No-code and Low-code development platforms let people worldwide build their businesses and applications to serve them without writing code. According Forrester, the no-code/low-code category will grow to $21.2 billion by 2021.
Before these platforms, building an application for a business would require hiring experienced software developers. But that's not the case anymore. Today, many no-code/low-code platforms make it possible for independent creators, artists, and entrepreneurs alike to build applications on their own.
Even though there seems to be a paradigm shift from writing code to using visual development tools, the fundamental concepts of having a back-end and front-end remain the same. To build an application for your business, you will require a way to connect your back-end and front-end. A communication channel called Application Programming Interface (API) is used to request information from one computer system to another. When developing an application, you typically call APIs back and forth between a back-end and a front-end.
Draftbit is a visual development platform to build native mobile applications. It is back-end agnostic. Mobile apps built with Draftbit can be connected to virtually any back-end-as-a-service (BaaS) platform via REST API. Our vast user base uses different back-end services to connect their applications with a database. This allowed us to look at the most popular back-ends being integrated inside Draftbit. For example, Xano, Supabase, Firestore, Airtable, and more that aim to provide a better user experience overall. We are also app development experts and can guide you towards the right back-end and what to look for.
This article aims to highlight some of the best no-code/low-code back-end platforms for you to use in 2021. We highlight their unique features, if the tool offers scalability, and if it is flexible enough or not. Lastly, for each tool, there is a sneak peek into their pricing plans. Many of the back-end tools listed below provide an API gateway to connect the front-end from a hosted back-end offered by the platform.
Best for Beginners who want a visual, flexible back-end and are just getting started with understanding APIs.
Airtable is an enhanced version of Google Sheets or a typical spreadsheet. However, it offers more than that. Simple to get started, it has rich API support. It allows creating a spreadsheet-based database without the hassle of writing code. In addition, it is a fast and flexible way to organize data tables (known as Bases).
It contains features such as computed fields. They are special field types where Airtable handles the computation of values. Automating repetitive tasks saves a ton of time and reduces the margin of error. Building automated workflows in an Airtable base is done by using a custom action to trigger an event. Eventually, the action integrates inside an Airtable Base.
Airtable also generates a REST API for each base. A front-end development tool can consume the API directly. Various operations are performed using different endpoints generated by Airtable. Operations such as reading, writing, updating, sorting and filtering data, and more, are all available.
While Airtable might not be a traditional back-end, it gives both teams and individuals the freedom to organize tasks. In addition, it offers 50+ built-in applications to easily integrate with a wide array of other apps like G Suite, Outlook, Sendgrid, Slack, Jira, and more.
- Free: unlimited bases with each base limited to 1200 records and 2 GB of attachments per base.
- Plus: costs $12 per month with 5000 records per base, snapshot history, and 5 GB of attachments per base.
- Pro: costs $24 per month with unlimited apps, 50000 records per base, and 20 GB of attachments per base.
Best for Experts who are building production-grade applications, are familiar with SQL queries, value open-source, and want a scalable solution from the start.
Supabase is an open-source Firebase alternative back-end. It provides a dedicated database based on Postgres. It supports importing existing databases as well. Besides, there is built-in support for making authenticated API requests with integrated JWT authentication. This allows you to control what your app users can access. It exposes a WebSocket endpoint that enables any front-end apps to communicate in real-time. The advantage of using a relational database is that it helps you be consistent all the time.
Relational or SQL databases are table-based databases. They have pre-defined schema and use Structured Query Language (SQL) for defining and manipulating data. Non-relational or NoSQL databases have dynamic schema. They store data in the form of a collection or multiple collections of documents.
When using Supabase, you will spend most of the time inside its Graphical User Interface (GUI). It also provides an SQL editor, which you can use to write custom SQL queries to manipulate data inside a table.
One of the most likable features is that it provides a ready-to-use REST API as soon as a database is created. It is front-end agnostic and can be used with any front-end tool building application. It gives you the choice of either self-hosting a Supabase or using their cloud service to host one.
- Free: $0 per month with unlimited API requests, real-time functionality, and database space up to 500 MB.
- Pro: $25 per month unlimited API requests, real-time functionality, database space up to 8 GB, supports automatic backup and log retention for up to 7 days.
- Pay as you go: Starts at $25 per month plus the usage of services like database space, storage, and transfer limits.
Best for Intermediates who are looking to build fast, want to delegate security and user management to the backend service, and can cope with some learning curve.
Firebase Firestore is a database service from Google. It has a colossal community even though Firestore came out of beta only two years back. It is a managed database designed to embrace serverless application development. With an Opinionated set of features, it provides and is based on NoSQL.
The NoSQL paradigm lets you store data in the form of collections and documents. Each document contains fields. Every field has its unique data type. The advantage of such a database type is that it helps you move fast when building applications.
Firestore has its own built-in security system. It helps you to define rules to allow app users to access data based on their authenticated state. It supports traditional sign providers using email/password. Social providers such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and more.
Integrating Firebase with a front-end development platform is a bit opinionated. It usually means that a no-code or a low-code platform has to provide an out-of-the-box integration for Firebase to use within their platform.
- Spark Plan(free): 1 GiB total stored data in Firestore
- Blaze plan (pay as you go): 1 GiB total plus $0.108 per more GiB stored data in Firestore
Best for Low-Coders who want to move fast, and need a scalable database with a built-in API gateway.
Xano is a scalable back-end that is front-end agnostic. It provides a hosted and flexible database based on Postgres. It supports the REST API paradigm to consume data to a front-end tool. It automatically generates ready-to-use REST API endpoints for each data table based on the schema created. Each endpoint generated by Xano can be customized using its No code API Builder.
