No-Code Demystified: A Guide to Building without Code

Explainer
Blank mobile phone screen mockup

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the origins, possibilities, and future of building without code. No-Code is not just a buzzword; it is an approach that empowers individuals to create innovative solutions, web applications, and more, without the need for traditional coding.

If you aren’t familiar with no-code, this guide is going to be totally worth your time.

This is what we are going to cover:

  • What is no-code
  • What led to the no-code revolution
  • Explore different development approaches
  • Discover a range of ideas you can build
  • Success stories and inspiration
  • Learning path and resources
  • Future of no-code

Let’s go.

Defining No-Code

Okay, before I answer this question. I must give you some context.

The Original Computers

So back in the day, we had these giant computers and engineers had to use something called a “punched card” to give instructions to the computer.

Something like:

"computer - here are two numbers, give me the sum"

And engineers literally had to “punch in” these instructions.

Sounds like a very tedious process, doesn’t it?

Coding Enters the Scene

Anyhow, as computers evolved, there was a new way to give instructions to the computer.

And this was through the means of a language that computers could understand — generally known as programming languages. This is what people are referring to when they say “coding”.

Programming Equipment in Dark
Programming Equipment in Dark

You can ask the computer to do anything with code (well, almost everything).

The most popular thing to do with code is to build software applications – it could be a website (like the one you are on right now) or an app (like the browser you are using to access this website).

Once all the code is written and tested (hopefully), it is packaged and shipped to the consumer devices (like your laptop or smartphone). This was done via CDs (remember those?) until a few years ago but now it’s just done over the internet.

So this process is obviously a lot easier than the old punched card approach.

But did you spot the limitation here?

Well, in order to communicate with the computer, you must learn to speak (write) the same language as well.

Again, it’s a big undertaking and requires a lot of time!

Fast Forward to No-Code

Over time, some very smart people have been trying to solve this problem of reducing the barrier to entry for software development. And this eventually led to a new paradigm that is more visual in nature — think drag and drop.

No code Drag and Drop
Softr.io drag-n-drop web app builder in action.

If you are wondering how could it be any easier and faster, just think about a time when you were standing across someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you. What did you do to communicate with them? You probably leveraged hand gestures and or facial expressions to communicate with them visually.

The same principle applies to software development.

There is an option to skip the language part and build your software visually.

And that is what is called no-code!

role-of-no-code-tools

Yes, you still have to learn the basics and have to learn how to use these drag-and-drop tools but it is much easier and faster than learning a programming language – because it’s all visual!

In fact, you might have already been using no-code tools without realizing it.

To formally define no-code, we can say:

It’s the process of building software applications using tools that offer intuitive visual interfaces to implement the design and logic, without the need for programming skills.

All said and done, just remember it’s all about providing solutions to common problems — developed with code or without it.

Spelling No-Code

No Code or No-Code? Are you team space or team dash? I bet you will face this sooner rather than later. Let me save you the trouble. There is no right or wrong answer!

no-code vs. no code (team dash vs. team space)
No-Code vs. No Code

In a recent survey conducted by Adalo, the majority of the respondents preferred to be team dash. And it happens to be my personal preference as well. I highly recommend picking a side and sticking with it to be consistent.

Here at NoCode University, we are Team Dash with the exception of our name and logo.

What Led to the Rise of No-Code?

Over the last few years, 100s if not 1000s of no-code tools have entered the market.

This enabled first-time non-technical founders to bring their ideas to life all by themselves. It has even resulted in the emergence of a ton of communities, courses, bootcamps, and other products around various aspects of no-code.

No-Code tools, at least some of them aren’t exactly new. Bubble, one of the most popular no-code tools, launched in 2012 and Webflow, another popular tool, launched in 2014. But at the time they didn’t think of them as such. They were just trying to make the app and web development easier and more visual.

In fact, if you go to Google Trends and look for no-code, you will notice that there was some chatter around 2004 when WordPress launched, then again in 2006 when Shopify launched. But after that, it was pretty much radio silence.

Until… early 2020. From radio silence to explosive growth within a matter of months!

Wait, what happened in early 2020? Ah, the pandemic!

no-code trends from google analytics

Now you might be thinking what does the pandemic have to do with no-code?

