By Tobin Harris, June 22, 2021

Managing Director at Pocketworks, app development specialists.

Mobile Technologies & Practices 


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Awesome photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Open-source no-code tools could help your business streamline internal processes or prototype apps that improve your customer experience. At Pocketworks, the jury is still out as to whether no-code is something we want to offer to our clients, but it's definitely worth having on your radar. And open source could be an option to consider.

What is no-code?

No-code platforms allow business people to build software with little or no support from technical software people. They can invite employees to use their software, deploy it on mobile devices as apps, or integrate it with existing databases and systems. It's like Microsoft Access all over again, but with the modern goodness of cloud, APIs and apps. 

Note that there are many people saying their solutions are no-code. But I'm mostly focusing on the ones that allow you to build end-to-end apps and business systems for use in digital transformation or digital product prototyping. 

Why consider Open Source?

When considering using no-code for our own clients, I worry about a few things. Feel free to talk me round, but here's why I think open source no-code solutions will benefit companies over closed-source alternatives.

  1. Having the ability to host it yourself is good, you don't have to worry about a no-code platform vendor being acquired or deciding to discontinue the product. Nobody can pull the plug (1).

  2. You also have control over rolling out updates. Updates can break things!

  3. Lock-in is another concern. With an open-source solution, a developer can get under the bonnet and explore ways to get his work out of the no-code tool if it becomes too constraining.

  4. Then there's cost. Most no-code platforms charge $15-$50 per user per month, meaning a 50-person department or company will pay almost £11,000 a year or £33,000 over 3 years. This could be great value for money btw, but worth pointing out.

Each of these claims has valid counter-arguments too. For example, with closed source solutions you may see a more consistent evolution of the platform. You won't have to worry about security or upgrades. The setup is all done for you, no need to get a tech team to help. Plus some will have reasonable "exit" conditions. All that could easily be worth the cost.

The right choice will depend on your situation.

Enough chat, show me the no-code tools!

I'll update this list as I learn more. I may even turn it into a no-code app :)

I've indicated with a ★ the ones I feel most excited to try out. This is based on feature set and gut right now. Note that I haven't tried these yet, feel free to contact me on Twitter with comments.

WARNING: The biggest hurdle for all you non-developers will be getting these systems set up to try out. Look out for ones that have a hosted option for you to try, which might be useful if your non-technical. 

nocodb.com

★★★★★

"NocoDB is an open-source no-code platform that turns any database into a smart spreadsheet."

  • Pretty cool because it's like AirTable, which is a popular commercial no-code tool
  • It's aimed at business users and developers
  • They seem to be interested in customer feedback, using HotJar
  • Can be hosted on Heroku or other one-click cloud hosting providers

baserow.io

★★★★

"Create your own online database without technical experience. Our user-friendly no-code tool gives you the powers of a developer without leaving your browser."

  • Another platform similar to the popular AirTable 
  • Aimed at business users too
  • Has commercial option at $4 per user per month
  • Good demos on the site

tooljet.io

★★★

"Open-source low-code framework to build & deploy internal tools with minimal engineering effort."

  • Aimed at developers to speed up building internal business tools
  • Includes drag and drop builder for the user interface
  • Allows developers to add custom Javascript

budibase.com

★★★★

"Budibase is an open-source low-code platform, helping thousands of teams build apps for their workplace in minutes."

  • Has a nice website, which is a good sign that the developers care about UX
  • Includes drag and drop builder for the user interface
  • Has built-in database

appsmith.com

★★★★★

"Appsmith is an open-source framework to build admin panels, CRUD apps and workflows. Build everything you need, 10x faster."

  • The website looks good, a good sign they care about UX
  • Drag and Drop user interface builder
  • Connects with various databases
  • Looks like a commercial version is coming soon

saltcorn.com

★★

"Saltcorn is a platform for building database web applications without writing a single line of code. Use the intuitive point-and-click, drag-and-drop user interface to build the whole application."

lowdefy.com

★★★★

"An open-source low-code framework to build web apps, admin panels, BI dashboards, workflows, and CRUD apps with ease."

  • Aimed at developers
  • Can imagine this being very fast to work with because it's YAML based
  • Allows you to create screens and connect to a variety of databases

directus.io

★★★★

"Directus wraps your new or existing SQL database with a real-time GraphQL+REST API for developers and an intuitive admin app for non-technical users."

  • Definitely for developers
  • Commercial option (for $900 a year)

frappeframework.com

★★★

"Open source, metadata-driven, full-stack framework in Python and Javascript. Comes with Admin UI, Roles and Permissions and much more."

  • Another developer-focused one

Ok, that's as far as I've got for now. Want to add your open-source no-code platform to the list? Please send me a tweet!

Find this interesting?

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About Pocketworks

Pocketworks is a mobile-first software company that helps organisations improve their customer experience with mobile technology. We enable our clients use research and data to find the right solution for their business. Then, we deliver apps and digital products that increase customer satisfaction and retention.
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