Where traditional software development relies on writing code with the use of programming languages, low-code adopts a visual development approach.

It uses drag-and-drop components, model-driven logic, and a graphic user-friendly interface to democratise development. This approach enables developers of all levels to create both web and mobile applications. Moreover, low-code automates a big part of the software delivery cycle. With pre-built continuous integration and delivery and 1-click environments in place, developers can focus the majority of their effort on providing real business value.

Low-code benefits both non-technical developers and professional programmers. With low-code, non-technical developers don’t have to write code, enabling them to create apps quickly and easily, whereas professional developers benefit from the platforms’ automated, cloud-hosted infrastructure and third party management. This enables solutions to reach the market with unprecedented speed – and, moreover, low-code application development enables the production of any type of app, for virtually any type of use case.

In light of all of the above, low-code is often discussed in contrast to traditional programming – with some going as far as saying that low-code can completely replace coding when building enterprise-grade systems. In theory – and theoretically, in practice – it can. But, should it?

While it may seem that low-code was created to uproot and displace traditional programming from its comfortable home in every digital project, this just simply isn’t true. In fact, low-code and traditional development make a great pair and, when combined, can bring significant business value.

Mixing these two development approaches can enable many organisations to accelerate development and limit costs. For instance, low-code can be used to develop the lion’s share of a given system to establish its core functionality, whereas programming teams can later be brought in to develop its more complex, tailored functions.

Additionally, low-code leads to the democratisation of application development because it extends this capability to ‘citizen developers’. Citizen developers are individuals who have the business knowledge necessary to create useful and functional applications, but who aren’t programmers in the traditional sense. This facilitates in-house development and allows professional programmers to spend time on more pressing matters that require coding.

These are just a couple of examples regarding how combining low-code and traditional development can benefit both the business and project delivery teams. However, it should also be said that there are certain differences between the two.

Let’s take a look at how they compare.

Defining Requirements

When defining system requirements for a standard project, it’s important to determine which operating system the development will focus on – and this is one aspect with regards to which low-code development and traditional programming differ significantly.

With traditional software development, a specific programming language, environment, and device-focus must be selected before the project even begins. This is because, for instance, a system developed to be an Android mobile application would not work very well or be easily transformed into a Mac OS desktop solution.

As such, businesses who develop applications using traditional code will need the capacity to develop for various different operating systems, environments, and devices. This may involve using more neutral languages or writing dedicated code for parts of the app that need to be supplemented with custom functionalities, etc. Nonetheless, when employing traditional programming, development teams will need to put in significant effort when trying to get their solution to work outside of the ramifications it was built for.

Whereas with low-code, this problem all but entirely disappears. This is because low-code’s drag-and-drop visual interfaces are designed to work seamlessly across various operating systems. Additionally, certain platforms (e.g. Mendix) provide separate tools for the management of requirements and errors, making them great at supporting agile development. While the specifics of customising low-code solutions can differ, the result is always the same – applications built using low-code platforms are able to seamlessly adapt to many different operating systems and devices.

At this point, you may be wondering whether this benefit is limited to simple applications – it isn’t. The world’s leading low-code platform providers such as Mendix, OutSystems, or Microsoft Power Apps allow for building enterprise grade and scalable systems with the use of low-code tools.

This kind of seamless adaptability and native development capability gives low-code a certain undeniable market advantage over traditional programming.

Automation of DevOps

Standard application deployment is complex as each line of code must first be tested in a non-production environment before making its way to the production environment. Then, application instances must be checked to see whether they work in their assigned configuration. As such, the deployment of traditional applications can often be complicated and time-consuming.

When using a low-code platform, however, certain typical deployment steps can be omitted. For instance, low-code’s ready-to-use modules and their corresponding functionalities are tested before they even make it to the platform – which helps save on testing time. Moreover, low-code’s development environment is cloud-based, which further simplifies and streamlines testing.

Support & Maintenance

With traditional programming, maintaining applications or updating them has its challenges. For instance, business objectives and requirements evolve over time and, as such, to implement changes it’s necessary to write entirely new code. This can hinder business innovation, as it makes it more difficult to respond to changing customer expectations. Considering this, if data analysis were to show you that your users would benefit from a new feature being added to your application, with traditional coding, you would need the help of your development team to realise this aim. Alternatively, if something were to become out of sync in the data centre configuration, manual fixes would be required. These are some of the main reasons, which cause applications to become outdated, legacy software – operating systems change, technology evolves, etc., and, as a result, extra effort is required to keep your solutions fully functional.

Whereas with low-code software development, these problems simply don’t apply. Low-code platforms’ visual interface modules are managed entirely by the platform provider. This means that you get to make quick changes to your solutions whenever you like, and you don’t have to worry about the whether the design of your application is ideally optimised.

Low-Code vs. Traditional Development – Which Is Better?

As you may have guessed, the answer to this question is: “It depends”. With all their innovative delivery-accelerating functionalities and features, low-code platforms seem to take the crown. They have taken tried-and-true development methods and improved upon them, creating new potential with regards to application delivery that wasn’t thought possible before.

Nonetheless, traditional programming should not be so easily discounted – old-fashioned coding facilitates unmatched freedom and flexibility. It enables businesses to benefit from ideally tailored, bespoke solutions and, sometimes, this is exactly what a given company needs.

So, it really does depend.

Yet, there’s also a third way. Traditional programming and low-code platforms can be used in tandem. Combining them enables development teams to focus on the more complex, bespoke aspects of software development, with low-code facilitating a faster time-to-market and process optimisation. Such a combination can generate high-quality enterprise-grade solutions which combine the best of both worlds – the speed and innovation of low-code with the benefits of fully bespoke software.