I know! Well, turns out, a lot actually.

Pandemic-Driven Boost for No-Code

As the world went into lockdown mode, consumer demands, and preferences changed drastically. This is put a major strain on businesses that lacked digital maturity.

And to make matters worse, many talented individuals decided to leave the workforce around the same time — generally known as the “great resignation”.

But the struggling businesses had to find a way to do more with less.

They had to figure out a way to automate and digitize processes.

They needed online applications to support the customers and to ease the burden on employees.

In addition, many individuals (especially those in the service industry) took the pandemic as an opportunity to acquire new skills and start new careers.

It’s hard to find precise data but it’s pretty evident that a lot of these workers turned towards higher-paying skills like web and app development.

As a result, no-code tools and platforms became very attractive.

What Can You Build with No-Code?

Before we talk about what you can build with no-code, let’s explore the types of software applications. Generally speaking, consumer-facing software can be categorized into the following:

  • Websites
  • Web Apps
  • Mobile Apps
  • Desktop Apps
  • Bots (Text / Voice)

All of them are built with a particular use case in mind. In other words, all of the above exist to solve a particular problem or a set of problems.

The problem could very well be that “the user is bored and must be entertained”.

A problem is a problem.

And guess what?

You can build any type of software application listed above with no-code tools!

Development Approaches with No-Code

When the question of how to proceed arises, remember the ultimate goal is to deliver a valuable piece of software to the right user at the right time. With that in mind, let’s delve into the three approaches you can take with no-code.

Development-approaches-with-no-code

Off The Shelf

Imagine you’ve walked into a store and you spot an item that exactly matches your requirements. You don’t need to customize or alter it, you just need to purchase and use it. This is the essence of the “Off The Shelf” approach. It refers to ready-made software applications, specifically designed to cater to common needs.

The best example is using a tool like WordPress to quickly set up a blog or a website without needing to code.

Lego Blocks Approach

Now, suppose you can’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, you have a collection of Lego blocks, each with its own unique function. You can piece these blocks together to create a solution that fits your unique needs. This is the “Lego Blocks Approach”.

Tools like Softr and Airtable (along with Zapier) are excellent examples. They offer modular solutions that allow users to connect different applications or services together, thereby creating more complex systems without having to write a single line of code.

Custom Build from Scratch

Sometimes, even the most comprehensive Lego sets aren’t enough. You have a very specific vision in mind and the only way to realize it is to build it from scratch. Luckily, with no-code, you don’t need to be a coding ninja to do this.

Platforms like Bubble and Adalo allow you to design and build your own software applications from scratch (on an infinite canvas), all without the need for programming.

In essence, the approach you choose depends entirely on your needs, available resources, and time constraints.

Types of No-Code Tools

No-code tools are as diverse as they are plentiful.

There is a practice that most software engineers follow – they don’t start coding until they have solved the problem on paper. That’s because a lot of the details about the problem or the understanding of the problem become clear as you are trying to solve it.

Jumping directly to coding is always attractive but it’s not the most efficient approach.

Similarly, if you are trying to build a product using no-code tools, it’s better to explore the options before committing to a particular tool.

Each tool comes with its own pros and cons.

For example, a tool might take you 80% there with half the effort compared to another tool that can take you 100% there. And therefore, before committing to one of them, you have to ask yourself what’s going to be more beneficial in your context.

Let’s categorize them based on the type of software they help create.

Types-of-No-Code-Tools

Website Builders

Websites come in many different flavors. It could be a landing page for a product, an internal wiki, or a blog site.There are multiple no-code tools for each use case mentioned above. Each with a unique set of features and its own pros and cons.

  • Example: Wix, Squarespace, Carrd, Webflow, and WordPress are some of the popular tools in this category.

App Builders

If we look at a typical software application, it is comprised of the following:

  1. A front-end or User Interface (UI) — this is what most people are referring to when they say “app”. This is just the visible aspect of the app and there is a lot more happening behind the scenes.
  2. Something in the back end that stores the data — this is generally known as the Database.
  3. And finally, there is something in the middle to allow the front end to access the database, a connector — this is generally known as the Application Programming Interface or API.

