It’s easy to treat low-code development and traditional development as an either/or proposition, but the reality is more complex. Low-code and traditional approaches to programming often overlap within the same workflows.
Here’s a primer on what low-code means, how it compares to traditional application development practices, and how to integrate it into your business’s broader development strategy.
Low-code development is an approach whereby a developer implements some elements of an application using pre-coded modules, often selected through a drag-and-drop interface, to build desired functionality. It usually requires some level of custom coding in order to tweak modules or customize the relationships between them. But, in general, a low-code approach enables developers to write many fewer lines of actual code than they would through traditional application development.
The main and most obvious benefit of low-code development, especially for seasoned programmers, is that it’s fast. Prebuilt modules reduce the time to implement application functionality, so developers can focus on tasks that require more originality or that have higher priority for the business. Low-code development also can help developers integrate an app with an external platform without learning all the ins and outs of that external platform.
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Some advocates also pitch low-code development as a way to turn non-IT personnel into so-called citizen developers. Low-code can make programming more accessible to the masses, but low-code techniques alone don’t make it practical for everyone to code custom apps, because low-code typically requires at least some manual coding effort, and an understanding of fundamentals of application design and functionality.
Thus, while democratizing development may be one potential benefit of low-code, enterprise developers and some line-of-business people who have coding know-how arguably stand to gain the most from low-code.
The lines that separate low-code development from traditional development are a bit blurry, for several reasons.
Most enterprise developers have implemented low-code techniques in certain parts of their workflows for a long time, even if they do not consider themselves low-code developers. If an IDE auto-completes lines of code or automatically fills in variable names, for example, that functionality approximates low-code development, although traditional development-tooling vendors rarely position their tools that way.
External modules or third-party APIs that integrate functionality into an application are also basically akin to low-code programming. Even software libraries, a cornerstone of application development for decades, can be considered a kind of low-code development, in that they enable developers to build a complex application with very few lines of manual code.
Content management platforms such as WordPress and Drupal also blur the line between traditional development and low-code, because they support both techniques. You can develop basic websites on these platforms with little custom coding — or create a simple website with just a few points and clicks and no coding at all. Meanwhile, some heavy-duty e-commerce sites and media hubs build websites on these platforms with extensive original coding.
Thus, most development strategies are best suited to a mix of both approaches. Although various platforms are marketed specifically for low-code development, they likely do not fully meet an organization’s development needs on their own.
Traditional development offers several advantages:
There are two major drawbacks of traditional development:
The chief advantages of low-code include:
But low-code is also subject to several potential disadvantages:
The best way to take advantage of low-code is not to choose between a low-code approach or traditional development. Instead, strike the right balance between the two strategies and determine where it makes most sense to incorporate low-code approaches into your workflows.
Here are some common use cases where low-code approaches offer the most value:
To get the most out of low-code, it’s equally important to know which considerations make traditional development a better approach.
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