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August 18, 2020

What is No-Code? A Comprehensive Guide to Programming Without Code

a construction man placing items on a phone
SECTIONS
  1. The philosophy behind no-code is not new
  2. No-code versus low-code
  3. Why no-code rocks
  4. Why no-code sucks
  5. I have decided. I want to try no-code now!
  6. Final words

Have you tried learning how to code? If you have, chances are, you’ve stared at the black screen while typing commands and specifying its attributes, hoping it will all work. And, when you tried to run it, voila! You get flashing red lines in the error window, telling you that the computer does not understand what you’re trying to tell it to do. Every programmer, both novice and advanced, has to pass through this kind of experience all the time! 

computer with various lines of code
This is straining my eyes.


But, maybe you just want to make a customized calendar as your smartphone calendar app is not fit for your needs. Or, you just want a way to put up an online profile and you already bought a domain name. Or, you want to design an app to handle all the requests for bookings for your services, as responding to emails one-by-one can be quite a hassle.  What would you do? Why not try a no-code platform? Yes, you read it right: a no-code platform!

Are you ready to embrace no-code platforms? Maybe yes? Maybe no? Naturally you may have no idea since this must be new to you. That’s why I invite you to follow me as we talk about the philosophy of no-code development, its advantages and disadvantages, and some platforms you can check to get started! 


The philosophy behind no-code is not new

If you are as old as me, you will remember the good old days of Yahoo Geocities, a free hosting platform where you could have your own little site with 50 MB of free space. If you liked to play a bit with your computers at that time, you must have tried to type those little squiggly codes with brackets using a markup language called HTML. 

Around the same time, software for easy web page authoring sprang up, such as Microsoft Frontpage and Macromedia Dreamweaver. These applications (yep, it used to be spelled this way) promise the users the ability to create their own websites without learning a single line of HTML. 


Microsoft FrontPage 2003 for Windows XP
Get ready for a feels trip.


We know what eventually happened: Yahoo Geocities and Microsoft Frontpage died while Macromedia Dreamweaver survived being bundled in the monthly subscription-based Adobe Creative Cloud. 

Microsoft Frontpage and Macromedia Dreamweaver constitute one of the more popular attempts in the past to allow people without prior programming experience to create websites and software. 

This is the essence of no-code development: you can create software tailored to your needs without exposing yourself to the oftentimes myriad grammar of programming languages. 

This is true even among the programming languages themselves. Computers can’t actually read your code written in C++ or Python; they can only read assembly language. What the compilers (for C++) and interpreters (for Python) do is to translate them into assembly language, which is what computers can read. Programmers basically created programming languages to make software development easier. So there is nothing new in the philosophy behind no-code development. 

No-code versus low-code

A huge overlap exists between no-code development and low-code development. Low-code development seeks to slash out the time it takes to develop software by reducing what needs to be coded, so it’s targeted to nonprofessional users willing to do some coding and to programmers who need to roll out applications faster by using already-built features and libraries for the routine processes. 

No-code development targets the so-called citizen developers who have little or no knowledge of programming and software development and empowers them to develop their own applications.  

Let us now take a look at the past to see how we reached this point. Software development used to be the stronghold of the tech companies who roll out new software every few years, used by both personal users and businesses. If a business needs a customized software, it has to hire a team of programmers, invest on additional infrastructure, wait for months for the application to be rolled out, and even then the programmers and the infrastructure have to be retained since the early versions of applications would be full of bugs and glitches.

Popular applications made by tech companies aren’t immune to this, either. Check out Bill Gates, seconds before disaster:



Luckily for Bill, some things happened to make development slightly easier and slightly less risky:

The cloud arrived

Now both the software development tools and the infrastructure to run them are suddenly accessible, not just to large businesses but also to small businesses and ordinary people. The cloud has been disrupting the existing systems, technologies, and even some of the traditionally-cherished ideas in the computer world. Even the traditional software giants such as Adobe and Microsoft have adapted to this disruption. You can watch an old but good video discussing cloud computing here, uploaded in 2008. 

The smartphone arrived

Mobile devices already existed in the market when Apple released the first iPhone in 2007. Even then, Apple was not able to anticipate selling more than one billion units of iPhone and the resulting massive technological disruption it will cause. Its ability to carry much more processing power was quickly exploited by tech companies, both established and new. Nowadays, developers have to design the same software to both desktop and mobile devices to ensure that their product will be used by its prospective customers.