The Database and the API combined are generally known as the “back end”.

This is not to say that you need all 3 to develop your application, it just depends on the context of your project. App Builders can be further divided into Web Application Builders and Mobile Application Builders.

Web Application Builders

These tools allow you to build web applications, which are more complex than websites and offer greater functionality. They often feature databases and allow for the creation of user accounts.

  • Example: Bubble, Adalo, and Softr are known for their easy-to-use interfaces and extensive functionality.

Mobile Application Builders

Mobile app builders provide the infrastructure you need to build and deploy mobile apps without having to learn Swift or Kotlin (popular mobile app programming languages).

  • Example: Adalo, Glide, and FlutterFlow are excellent choices for those who wish to create a mobile application with a no-code approach.

Automation Tools

This got to be one of the important categories of no-code tools. While the name suggests that they are used to automate workflows, which they do, they play another key role in the no-code world.

The automation tools act as a glue between the no-code tools, allowing data to flow between them based on triggers/events. This makes it possible for the no-code developers to focus on the user interactions without getting too consumed in the infrastructure, data processing, or back-end development in general. The automation tools act as a substitute for the API layer in many no-code scenarios.

Just like website and app builders, there are many options for automation tools.

And for each category, there are options for indie makers on a budget, small business users looking to grow, and enterprise users looking to meet advanced use cases and compliance requirements.

  • Example: Zapier, Make (formerly Integromat), and IFTTT are popular tools in this category, allowing you to connect various web services and automate routine tasks.

Database and Spreadsheet Tools

These are no-code tools that mimic the functionality of traditional databases and spreadsheets but with a more user-friendly interface.

  • Example: Airtable, Google Sheets, and Microsoft Power Automate fall under this category.

Chatbot Builders

Chatbot builders allow you to create bots for customer service, lead generation, and more. These can be integrated with your website or messaging apps.

  • Example: Landbot, SendPulse, and VoiceFlow are powerful yet easy-to-use tools in this area.

Form Builders

These tools help you create online forms and surveys for data collection without having to write any code.

  • Example: Typeform, Tally Forms, and JotForm are leaders in this space.

As you can see, the world of no-code is vast, offering an array of tools for virtually any problem you wish to solve. Each tool has its strengths and fits certain use cases better than others, so take your time to explore and find the ones that suit your needs the best.

No-Code Project Ideas

As mentioned earlier, you can build pretty much any kind of software with no-code. If you are not sure what to build, here is a list of ideas for you to get started. There is no better way to learn than to roll up your sleeves and build something tangible.

The ideas are divided into 2 categories – beginner and advanced.

Beginner Friendly

Let’s explore some beginner-friendly projects you can build with no-code tools:

Personal Portfolio or Resume Website

A perfect project for beginners is a personal portfolio or resume website. Website builders like Wix or Squarespace can be used to showcase your work, skills, and experience. It’s a great way to learn the basics of website design and to make yourself stand out to potential employers or clients.

Simple Mobile App

You can create a simple mobile app that offers some basic functionality. For example, an app that displays inspirational quotes, a to-do list app, or a simple calculator. Glide and Adalo are excellent platforms to start with for mobile app development.

Content Management System (CMS)

Try your hand at building a content management system using a database tool like Notion. You could manage a blog, where you can add new articles, categorize them, and keep track of publishing dates.

Automated Social Media Posts

Utilize a tool like Zapier to automate your social media posts. This is a fun way to understand how automation works. For example, you can set up a workflow where every new blog post you write automatically gets shared across your social media platforms.

Event Registration Form

Create an event registration form using Tally or Typeform. Collect names, contact information, and any other details you need from participants. This is an excellent way to get familiar with online form builders and data collection.

Customer Support Chatbot

Design a basic customer support chatbot for a hypothetical online store using Tars or ManyChat. The bot can answer basic questions like store hours, return policy, or product availability. This project will give you hands-on experience in designing conversational flows.

Advanced Level

Community Forum

With Bubble, you can create a simple community forum where users can sign up, create posts, and comment on others’ posts. This project can give you a solid understanding of user authentication and database design.