Getting started with Xano is easy. There aren't many configurations required once you log in. It abstracts the back-end away to a large extent. However, the abstraction doesn't cost the performance and the power of a database. Another feature included with Xano is that it supports authenticated API requests. It also provides the ability to create custom functions to query databases without writing a line of code. The flexibility and scalability of such a platform make it one of the most simple back-end to get started.
- Free: limited to one workspace with 1000 total records and a rate-limited API.
- Launch: costs $67 per month, includes five workspaces with 100,000 total records per workspace, and no rate limitation on the API.
- Scale: costs $225 per month, includes 10 workspaces, storage with 1,000,000 total records.
Best for No-Coders who already have their web application built and database hosted with Bubble.
Bubble is a hosted web application “all in one” builder that gives complete design freedom to its users with no-code. It allows you to create web application layouts without having any knowledge of CSS or HTML. Traditional web apps require you to manage the code and set up a deployment process to a web server. The platform manages the deployment process and web hosting for you.
Despite Bubble being an all-in-one tool, their powerful Bubble CMS is also easy to connect to any other front-end development tool. Thus, you can consume the same data tables created inside the Bubble CMS to connect it with any other front-end tool, for example, to develop native applications.
- Free: no access to API
- Personal: costs $29 per month with access to API
- Professional: costs $129 per month
- Production: costs $529 per month
Best for Low-coders looking for a solution to host their database in the cloud and looking for integrated services such as file storage.
Backendless is a cloud back-end platform to create apps without writing any server-side code. It provides programmable services that supply standard server functions. In addition, it supports authenticated user management, authenticated API requests, relational data, push notifications, publish/subscribe messaging, geolocation, video/audio recording, live streaming on the server, file service, and more.
- Springboard: costs $0 per month with unlimited API calls per month
- Cloud9: costs $35 per month with 10,000,000 API calls per month
- Free: costs $149 per month with 40,000,00 API calls per month
Best for Intermediates who are looking for a Content Management platform that provides an API gateway to create media-intensive applications.
Contentful is an API-first content management platform to create, manage and publish content to any digital channel. It is a modern Content Management System (CMS) where a content model is created independently from any presentation layer. It organizes content into spaces that allow you to group all the related resources for a project together, including content entries, media assets, and settings for localizing content into different languages.
- Community: costs $0 with full-featured headless CMS
- Team: costs US$489 per month, ideal for a team working on or more digital products
Best for Experts who are looking for a fast GraphQL based solution and want backward compatibility with REST.
Hasura is an instant real-time GraphQL APIs engine. It makes your data instantly accessible through a GraphQL API or a REST API. This helps you to focus on the build and ship applications much faster.
Hasura connects to a database using a Postgres connection. It can scale horizontally and hold state for caching queries. Authentication based on JSON Web Tokens (JWT) is available to add permission or a role-based system.
- Free: costs $0 and includes 1 GB data pass-through
- Standard: costs $99 per month and includes 20 GB data pass-through
Best for Experts who can deal with a little bit of learning curve and are looking for a transactional, serverless database.
Fauna is a database as a service that works well with serverless applications. It is not a traditional database. It has its own query language called FQL. It provides flexible data modeling and supports ACID transactions that eliminate data anomalies.
While Fauna is more of a complete database solution, usually to generate an API, you will have to use a tool like NoCodeApi.com.
- Individual: costs $25 per month
- Team: $150 per month
Best for Low-coders who are looking for a scalable NoSQL database that supports advance API configurations such as authentication.
Directual provides a cloud-hosted scalable NoSQL database. It provides tools to configure a database with the support of data structures and object fields. It also supports the vast majority of data types such as string, number, file, and more.
It has an in-built web page builder interface and is free to connect to any other low-code or no-code tool. In addition, you can create web or mobile interfaces using its RESTful API feature using any front-end platform.
It offers an API builder that supports configuring advanced API settings to make authenticated API requests, user management, and event processing without setting up the infrastructure. It also includes filtering, validation, sorting, and custom query params processing.
- Free: includes one developer seat with 3k operations.
- Startup: costs $39 per month with three developer seats and 30k operations.
- Pro: costs $129 per month with five developer seats and 500k operations.
- Business: costs $439 per month with 10 develop seats and 2M operations.
Best for Experts who want an advanced solution that supports authentication, file storage, supports REST, and GraphQL, and who value open-source.
Back4App is an open-source low-code platform to develop modern applications. It supports creating a spreadsheet-like database. It includes data storage, RESTful and GraphQL APIs, file storage, authentication, and push notifications.
It offers a solution to integrate GDPR compliance into your application. It also offers two hosting options. You can either choose shared if you are looking for a cost-effective solution or dedicated to scaling and large applications.
Back4app has the most vibrant and vast pricing options than any other back-end platform on this list.
- Free: up to 10k requests per month
- Solo: starts at $5 for 50k requests per month
- Basic: starts at $25 for 500k requests per month
- Standard: starts at $50 for 2M requests per month
- Silver: starts at $200 with unlimited requests per month
Given the demand for no-code and low-code applications in recent times, it is not a surprise that there are various options for creating the back-end for your application.
Depending on your requirements, any one of these tools will help you kickstart low-code app development. However, each back-end platform described in this list has its advantages and limitations. Therefore, it is crucial to consider which suits your needs the best.
If you are interested in learning more about No-code/Low-code development or building native mobile apps visually, check out the following resources:
- Draftbit on Twitter — @draftbit
- Guides on using above mentioned back-ends with Draftbit
- Me on Twitter — @amanhimself
And if you need help or have questions, visit the Draftbit Community forums.