No-Code Development: Free tools for the Citizen Developer

No-code Development means creating interactive software for the web, desktop, or mobile without having to use a programming language. It is an ideal introduction for people interested in creating apps without the background or time needed to learn programming. The rising popularity of no-code development has resulted in the rise of “Citizen Developers”, individuals capable of creating apps without a software development background.

A Brief History of No-code Development

While the term no-code development might be new, no-code platforms have been available since the late 1980s. Director was initially developed in 1987 by a company called Macromind (which later became Macromedia and was then purchased by Adobe Systems). Director allowed for drag and drop design of user interfaces, navigation, and animations, which allows you to create interactive multimedia applications running on Windows or Mac. While you can create a fully operational app without programming, Director came with its own scripting language called Lingo to further extend its capabilities. During the early 2000s, EACOMM utilized Director to create interactive school yearbooks, company profiles, and games. Director allowed us to launch polished multimedia applications with little to no coding. Director later on evolved to Flash which was a very popular means of introducing interactive and highly animated content in the Web before the rise of HTML5.

In the late 1990s to early 2000s the rise of the World Wide Web also introduced tools to create websites without the need to know or write HTML. Perhaps most significant of these was the creation of WordPress in 2003, which introduced the concept of content management for websites to a broad audience hungry to create websites. Since then, no-coding of websites became mainstream.

No-code in its form as a web-based programming platform can also trace its roots to Scratch, a visual programming language designed to introduce children to coding. It was created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and released publicly in 2007. Visual programming utilizes a graphical view typically consisting of boxes and arrows to create a software program. Current no-code platforms typically includes concepts from visual programming to create applications.

AppGyver User Interface

Advantages of No-Code Development

  1. Accessibility: Perhaps the biggest advantage of no-code environments is its accessibility to a broad base of users. People with little to no programming experience can immediately create mobile apps or websites that can tackle simple tasks. For example, a simple company website developed on a no-code website publishing platform like Google Sites or WordPress can be deployed in a matter of hours or even minutes by anyone who knows how to use basic Office applications. Desktop and mobile apps are also easily created using no-code platforms. Citizen Developers such as rank and file office employees can create prototype apps to present to their bosses before having to involve expensive developer resources. Similarly, students who have no programming background can create projects that can be published to app stores or the world wide web with ease.
  2. Rapid Deployment: Even seasoned software developers make use of no-code platforms to rapidly prototype and develop proof-of-concept applications that can be presented to clients for approval. Wireframe layouts can be done in minutes instead of hours using no-code tools. For simpler projects, no-code can be a viable development platform all the way to product release, achieving a much faster route to create a minimum viable product or even a production system.
  3. Cost-Effective: Traditional Custom Software Development can prove to be expensive, especially for simpler applications that can be easily created using no-code platforms. No-code allows Citizen Developers to create apps without the need to tap expensive developer resources. Even when software developers are involved, no-code’s rapid deployment capability allows them to deploy simple applications faster and thus cheaper.
AppInventor User Interface

Disadvantages of No-Code Development

  1. Customization: No-code platforms typically offer standardized templates and ready-to-use components. Customizing these components in terms of looks and functionality is usually limited, if at all possible. Thus, complex, highly custom applications are better off using traditional software development tools instead.
  2. Scalability: For applications that can potentially have a large user base or for large enterprise systems, attempting to develop them with no-code platforms can prove longer and much costlier than starting off using traditional development tools. As applications grow in complexity, the harder it is to maintain and develop using no-code. Software performance would also tend to suffer, as no-code platforms are simply not designed to handle large scale systems.
  3. Platform Dependency: No-code platforms operate within their own ecosystems, and selecting and creating a program on a specific platform ties up your application to that ecosystem for the long term. Just as HTML5 rendered Adobe Director and Adobe Flash obsolete (although Flash is still alive and well as a 2D animation tool) so can modern no-code platforms face obsolescence once the “next big thing” comes along. Whereas traditional software development that uses popular programming languages tend to have a much longer lifespan. As an example, the C programming language, created in 1972, is still one of the most popular programming languages in the world, and JavaScript and PHP, both nearing thirty years old, still power a vast majority of the World Wide Web.

Examples of Free No-code Platforms

As an ongoing trend, you will find quite a number of no-code platforms in the market today. Most of these platforms are cloud-based and operate via a monthly subscription model. A number of them are open-source or has a free tier to create limited applications. Here are just a few examples of the no-code platforms that can be used or tried FOR FREE:

Name with LinkSubscription/Open-SourceDescription
AppInventorOpen-SourceAppInventor is a visual block-based coding platform developed by the MIT Media Lab that allows users to create Android apps. It is free to use and open-source, allowing you to publish Android Apps for free.
AppGyverSubscription with
Community Edition
AppGyver is a no-code platform currently owned by SAP. It offers a drag-and-drop interface, pre-built templates, and a wide range of integrations. AppGyver has a community edition that allows you to publish to iOS and Android for free, but it requires a subscription for premium features and advanced functionality.
BubbleSubscriptionBubble is a no-code web development platform that allows users to create web applications with visual drag-and-drop tools. It has a free tier, but you can only publish apps with bubble branding and limited features.
AdaloSubscriptionAdalo is a no-code platform for building mobile and web applications. It offers a visual interface, pre-built UI components, and integrations with various APIs. Its free tier limits database records, app actions, and the like.
WordPressOpen-SourceWordPress is a popular open-source content management system (CMS) that allows users to create websites and blogs with a wide range of customizable themes, plugins, and templates. It is free to use, but additional plugins/themes/functions require licensing fees or subscription plans.

The Future of No-Code

No-code development is here to stay. Whether it is used by Citizen Developers to create ready-to-publish simple apps or by Software Developers to create wireframe prototypes or minimum viable products, the benefits of no-code development for simple, quick-to-market apps are too appealing to ignore. Given the number of platforms available, choosing the right no-code platform to ensure long term viability is a challenge. We recommend sticking with no-code platforms that have a long history and a large user base to avoid the risk of obsolescence. Sticking with open-source platforms such as AppInventor is also a good option.

With the rise of AI, especially the likes of ChatGPT that can generate programming code based on text-based inputs, there is fertile ground to create new and innovative no-code platforms that utilize this capability. As such, while no-code platforms can be relied on for simple websites or apps at present, more and more complex, cross platform applications and even full-blown software systems are very much in the future of no-code.

EACOMM is excited to see where no-code development will lead in the next few years and how we can utilize these various platforms to deliver cutting edge business applications to our clients and partners faster and cheaper than ever before.