Weather App

Utilizing FlutterFlow, you can build a basic weather app that fetches data from a weather API and displays current weather information based on the user’s location. This project introduces you to working with APIs in a no-code context.

Task Management Tool

Adalo’s powerful database functionality makes it possible to create a simple task management tool. Users can create an account, add tasks, set deadlines, and mark tasks as completed. This provides an excellent introduction to data modeling and user interface design.

Simple E-commerce Store

Bubble can be used to create a simple e-commerce application. You could set up a storefront where users can browse items, add them to a cart, and make a purchase. It’s a good way to understand the basics of e-commerce and user management.

Food Delivery App

With Adalo, you can create a basic food delivery app. Users could choose a restaurant, select their food, and place an order. This is a more complex project that allows you to gain experience with several functionalities including integrating with APIs, handling payments, and managing real-time updates.

Benefits of Building with No-Code

According to a report published by Zapier, the majority of the no-code developers started using these tools during the pandemic. 83% of the respondents cited a “desire to reduce the time certain tasks take” and 76% cited a “desire to automate tasks or aspects of the business” as reasons for adopting no-code tools.

In addition, these time-saving benefits were identified by a wide range of people including individual contributors (professionals), business owners, company managers, and leaders.

And the boom was not just limited to enterprise — 76% reported using no-code tools for their own personal projects. This makes sense as all of a sudden, turning an idea into an app is more accessible for individuals lacking a technical background or access to funding, or both.

Here is why I am personally betting on no-code:

Faster Development

No-code platforms help you move rapidly from an idea to a functioning application. Unlike traditional coding which requires meticulous planning and execution, no-code lets you focus on design and functionality. Drag-and-drop interfaces make this process quick and intuitive. This speed can be especially advantageous when developing prototypes or MVPs.

Lower Learning Barrier

While learning to code can be a long journey, getting started with no-code tools has a significantly shorter learning curve. You can begin creating meaningful projects almost immediately, without needing to understand complex programming concepts. This makes no-code a great starting point for people new to the world of software development.

Accessible Tools for Beginners

Many no-code tools offer free or freemium models, making them accessible to beginners and those on tight budgets. From website builders to database tools, you can find a range of options to start experimenting and building at no or low cost.

Encourages Learning to Code

For some, no-code is a gateway to learning traditional coding. It provides an understanding of how digital products are structured and function. You can learn fundamental concepts such as database management, user interfaces, and workflows in a visual and intuitive way. This hands-on experience can be invaluable if you decide to delve into the world of coding later.

Significant Earning Potential

One of the significant benefits of no-code is the incredible earning potential it provides. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to launch a startup, a professional seeking to streamline business operations, or a freelancer wanting to offer no-code services, the opportunities are abundant.

No-Code / Code Spectrum

There are many no-code skeptics out there. I was certainly one of them.

But my opinion changed when I realized this fact.

It’s not about code vs. no-code.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

They are just different types of tools. Both are just a means to an end (software-based solutions). In fact, it’s not just code and no-code. It’s better represented as a spectrum.

If you know how to code, you can benefit from no-code or low-code tools in situations where time to market is more important than flexibility. It’s almost an unfair advantage for software engineers. They just need to embrace it.

If you don’t know how to code, you can start your software development journey with no-code tools, thereby reducing the barrier to entry (both from a cost and time perspective).

In fact, most no-code software developers get inspired to learn more about coding as they progress in their journey.

The bottom line is that smartness lies in choosing the right tool for the job without any preconceived notions.

No-Code Success Stories

While there are countless success stories, there is one I find particularly inspiring.

From Grilled Cheese to Digital Success – Meet Cole Fortman

Background

Cole Fortman’s adventure with no-code started in a fun and unusual way – selling grilled cheese sandwiches. Back in 2018, Cole started making and selling these tasty sandwiches at parties and events. This was his first step into the world of business.

In 2019, he decided to share his grilled cheese venture on social media. His posts were a hit! Many people followed him and liked his content. One of his YouTube videos got a huge 600,000 views.

In 2020, someone saw potential in what Cole was doing and wanted to invest money to help him grow. They talked about starting a ghost kitchen together. Although it didn’t work out, this showed Cole that his business had real potential.