These disruptions ushered in the need to reduce the time spent coding otherwise routine functions present to most applications developed. The solution? Low-code development. Low-code development later gave way to no-code development, where its developers aim to create platforms that will not require coding expertise in every step of the development process.

Why no-code rocks

people discussing over notebooks and laptops
Developers discussing app design can now address the main requirements after embracing no-code platforms.


How does no-code development work? You essentially drag-and-drop the components you need and connect them by tweaking the settings, creating workflows, and functions necessary for your specific needs. All of these occur while the code that makes them run is hidden from your view.

What are the advantages of no-code, then?

  1. You know how the app you developed works. If you are a nonprogrammer that holds an important role in a business, no-code platforms let you develop software, now! What no-code platforms do is to make the development more visual, thus making software development more accessible to nonprogrammers. This means that nonprogrammers can fully understand how their apps work.
  2. You can focus on how the app should work. Instead of spending too much time on developing individually what would otherwise be standard interfaces and functions, you spend that time thinking on the design of the application and whether it fulfills the requirements, modifying what needs to be adjusted along the way. Even programmers enjoy this advantage! 
  3. You can release the app faster. Since you no longer spend time on programming the routine functions necessary for the app to work, you can create apps on tighter deadlines.
  4. The product already works both on desktop and on mobile. A lot of no-code platforms, such as the platforms for making websites, already handle the differences between desktop and mobile devices, and you can also easily view how it will look in both desktop and mobile devices.
  5. The application is easier to maintain. As the application created using the no-code platforms are made up of blocks of functions already tested, you can be assured that you don’t have to spend hours reading lines of code to check where it might have gone wrong when it didn’t work as it should.
Simply put, no-code opens up software development to people who have an urgent need for working software but do not have enough time to learn the exotic grammar of the programming languages.

Why no-code sucks

No-code is not the solution to all problems. Here are some situations where no-code platforms may not be the answer:

  1. When the required functionality for the program you design is not yet available in the no-code platforms. The functionalities available in no-code platforms are often limited to common operations such as data manipulation, API integration, and whatever extra features the platform may offer. If you have a certain requirement that the no-code platforms do not provide, then you still have to code them yourself until the platforms are upgraded to handle that requirement.
  2. When the program being developed is for a very complex and customized application. There may be limits in the complexity of the apps created using the no-code platforms. You might end up spending more time and money using a no-code platform than on development by coding. 
  3. When you need an intimate understanding of the code. Certain applications, such as those in scientific fields, require them to have an understanding of the code as small quirks on the code can lead to huge deviations in the result.
  4. When you need stringent data safety and security. For those cases, you should probably not use no-code. Since no-code platforms hide the underlying code that runs them, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to audit it to ensure that the data safety and security is not compromised. 

If these concerns are very important to your purpose, then you should think twice before considering a no-code platform. However, since the no-code movement is still growing, the functionality that may not exist today might be available soon!

I have decided. I want to try no-code platforms now!

Is no-code the future? One thing’s for sure, the no-code movement has now arrived! Here is a list of selected platforms you can check:

Do you want to… 

  • create a simple single-page website for creating your online profile? Try Carrd.
  • build an online shop, complete with a catalog, and an order processing system? Try Shopify.
  • create a sophisticated website for your business? Try Webflow.
  • launch a website to publish articles or show off your portfolio? Try Readymag or Substack.
  • create a web app? Try Bubble.
  • create a mobile app? Try Thunkable.
  • try a version of Google Sheets but with more functionalities? Try Airtable.
  • have a chatbot to handle messages sent to your Facebook page? Try Octane AI.
  • accelerate your no-code journey? Check out #100DaysOfNoCode.


As you can see, almost all of these are geared towards (1) businesses who would otherwise hire teams of programmers to do the same thing and (2) individuals who want to do these who would otherwise buy off-the-shelf software and still have to spend time to learn how to use them. 

Final Words

If you are a programmer, you might wonder if this will also put you out of work. I assure you that no-code development will NOT replace programmers! These platforms are developed by programmers themselves, and a lot of them use these platforms to make their work easier.

Ultimately, you need some familiarity with software development to judge what you need: a no-code development platform or a coding platform. But always keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages we discussed above! This will help you decide what you really need.

You can read more articles about the concept of no-code development. Some of these are:

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