A Brief History of No Code Development

Building software without writing or writing minimal code is not a new concept. Influential benchmark products emerged in the early development of enterprise software in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, Microsoft introduced Access database application in its Office suite in 1992, and FileMaker, which was once acquired by Apple, was launched in 1985. Both of these applications are still operational today.

Early low-code development tools were limited to running in standalone or local area network environments, mainly targeting enterprise IT professionals to help establish business databases with high flexibility requirements, achieving typical CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) application scenarios. Many proficient users of Access are not software developers; they can independently design and publish business data tables, enabling departments to share a database.

True application platform products emerged at the turn of the century. The well-known American financial software vendor Intuit introduced QuickBase in 1999, which, as the name suggests, is for rapidly building database applications. This product remained relatively unnoticed for a long time until it was spun off into an independent company in 2016. However, it did pioneer a new way of software implementation, allowing applications to run on encapsulated platforms without the need for code compilation and distribution. This was a crucial step in freeing up user productivity and expanding user base, as the number of enterprises and users with full control over software development and deployment capabilities is very limited. Therefore, this category has been referred to as APaaS (Application Platform as a Service) in recent years.

With the development of cloud computing technology, this category has revived. Building cloud-native applications has become simpler and more direct, and all applications built on APaaS are obviously serverless. It even blurs the boundary between development and usage, where users are developers, and developers can also be direct users. In 2014, the market research company Forrester officially introduced the concept of Low-Code and referred to the related category as Low-Code Application Platform (LCAP). Gartner subsequently named this category as high-productivity application platform as a service (hpaPaaS). In recent years, the entire industry has focused on the term “APaaS” when defining the category of no-code/low-code platforms.

During the development of this category, two basic technological paths naturally evolved.

Rapid Development Platforms based on IDE Frameworks

This technological path fully visualizes traditional Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), allowing developers to use configuration panels and consoles instead of writing a considerable amount of code. Developers can freely define frontend interface components, data source binding methods, data models, business logic, workflows, etc., and the system generates corresponding source code automatically, which developers can further modify if needed. Typical products on this path are Outsystems from the United States and Bettyblocks from Europe, both of which are leading in their respective markets.

The development environment interface of OutSystems

IDE mode application platforms can provide higher flexibility, especially in terms of autonomous control over the frontend interface. However, it still involves complex application development process management and relies heavily on technical languages. The generated applications still need to be compiled, deployed, and distributed. Therefore, it is mainly aimed at IT professionals, and it may even require a certain level of coding foundation, with a relatively long learning curve. Its main value lies in improving developer productivity and reducing repetitive labor. Strictly speaking, platforms that generate code and compile it into runnable applications cannot be called application platforms but rather development platforms.

Model-Driven Application Platforms

In the application platform market, another technological branch has become the new mainstream choice in recent years. It further reduces the workload of code development, and even achieves complete no-code, allowing business users to directly participate in or complete application implementation.

Model-driven is relative to code generation and compilation processes. Once users have constructed data models, view forms, permission roles, etc., visually on the application platform, the application runs directly in the runtime environment provided by the platform, without the need for separate compilation and distribution. In the SaaS form of application platform, applications can be built and used directly after user registration, without the need to configure separate application runtime environments.

By abandoning traditional DevOps processes, model-driven application platforms exponentially improve implementation efficiency and greatly expand the user base. However, it also has to sacrifice the freedom of application implementation. Users cannot design frontend interfaces as freely, and there are certain limitations on the complexity of backend logic. That being said, most enterprise software, especially CRUD applications, have relatively fixed interaction paradigms.

Airtable, Smartsheet, Zoho Creator, Monday.com, and our own Nocoly HAP are application platforms based on the model-driven technology route. These products are closer to end-user applications rather than development tools.

Nocoly HAP’s Application Interface

Integrated Design

Although application platforms generally follow two distinctly different technological paths, specific products may complement each other’s strengths. For IDE-mode application platforms, they may also provide pre-set templates to visualize data model designs, reducing the learning curve for users. For model-driven application platforms, they may also introduce low-code capabilities, allowing users to enhance flexibility with scripting languages, expressions, and functions. It can be said that the competition in this category is a balance between product capabilities and usability. No matter how powerful an application platform is, it cannot surpass native development mode, and even the simplest and most user-friendly platform will lack competitiveness if it cannot meet user needs.

Compared with the early products more than 20 years ago, the main progress of modern application platforms lies in:

  1. Integration with cloud computing environments, allowing users to directly access cloud-native capabilities at a very low cost.
  2. Advancements in web application technology frameworks, enabling browsers to support complex frontend interaction requirements.
  3. Integration with mobile technologies, enabling users to directly generate cross-platform mobile applications.
  4. Improvement in interaction design for complex logic, making it possible for visual configuration to implement complex application logic.
  5. Richer supportive technology frameworks, including databases, caching, object storage services, search engines, container technologies, and operational orchestration automation, enabling application platforms to provide performance identical to native application development.

In the foreseeable near future, application platforms will certainly replace a considerable proportion of native code development, significantly improving the productivity of the enterprise software industry. Market expectations regarding user experience and logic implementation will soon be better met.

About Nocoly

Nocoly is founded by a group of  enterprise software industry veterans, who believe many of the industry’s problems need to be addressed by different ways.

  • DevOps is getting extremely expensive for both ISVs and end customers.
  • Enterprise suite apps are too complicated to implement in many occasions.
  • The people who has the business know how and the people who can develop apps are always departed.

Nocoly’s flagship product, Hyper Application Platform (HAP) is a response for all above challenges. It starts from a No Code application building approach, and expand its capability by adding Hyper Automation and Integration features. This versatility makes HAP a handy tool when solve variety of digital management problems. 

With Cloud Native architecture, HAP is so easy to be installed on customer’s own cloud. On Premise is not expensive any more. You can even get a buy-out pricing option to dramatically reduce your IT spending and subscription burden.

Also, our production innovation optimizes business model. VAR partners can participate into HAP’s ecosystem to build their own vertical solutions and achieve much higher return on investment. 

There are still many heavy and expensive stuff in enterprise digitization domain, such as big data, internet of things, analytics and AIGC implementation. Nocoly’s mission is to make more of them noco-ly. 

Our product is already in many clouds worldwide. Getting HAP up and running is easy and quick.  Jump to our SaaS signup or install on your own server can be minutes away. Begin your HAP story today.