Freedom to Code on Low-Code Platforms –

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All low-code platforms offer some or full code access, visibility, extensibility, and proprietariness. These vary significantly from vendor to vendor. Professional developers can realize their full potential on low-code platforms only with complete freedom to access and modify the code.

Low-code development platforms have gained significant popularity recently, allowing users to create applications with minimal coding knowledge or experience. They abstract much of the complexity involved in traditional coding by providing pre-built components and visual interfaces.

However, complex applications that use custom logic and integrations often test the robustness of a platform’s feature richness, security, performance, and scalability. Such applications use custom authentication, validations, pre or post-processing of data, customized user interactions, and special look and feel customizations that adhere to branding guidelines. These test the capabilities of the low-code platform. 

When Do Developers Write Code?

All low-code platforms allow some customization of predefined functionalities and modules of their applications. When coding complex use case scenarios or integrating with some third-party systems, developers write their own code snippets or use non-standard APIs or SDKs to customize and extend the platform.  There is only so much developers can actually extend the platform without writing actual code.

Most modern applications interact with external databases, APIs, or services. Low-code platforms have these covered via out-of-the-box connectors and integrations with popular systems. However, where there are legacy systems that require custom integration, developers write code to integrate and handle data exchange between the low-code platform and external systems.

While most low-code platforms aim to provide convenience and ease of development, developers often prioritize performance optimization. When performance is critical, developers dive into underlying code to fine-tune it. They optimize specific aspects of the application to improve efficiency, reduce latency, or handle large volumes of data.

Most low-code platforms offer features and capabilities that cater to in-house business or process automation use cases. However, building customer-facing apps that have complex user journeys and integrations requires capabilities beyond what low-code platforms typically offer. In such cases, developers write code to implement these advanced or niche features.

Very few low-code development platforms adopt a code-behind approach to generate code based on open standards. Standards give developers access to make changes and extend using popular industry frameworks, avoiding the need to learn proprietary frameworks and code.

Expectations From Low-Code Platforms 

Professional developers expect the convenience of visual interfaces and pre-built components with custom coding to meet specific requirements, extend functionality, optimize performance, and integrate with third-party systems.

Low-code platforms are known for reducing the amount of traditional hand-coding needed by simplifying the application development process and making it more intuitive. So, developers and enterprises adopting a low-code platform today have some basic expectations.

  • Rapid application development: Accelerate coding, testing, and deployment.
  • Visual development: Graphical interfaces and drag-and-drop functionality for visually building applications, intuitively creating user interfaces and workflows, and integrating various components.
  • Customization and extensibility: Flexible and extensible frameworks that allow adding custom code, integrating existing systems, or leveraging third-party libraries and APIs.
  • Integration capabilities: Seamlessly connect with external data sources, cloud services, and legacy systems using APIs and libraries.
  • Scalability and performance: Handle scalability and performance requirements as applications built on the platforms grow. Ability to scale applications, optimize performance, and manage large data volumes efficiently.
  • Support SDLC: Developers often work in teams and expect low-code platforms to support standard software development lifecycles like iterative development. Features like version control, code sharing, and collaborative development environments are crucial for successful team collaboration.
  • Error handling: Robust and reliable error-handling mechanisms that keep the platform stable and secure. Provide debugging and troubleshooting tools to identify and resolve issues quickly.
  • Deployment flexibility: Flexibility of deploying applications to various environments, such as cloud platforms, on-premises servers, and mobile devices. Support multiple deployment options and provide seamless deployment processes.
  • Extensive component libraries: Provide a rich set of pre-built components and templates, which include ready-to-use UI components, connectors for popular services, and reusable modules that accelerate application development.

The Meaning of Vendor Lock-in

  1. While these are the basic needs of a typical low-code platform, an enterprise adopting low-code must consider the independence of the applications built using the platform for any future modification or upgrades — vendor lock-ins. Vendor lock-in aspects typically restrict the following application lifecycle operations.
  2. Deploying an application in the organization’s choice of cloud or infrastructure (this is synonymous with no runtime lock-in)
  3. Customizing and extending the application outside the platform
  4. Developing and modifying application-generated code outside the platform
  5. Upgrading the underlying technology stack outside the platform

For the enterprise: Ideally, there should be minimal to no lock-in of the application with the low code platform, and the application code should be easily accessible and modifiable by developers outside the platform. But enterprises adopting low-code platforms typically assess no vendor lock-in only from a runtime perspective — that is, the ability to deploy low-code built applications on their choice of infrastructure for compliance reasons. This requirement is only #1. 

For software product vendors: Software product companies or independent software vendors (ISVs), using low-code to develop their products and solutions, assess the ability to access and modify the code outside the platform, often by downstream product users. This requirement is #1, #2 & #3.

For system integrators: System integrators (SIs) looking to accelerate development times and improve customer experience, embrace low-code platforms, and assess them from the standpoint of #1, #2 & #3. However, those SIs who focus on digital transformation initiatives and own full life-cycle app development and maintenance would look for all four aspects mentioned above, which used to be only achieved using traditional coding methodologies.

Accessibility of Generated Code

While low-code platforms may offer code access, it’s essential to recognize that code visibility and customization options can vary significantly. Some low-code platforms can incorporate snippets of custom code, extensions, or scripting in specific scenarios, while others may offer more limited code access or none at all.

Platforms That Don’t Give Code Access

Most low-code platforms rely on pre-built components and models or predefined programmable constructs used with a typical workflow system to create business logic. These platforms lock in the app runtime, forcing developers to build and deploy applications only on the low-code platform.

The front end may use pre-built UI components that offer minimal customization, and extending or modifying the behavior of these components could be challenging. The backend may have proprietary runtime frameworks that may not provide the flexibility to add custom logic or code-based customizations. Typically, these platforms lock in all the above four aspects discussed.

Platforms That Use Code Behind

Low-code platforms that follow a code-behind approach provide visual development tools for building the application’s front end and logic, while the backend code is generated from a model, database, or API and can be accessed or modified as needed.

Typically, these platforms convert visual programming into metadata from which actual code is generated, mainly using popular open standards frameworks. The higher-order low-code abstractions are metadata-driven and provide the necessary acceleration. Developers depend on the platform to create this metadata, which later gets converted into real code and extensions for customization.

Such transparency gives developers fine-grained control over the codebase and allows customizations beyond the platform’s built-in features. With this approach, there is no lock-in for deployment and customization, whereas developers depend on the low-code platform for adding new features and upgrades.

Platforms Providing Code Export

Many low-code platforms allow developers to export the generated code, partially or entirely, which helps integrate with existing or legacy applications, perform advanced customizations, or migrate applications to different environments.

By exporting the code, developers gain direct access to the underlying implementation, enabling them to extend functionality, optimize performance, or integrate with 3rd party systems.

When using a low-code platform, it is essential to consider the potential for vendor lock-in. Some platforms use proprietary languages or frameworks for their generated backend code, which may limit the portability of the application to other environments or platforms. Developers should carefully evaluate the platform’s portability and the options available to access or migrate the backend code if needed.

In conclusion, low-code development empowers developers by providing a streamlined approach to application creation. It offers the freedom to swiftly build, customize, and integrate solutions while minimizing extensive coding efforts. However, for complex, customer-facing applications, developers still play a crucial role in ensuring robustness, security, and scalability. The key lies in finding a low-code platform that aligns with open standards to avoid vendor lock-in and maintain code accessibility. In this era of rapid development, low-code offers a promising path to meet expectations and drive innovation, granting developers newfound flexibility and efficiency in their coding endeavors.

Opinions expressed by MaximusDevs contributors are their own.

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