vs. no-code vs. high-code aren’t mutually exclusive choices. You can blend them together effectively to accomplish a variety of business goals. But when it comes to developing enterprise-grade solutions that quickly deliver value, a low-code platform delivers the perfect blend of flexibility and speed, enabling business units and IT teams to work together effectively.

Let’s compare the three development styles so you know what you have to work with.

Comparing low-code vs. no-code vs. high-code.

What is Low-Code

Low-code development combines drag-and-drop features and visual design capabilities with the ability to enhance with code, where needed or wanted. Minimal coding is required to stand up an application, along with a minimal upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment, meaning you can launch applications in minutes, rather than months. With low-code:

  • Visual modeling allows non-developers to grasp application design easily.
  • Drag-and-drop interfaces give users and professional or citizen developers a fast way to create powerful applications, with pre-built components they can place into a workflow.
  • Declarative tools. Removing the need to write custom code for declarative tools like business rules mitigates the difficulty of future changes or additions and speeds development times.
  • Agile development. Low-code tools mean you can achieve rapid application development: iterate on apps and release them as soon as functionality is tested and built.

[ Do you need to explain low-code to others? Read also: What is Low-Code? A Beginner’s Guide. ]

What is No-Code?

No-code development refers to solutions that don’t require users to know any coding at all. Like a low-code solution, coding still happens, but it’s hidden beneath the software. While no and low-code are commonly lumped together, one of the biggest differences between low-code vs. no-code is that no-code typically cannot tackle very complex tasks. But this means that no-code is typically easier to use for those with no technical expertise.

What is High-Code or Traditional Development?

You’re likely the most familiar with traditional development out of the three development styles listed here. In a high-code environment, professional developers use coding languages like Java, Python, and C# to build software from scratch. This style of development is extremely customizable, but it requires significant technical expertise and a deep understanding of programming concepts.

Because of the complexity, traditional development can take months to go from feature definition to feature implementation. And once features are complete, you may have to go back to the drawing board after you discover some features don’t fit your requirements.

Agile and product management experts Cliff Berg and Suvajit Gupta write, “Imagine if a new product feature could be released right away, just days after you’d envisioned it. For organizations offering digital products accessed over the internet, this dream is often far from reality because of the complex infrastructure requirements for taking working code to an available product.”

When to use low-code vs. no-code vs high-code.

Like we said at the beginning, each of these development styles has a place—it just depends on what you need to accomplish.

When to use low-code.

If your organization needs to create enterprise-grade software solutions rapidly and cost-effectively, a low-code platform is the ideal choice.

Berg and Gupta suggest that companies consider whether their team’s efforts will be best spent using low-code tools or high-code development. They suggest looking at ways “to simplify software systems to reduce the number of resources that are required to develop and maintain them and the complexity of most components. This allows developers to focus on the most important differentiators for the company or the things that are mission critical.”

Taking this approach, you can use your developers for the crucial work that can’t be done without traditional development, and save their time on the other business-critical tasks that can be accomplished more quickly with low-code.

On top of this, it’s much easier for business users and developers to talk to each other about what needs to change in the end product, since outcomes aren’t veiled by a complicated coding language. Instead, the two groups can quickly see what’s going on in the backend.

When to use no-code.

If you’re a small organization with little to no technical ability or resources for software development, no-code could be a fit. Keep in mind that you won’t have as much ability to customize, and if you need to make more complicated tweaks, you may have to enlist the no-code platform vendor to support you. If you are looking for more customization ability and feel like you have some tech-savvy users who could use low-code development, low-code might be a better choice.

When to use high-code.

If you need a highly customized piece of software that can do exactly what you need it to do and look just how you want it, and you have the resources to support developers, you may be able to support a traditional development approach. Additionally, if you need to have a certain programming language underlying your code, you likely will need custom development, as low-code and no-code platforms typically have their own languages.

With enough resources, you can put all of these development styles to use at the same time, depending on the project or business user’s needs. But if you’re looking for an answer to the scenarios we described at the beginning, low-code development could be the perfect solution for you.

Our pick for speedy innovation? Low-code.

3 key facts about low-code.

With a low-code platform, you can increase collaboration between business leaders and IT teams, significantly accelerate development time, and enable faster innovation across your company as a whole.

1. Low-code enables faster development and more collaboration.
The way low-code accelerates development is hard to beat. Thanks to quick iterations and rapid feedback, low-code enables leaders like you to take a more active role in development and ensure that the end product meets the organization’s needs. The end result? A cost-effective, user-friendly, and innovative solution for organizations who need to keep growing.

2. Security is baked in.
The best low-code development platforms have security built into each aspect of the design. Where traditional development calls for security testing and building after the fact, low-code’s features are released with integrated security. This not only makes the end product more secure, it saves citizen developers or professional developers time on testing iterations and releases to patch security issues.

3. Low-code has just the right amount of customization.
While no-code styles of development typically don’t allow for any customization, and traditional development is nothing but customization, low-code development is that perfect middle ground. Customization is possible, but the resulting application won’t need customization to work well and look smashing.

Low-code is a revolution—a way to solve business challenges in record time. More powerful than no-code and more dynamic than high-code, low-code development is scalable and flexible, enabling your organization to innovate freely.

[ Want more advice on how a modern automation strategy fuels innovation? Get the Gartner® Report: Beyond RPA: Build Your Hyperautomation Portfolio ]