Low-code: Definition, characteristics, and applications

To create a website, desktop software or mobile app, you need the right programming platform and language. Depending on the project and the complexity, a range of platforms are available – all of which require in-depth training. However, those who have no time to learn the basics of programming can alternatively use a low-code platform.

What is low-code?

As the name suggests, the low-code approach does not involve writing many lines of complex code. It largely dispenses with conventional manual programming. Instead, low-code development utilizes a graphical user interface as well as predefined visual components. This simplifies the creation of software considerably and saves time, since each element does not have to be programmed from scratch. Low-code is a simplified form of software development that requires only limited programming knowledge.

However, low-code platforms can’t fully eliminate the need for manual programming. Up to 80 percent of software development can generally be performed without writing code. Platforms that require no code at all are called no-code platforms. These offer even more time-savings, but they’re not as flexible as low-code platforms which enable developers to make individual adjustments.

Note

Low-code development originates from the 1990s. A predecessor approach includes rapid application development – or RAD for short. The most popular RAD platforms were Oracle Forms, Visual Basic and Delphi.

What makes low-code special?

The term “low-code” was coined by the market research company Forrester Research in a report on new development platforms for customer-related applications. Analysts Clay Richardson and John Rymer noted four important features that characterize low-code platforms:

Graphical modeling methods

Thanks to their graphical user interface, low-code platforms allow intuitive working that follows the building block model. The user is provided with visual models that can usually be selected via drag and drop and integrated into the project where necessary. Visual modeling enables the rapid development of complex web and mobile applications, offering a significant productivity increase.

Reusability

When it comes to low-code development, the focus is always on saving time. This not only results from visual modeling that replaces manual programming, users can also increase their productivity by using templates, plug-ins, and widgets. They can be utilized as often as required. Some companies even provide their development teams with components via a private store.

Cloud-based access

Most low-code platforms allow users to provide and manage their applications in a cloud. No reprogramming is required when switching clouds or using a new database. The visual tools involved are also offered in the cloud – enabling immediate implementation and application availability.

Support after the development phase

If you use a low-code platform for developing software, you can receive support from the provider that goes beyond the development phase. This means that, besides application design, its provision and maintenance are also included. Moreover, it’s possible to pause or postpone projects and resume them at any point in the future.

Advantages of low-code

There are many favorable aspects of low-code. The biggest advantages offered by the development method are listed below:

  • Speed: Since manual programming is mostly unnecessary in low-code development, prototypes and complete applications are developed much faster. This also boosts the efficiency of professional developers. They have the ability to concentrate on core tasks instead of having to weed out bugs in code.
  • Simplicity: The approach is easy to follow, allowing people with little experience and no technical background to get started right away. The source code that developers normally write themselves is automatically generated by the intuitive arrangement of elements. Subsequent adjustments can be implemented with ease.
  • Cost reduction: Reduced costs are directly associated with the time-savings. The visual components of low-code platforms are reusable and don’t have to be rewritten each time. Thanks to the ease of use, cost-intensive staff training is unnecessary.
  • Flexibility: Flexibility provision tools enable the developed applications to be released in a preferred environment. Low-code platforms are easy to use and also enable a high degree of adaptability. This means developers have the ability to respond quickly to changes or market requirements.
  • Higher quality: Since low-code development is also intended for non-programmers, it is possible to involve expertise from different departments. Experts from different departments act as citizen developers and help to find creative solutions. This prevents groupthink and increases the quality of the final product.

Where and when is low-code used?

From websites and mobile apps to desktop applications – low-code platforms make developing cross-platform applications easier than ever. Thanks to the numerous advantages, the development method has become successfully established across many fields. Low-code is especially useful for recurring processes. For example, low-code applications help to optimize internal processes that would otherwise involve a lot of paperwork. Particularly in staff management, these solutions save time and money.

But low-code can be used for both internal and external purposes. The rapid development of immediately usable and customer-oriented software applications is popular in public administration, e-commerce, and industry. While non-programmers often develop apps for organizational efficiency, professional developers use low-code platforms to generate prototypes for innovative apps. It’s also possible to improve legacy systems in this way. This means that an existing app can be adjusted to new customer or market requirements using low-code, or to improve user-friendliness for instance.

Many self-employed people and bloggers use low-code platforms to create their own websites. The best-known example is undoubtedly the content management system WordPress. Here, users first select a model layout for their website. They then have the option to add text and different media. Since the provider follows an open-source approach, users with programming experience are able to view the source code and adjust it as they wish. WordPress is a classic low-code platform, designed for both laypeople without programming knowledge and developers.

Low-code makes it easier to program new software and enables professional results without extensive training. For this reason, low-code development is a great time-saving and cost-effective alternative to traditional development methods.


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