In the context of a developer portal and software interfaces, what is the purpose of low-code and no-code interfaces? Do they have a place in your developer portal? Are you considering the needs of your citizen developers?
This article focuses on software interfaces (programming interfaces): in the form of apps, modules or code, and the use of these protocols to communicate with each other and the hardware.
What are low-code and no-code interface solutions?
More and more often, we hear about the trend for low-code and no-code interfaces as an alternative or compliment to APIs.
What are low-code and no-code interfaces? They can be apps, widgets, QR codes, anything that offers easy access to an organization’s documented components. We have found that in some cases the two terms are used as synonyms, while other texts make distinction between them.
The most common definitions are:
Low-code: requires only minimal hand code or help from a developer, every step of the application’s lifecycle is automated (e.g. the editorial experience in Drupal or WordPress, ability to embed a youtube video anywhere, easy application of a commerce interface to an online storefront.)
No-code: a component for non-technical users to build or use applications without the need for writing code. The interface takes care of the coding language barrier. Some examples:
- An outdated system within a power plant (coded in Fortran) can still be utilized via a no-code system designed with a new interface.
- A QR code, scanned by an individual, can itemize and bill the recipient for a purchased product.
A low-code or no-code platform is a visual development environment that allows to drag and drop application components negating the need to hand code. It is like when someone has a coloring book: the only task is to choose and fill in the spaces with colors you like, but you don’t have to actually draw the shapes.
With the help of low-code, no-code interfaces, the user does not need to be an expert in the coding languages or understand the complexity behind an application. Low-code and no-code interfaces cater to a new user persona: the citizen developer.
These solutions consume less time and allow the consumers to focus on their business needs. Citizen developers can use these tools to build prototypes that are the basis for further development.
“On the way to the future? The era of low-code and no-code”
Like object oriented programming, low-code and no-code tools can benefit developers by removing the redundancy or repetitive work that they are required to code, expanding the reach of creativity and innovation of both non-developers and developers who are outside of these systems.
Advantages of low-code, no-code interfaces:
- Reduce the need for repetitive or redundant work, such as when you use WYSIWYG for removing the need for markup when creating online content during the editorial experience.
- Engineers and developers can use interfaces to communicate with older technology
- Developers can work with engineers to create easier interfaces for AI, IoT, or other machine uses
- Children learn to code with a visual interface while they are playing (e.g. Codey Rocky)
- A shop owner can easily embed a shopping cart to their website (e.g. Shopify)
- Easy payment infrastructure for the internet (e.g. Stripe)
- Repetitive workflows can become automated through integrations (e.g. Zapier)
- One of the leading no-code apps and automation is Google AppSheet. Users can choose their cloud-based data source and authorize their account with AppSheet. Then different types of applications are available and they can be modified. AppSheet is user friendly and it provides a quick solution for creating apps.
- Even an API gateway or management platform can be seen as a low-code interface for the complex problem of how to provide API keys and monetization for a developer portal
Disadvantages, limitations of no-code, low-code interfaces:
- User experience of the solution is poor or minimal. The focus is in solving a problem with a quick result. Because this is a problem first approach, the ultimate consumer’s user experience may suffer.
- The needs of the citizen developer and the capabilities of the platform may not be a match (if your coloring book is of animals, you can not choose to color automobiles.).
Examples of free no-code platforms: Google AppSheet, Appian, Glide, Mendix, Sheety, Zapier. All of these companies provide free no-code platforms to demonstrate the product, with the option to upgrade for additional features and functionality.
Even with these easy low-code, no-code platforms, there is still a need for developers for more complex tasks. For example in the planning and creation of these interfaces. Low-code, no-code solutions are limited, but they can be helpful.
Why is it important to document low-code no-code solutions?
Documentation is such a crucial component for any software product. It plays an important role in training, problem solving, feature adoption and pre-sales. Poor documentation will eventually damage the software’s ability to scale.
Imagine a library without any kind of documentation or catalog. At the beginning, it doesn’t cause problems as the librarian is able to mentally track where each book is located. But as the collection grows it becomes impossible to find one. What happens when the original librarian retires and a new one takes over? How can they locate one specific book? To avoid chaos, it is important to organise the books thematically, to document what each book is about, and their location.
In this same way, APIs, SDKs, low-code, no-code within a business must be catalogued and documented continuously to retain the knowledge from your developers and engineers but also so that these tools can easily be discovered or found in real time by downstream consumers.
A developer portal can do more for low/no-code solutions:
- Developer portals ultimately are becoming capability catalogues, where you expose different software capabilities and the different interfaces through which they can be used.
- Devportals could help with discoverability and findability for low/no-code solutions that have been built by different people in an organization, so that they can be reused.
- Devportals could help with the life cycle management and governance of low/no-code applications.
Technology is evolving, getting better and faster. SDKs and APIs are already helping to make development processes easier and faster. Can low-code and no-code be the next step?
The Interface Developer Portal
A developer portal is the interface between APIs and the users. Well catalogued and documented integrations within a developer portal can make the development process easier and faster.
Pronovix is offering a webinar hosted by our CEO and co-founder Kristof Van Tomme exploring further:
- How interfaces can create business value for companies adopting APIs,
- What stages companies usually go through from an API project to a full-fledged Interface program, and
- How the interface economy will change the role currently played by developer portals.