The Discovery of No-Code and Airtable & Softr

In 2021, Cole began to help his friends and family by building websites for them. During this time, he found two useful tools called Airtable and Softr. These tools are simple to use – you don’t need to know how to code to create fantastic digital projects. Cole used these tools more and more and even became one of the first experts in using Softr.

Full-Time Freelancer and Inspiring Others

By 2022, he was using his new skills full-time. He used the things he learned about social media from selling grilled cheeses to promote his no-code services. This allowed him to help many businesses improve their websites and become more successful.

Now, in 2023, Cole is in a great place. He can choose the projects he is most interested in and ask for the price he thinks is fair. He is also teaching others how to use no-code tools. This way, they can improve their own careers and businesses.

Conclusion

This story shows us how no-code can offer many new chances for success.

And it shows us that anyone can learn these tools and use them to do great things – even if they started out selling grilled chees sandwiches.

How to Get Started with No-Code

Recommended Learning Path

Now that you are familiar with the categories of no-code tools, let’s talk about the steps you can take to learn no-code software development without getting overwhelmed or feeling lost.

No-Code-Learning-Path
No-Code Learning Path – Beginner to Advanced

Anyone can create software products with no-code tools. But there and many tools out there and it’s hard to figure out where to start. Follow this plan to build a solid foundation, gain experience and become an expert.

1 – Start with Basic Concepts

In this step, your focus should be on learning basic concepts and terms.

2 – Build Simple Websites

The goal here is to get oriented with the whole process (from ideation to launch). Use tools like Carrd or Typedream to build a personal website or landing pages for a product.

3 – Learn Basic Automation

No-code tools are like Lego blocks. In this step, learn to use IFTTT (If This, Then That) to understand how the tools interact. Also, leverage Apple Shortcuts Apps (or similar).

4 – Learn Advanced Automation

Once you have a sense of how various tools are integrated using IFTTT, you are ready to take things to the next level. In this step, learn to use tools like Zapier or Integromat.

5 – Build Personal Apps

Did you know you can build apps with Notion? That’s correct. Before proceeding any further, learn to customize pre-built apps to your own liking.

6 – Build Web Apps With a DB

In this step, you will build your first Database that is outside of your front-end application. Then learn to connect both of them. Use Softr and Airtable with a touch of Zapier.

7 – Build Mobile Apps

With both web and automation knowledge covered, you are now ready to build mobile apps with low-complexity tools. Choose from Glide or Adalo.

8 – Create a Data Model And API

Many times, the data that you need to build the app is not easily available over an API. In this step, learn to build a no-code back-end and API to expose the data for your applications.

9 – Learn Tools with Medium Complexity

At this point, you are very familiar with the process, you know how everything connects and how to get the data. It’s time to step up the game on the UX side. Learn to build web apps with Webflow or Bildr.

10 – Learn Tools with High Complexity

This is where everything comes together. Now you can imagine building apps of any kind with no limitations whatsoever. It’s time for you to pick up tools like Bubble or FlutterFlow!

Developer Mindset

And there you have it, that’s the small but mighty learning path that you can follow. It allows you to learn and strengthen your developer mindset at each step. As a closing thought, I’d like to add that becoming a good software developer is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s better to take the time to develop a strong foundation, learn to identify when you might be stuck and need to ask for help, and most importantly expose yourself to various types of projects.

The ROI of taking such a calculated approach is exponential in nature. Even if it doesn’t seem like you are making a lot of progress early on, try to stick with it and continue building — the results will follow.

Free Resources

We offer a ton of free courses to help you get started including ‘Intro to Web Development’, ‘Intro to Automation’, and ‘Intro to App Development’.

Future of No-Code

According to Gartner, “By 2025, 70% of new applications developed by organizations will use low-code or no-code technologies, up from less than 25% in 2020”. And another report claims that the first product built with a no-code tool will IPO around 2026. Both of them are significant predictions.

Personally speaking, there is no doubt left in my mind that no-code is the future and everyone will come to embrace it sooner rather than later. And stats aside, it’s too much fun to build with no-code.

I highly recommend trying it!

Sahil Khosla Headshot