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No Code Databases - What Do You Have to Know?

by Rokas Jurkėnas | 2021-12-13

A few years ago, the term 'citizen developer' and 'client' would have been synonymous. If you were not a developer, there was no significant role for you to play in the development lifecycle. Today, things have flipped, and development concepts have been democratized. And if you have a product UI in your head, you should be able to string together an app – without writing a line of code.

a picture of a laptop connected to a stack of servers with the text "what must you know about no code databases" underneath

No Code development is already a familiar concept in our community. (If that is something you want to understand on a more first-principle basis, click here.) But today, we are going a layer beneath the surface and exploring how No Code databases work. We will understand the very need for No Code databases, explore the top platforms and what they stand for in the No Code database development ecosystem, and some best practices to help you get started. Let’s go! 

What is a No Code Database?

To answer that question, we have to take a step back and understand what a database is. And that is not a Socratic way of reasoning! Principally, can you differentiate between a database and a spreadsheet? If you cannot, you might confuse a database with an application idea. 

A visual comparison between a spreadsheet, a No Code database and a user interface.

1. Spreadsheet 

A spreadsheet, in its simplest form, is a collection of rows and columns. You can enter data in a cell, and once you have populated the rows and columns, you have a functional table in place.

2. Database

A database[1] operates differently. Unlike a spreadsheet, where data is stored at the cell level, a database procures data from distant sources. And that makes it scalable. You can call data from different sources in acceptable formats and have it available as a unified table.

3. UI

When you move a little closer to the user experience spectrum, you will see the need for the frontend or UI of an application. At its core, the UI helps a user interact with the database. So, the UI is the interactive packaging for your digital product, while the digital product is often a database. 

The distinction between the three can help you understand whether your No Code platform suits your needs or not. Some No Code tools are excellent for designing workflows. But are they equally effective for aggregating disparate data sources into an integrated, dynamic, and rule-based format, i.e., a database? You can now objectively answer these questions. 

(Or, you can take our free quiz and get a definitive answer – can a No Code platform work for your concept? Click here and try it yourself.)

Where Can You Use a No Code Database?

A No Code database is ideal for any application that rests on the idea of outputting information based on basic input. In simpler terms, you are providing a conditional display of content based on user-input constraints or filters. Some of the everyday use cases for No Code Databases are:

  • CRM
  • Enterprise Knowledgebase
  • Dashboards
  • Web Applications
  • Reporting
  • Approval-Based Workflow
google sheets used as a no code database
Even Google Sheets can be used as a reliable database for your No Code app

What Makes a Robust No Code Database Development Platform?

At its core, a No Code database platform will help you develop a database without writing a line of code. Instead, you will use drag & drop, spreadsheet import, and other more user-friendly input methods. 

Besides the preliminary definition, a No Code database development platform should have all the core functionalities listed here and at least some of the features & benefits listed below.

1. The ACID Test

ACID [2] (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, and Durability) is a framework used to classify reliable databases. Let’s unpack each of the four properties:

  1. Atomicity: Either a change in the database is successfully executed, or the database is restored to its previous iteration.
  2. Consistency: Any acceptable change in the database does not violate the operating principles of the database.
  3. Isolation: If there are no dependencies between two elements of a database, there would be no concurrent changes in the two elements when one of the two elements is edited.
  4. Durability: Once a change has been successfully made to the database, the change will remain permanent – even if the system crashes.

Your No Code database development platform should be able to help you develop ACID-compliant databases. Or else, it would be nearly impossible to scale your database on or the application resting on top of the database.

2. Data Filtering, Variables, and Operations

The No Code platform should provide you with sufficient features that help you select the filters for your database. Moreover, you should be able to declare variables for reference that are used throughout the workflow of your application. Finally, to make the compute resource utilization optimally, the No Code platform should be using batch operations.

3. Knowledge Graphs

At the beginning of the process, No Code platforms can make things almost notoriously easy. However, as you scale the database and have no parallel documentation, you will need a repository to track all the relationships within your database. The No Code platform should provide a visual aid such as a knowledge graph that lets you topographically track all the critical elements distributed across the database.

4. Seamless Data Import

This is a non-negotiable functionality. You should be able to import XLS or CSV files without having to write a line of code. Drag and drop or direct uploads from the system are the standard alternatives to writing code.

5. Data Locking

Just because different citizen developers can comment on the database structure does not mean they should edit it. To reduce the systemic chaos, the owner should be able to lock either specific components of the database or the entire database into a ‘view-only’ format.

The No Code Database Landscape

Now that we have figured out what an ideal No Code database development platform can do for you let's understand the current ecosystem of such tools[3]. Most No Code tools for database creation use one of these methods:

1. Inbuilt Database: These platforms have inbuilt database creation capabilities that usually rely on SQL databases. Hence, when you upload a spreadsheet, the platform converts it into a SQL database and proceeds with the application UI iteration. Caspio is one of the several platforms offering such functionalities.

ProsCons
Easy to deploy.Increased complexity since the citizen developers might be expected to edit a SQL database. 
Scalable even when professional developers take over the project.Relatively expensive since the citizen developers have a learning curve, and the enterprise is expected to bring in professional developers later. 

2. Spreadsheet to Functional Application: Such platforms help you build a basic application using your spreadsheet as the underlying database. Google Cloud AppSheet, Glide Apps, and Adalo offer these functionalities.

ProsCons
Quick Development: If your spreadsheet is ready, your app can be ready in a few minutes.  Tracking dependencies across the application can be challenging if the spreadsheet is too big for manual inspection.
Seamless UI: The UI is designed for drag & drop functionalities.  Spreadsheets can be unstable at scale since you can enter any format of data in a cell. Such errors can seep into the app workflow if citizen developers cannot scout them early. 
Synchronous Apps and Spreadsheets: When you edit the spreadsheet, the app’s UI reflects the changes and vice versa. Scalability issues are almost unavoidable. At some point, you are expected to hand over the project to a professional developer who will build the app ground up. 

3. Spreadsheet to Scalable Applications: This is a niche category populated by platforms like Appian [4]. The No Code platform transforms your spreadsheet into an application. However, the business logic assumes that the application will later upgrade with a more complex codebase. Hence, the workflow is designed to make it easy for professional developers to add features and functionalities even in a citizen developer-led application.

ProsCons
Quick Development: If your spreadsheet is ready, your app can be ready in a few minutes.  Increased Costs: You are supposed to bring in professional developers sometime later, making the process relatively more expensive than the other alternatives. 
Seamless UI: The UI is designed for drag & drop functionalities.  Process Complication: The citizen developers have to decide where a professional developer would be required. This can be difficult to determine from the outset and can even lead to unscalable applications because of suboptimal databases created at the beginning of the process. 
Scalable: Developers can later add features to the main codebase.  

So, Code or No Code?

Choosing between No Code database creation and working on a SQL/NoSQL database has too many moving pieces – clarity of the idea, budget, projected development lifecycle, the complexity of the concept, data quality, etc. And this can be very challenging for citizen developers.

Hence, our experts have gamified the process. Take this quiz and find out whether the No Code process is ideal for your concept. It is free, takes less than a few minutes, and is trusted by our users worldwide.

For more information on No Code in general, its uses in other business spheres and its future, read our article on What is No Code

References

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