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Low-Code, No-Code, Custom AppDev: What’s the Difference?

Author: Tom Moore | | September 30, 2021


When it comes to application development, there are more technologies available for building, coding, and deploying than ever.


From cloud technology to open-source platforms to artificial intelligence, the modern developer has a tool belt full of innovative tools to support the process of building business-focused, functional applications.

One of the more recent advances in this space is low-code/no-code platforms. Low-code/no-code platforms claim they can offer faster application development, greater agility, and simpler dev tools that even non-developers – aka “citizen developers” – can use to build and deploy business applications.

But what exactly is a low-code platform versus a no-code platform? While they seem to be two different types of application development platforms, the reality is much more nuanced. And how do they compare to building applications from the ground up?

Let’s define the difference between custom-built applications, low-code platforms, and no-code. This will give you a good understanding of what your options are.

Custom-Built Applications

The most common, flexible, and versatile way corporations build applications is with custom application development. When you decide on a custom solution, a development team builds your app from the ground-up so that it addresses the specific pain points, feature requirements, and integration needs of your users. When discussing the “build vs. buy” debate the only options were: If you couldn’t find an off-the-shelf product that fit your needs, you would select a vendor to build it, or complete the project with your own internal development team.

Custom application development is vital to companies of all sizes as cutting-edge technologies mature and become more accessible. The power of big data and the digitization of business means that one-size-fits-all solutions are rarely enough to sustain a company through phases of growth and change. Applications are now fundamental to business success – rather than supplemental – so getting the right technology in the right hands is more important than ever.

Microsoft .NET and XRM are two common tools for building custom applications. .NET is an open source, cross-platform development tool used to build in several coding languages. XRM gets you a little further down the road by using the framework of a CRM to build out applications and processes that can manage employees, partners, assets, and pretty much any other data you might have in your database. Both require developers with knowledge of coding and AppDev methodologies to successfully build applications.

Learn about our Application Development Services and how to create applications that automate processes and help drive critical business decisions.

Low-Code Development Platforms

Low-code platforms for application development can be viewed as the next step away from customization on our spectrum. In theory, low code means that the basic platform of your application is pre-built by the vendor’s development team, but certain aspects of the application are left for custom coding by you, the customer. The software is simple and the logic is basic so that the development process can be quick and easy. In some cases, the entire application can be operational with additional coding required only for specific situations.

The goal of low-code platforms seems to be that users with little to no software development experience – also known as “citizen developers” – can create new applications that benefit the business. This is the case with Microsoft Power Apps, which states in its documentation that it “ ‘democratizes’ the custom business app building experience by enabling users to build feature-rich, custom business apps without writing code.” So the user essentially becomes the developer as well.

It is far more common, however, for developers to build with low-code platforms. There is still a fair amount of coding involved to customize the applications; while citizen developers could learn the nuts and bolts with time, the technology is much more efficient when leveraged by someone with a good understanding of coding.

This is very similar to the promise of no-code platforms, which we will discuss next.

No-Code Development Platforms

There’s no clear delineation between what defines a low-code platform versus a no-code platform and, in fact, they can coexist. That said, there are some consistent differences we can identify to separate them.

According to ZDNet, the major differentiator that delineates a no-code platform from any other application development method is the visual interface. Rather than building the features and customizations of an application by inputting lines of code, users of no-code platforms use content blocks, simple logic, and drag-and-drop methods to build their app. This can also be the case with low-code platforms, which is why the distinction between the two has become so foggy.

A good example of the use of no-code are website development platforms like Wix. Once upon a time, building a website was a complex, time-consuming effort that required deep experience with html. For complex builds for enterprise and e-commerce organizations, this is still the case. But companies like Wix offer the capability to build simple websites using drag-and-drop methods and content blocks. For the lifestyle bloggers and local gyms of the world, this makes website management easier and more cost effective.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this gives you a good overview of the application development landscape and the goals and limitations of low-code and no-code platforms. Depending on the type and complexity of the application you need to build, either of these options or a custom build could be the right answer for your organization. For a comprehensive view of when and how to use low-code, no-code, or custom AppDev tools, download our white paper, Low-Code/No-Code: Is it the Panacea of Modern AppDev?

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