DX, API Design & Documentation

The Strengths and Limitations of Codeless API Development


User story: As a systems architect, I want to understand the implementation process of API approaches so I can avoid repeating mistakes and get our API products to production stage as quickly as possible. 

Codeless API development, also known as “no code” and variations of “low code”, is a growing trend in application development, particularly for startups and consumer-facing apps that rely on relatively simple functionality. In this article, we will discuss some of the benefits of utilizing Codeless development, the limitations that must be understood when you do so, and why Codeless can help developers for applications at all stages of development. 

Codeless, or no code, could be considered misnomers because the reality is that code is still being created and eventually deployed in your app. Once the logic is completed in the Codeless UI, the platform will transform it into code that can be deployed into the client app, server-side, or packaged within an SDK. 

Codeless most commonly refers to logic builders that provide a visual user interface that allows the construction of logic without needing to write manual code. For example, using the Codeless builder on a platform like Backendless, you can build API services, API event handlers, server-side timers, and implement reusable logic libraries. 

Benefits of Codeless Development 

It can be easy to presume that the simplicity of Codeless builders in indicative of a lack of flexibility or an inability to construct complex algorithms. This is not the case at all. On the contrary, Codeless can aid in the construction of complex logic by providing a visual blueprint that can be otherwise difficult to see when looking at raw code in an IDE. 

Of course, perhaps the greatest benefit of Codeless is that it can dramatically speed up the development process. Rather than needing to write out the precise code that a function needs – often requiring the developer to research the exact right syntax – the developer only needs to know the intention of the logic, the workflow, and any assets it involves. Removing the syntax portion, which includes actually writing out the code which risks typographical errors, removes a lot of the leg work in programming. 

Codeless benefits from the fact that it is typically language-agnostic. This means the individual creating the Codeless logic does not need to be fluent in any particular backend programming language. Thus, some of the minute-but-critical details of writing code are handled by the tool itself, rather than being dependent upon the coder. 

From a development team lead perspective, the fact that Codeless is language-agnostic can create a great deal of flexibility when it comes to hiring team members. Rather than needing to find a developer that specializes in Java, or Node.js, or .NET, or Ruby on Rails, etc., the manager can hire based on the developer’s understanding of the logic that is being built, regardless of their programming background. Codeless changes the formula when it comes to identifying potential hires, making it more about ingenuity and less about their experience with a certain framework. 

Codeless can also be an excellent means for expediting development through the use of reusable logic. In Backendless, for example, Codeless logic you create is stored in a Function Library that can later be used to add that logic to a new function. This reduces redundant work by allowing commonly used logic to be reused without being recreated. It also means that, if a change must be made to a piece of logic that is used in many places, the change only needs to be made in the original logic block; all Codeless functions referencing that logic will be automatically updated. 

A smaller but no less significant benefit Codeless provides is reducing the potential for typographical errors that can completely derail a code block and have wide-ranging consequences. With Codeless, it is much easier, particularly for less technical stakeholders, to identify what the logic is intending to do. This makes the development process, debugging, and code review significantly simpler. 

Codeless logic, when properly implemented by a platform such as Backendless, is just as secure and scalable as code written by hand. 

Limitations of Codeless Development 

The number one greatest limitation of Codeless programming is this: it doesn’t remove the need for software engineers. In other words, just because a business analyst with a strong aptitude for building workflows can be trained to create logic without code doesn’t mean they will be able to handle all eventualities. 

This is particularly true when it comes to building complex algorithms and debugging. A software engineer may be required in order to understand how the logic that has been constructed visually is translated into code. If a function is particularly complex, it becomes imperative that the outcome it produces is correct. If the outcome isn’t correct, a business analyst may have a difficult time seeing where it failed. This is where someone with a strong 

understanding of what the code – not the Codeless logic – is doing; that is, what the code that the Codeless logic is transformed into is doing. 

Codeless is especially limiting if the Codeless logic is transformed to a proprietary language by the Codeless tool. In that instance, not only is a software engineer needed to understand the code, but that engineer needs to be particularly well versed in that specific tool’s functionality. This can make it very tricky to find the personnel you need to make the tool work. Of course, a tool like Backendless doesn’t suffer from this limitation because the Codeless logic is translated into good old fashioned JavaScript. 

Why Codeless Is Still The Best Bet 

The limitations are real, but may not be significant for your use case and in many cases can be easily resolved. For example, if you are a large enterprise that wants to use Codeless programming for internal applications or even consumer-facing applications, you only need a small number of engineers that can review the logic created by your team to ensure that it is functioning correctly and fix bugs that arise. 

For smaller teams, including startups, Codeless presents an opportunity to develop faster and without needing a highly knowledgeable team of engineers to get a simple project off the ground. Rather than needing an engineer (or team of engineers) to build an app, the team may only need to outsource specific, more complex tasks, while being able to create the bulk of the application in-house. This can provide very significant cost savings in the early stages of a project when funding is often tight. 

Ultimately, running a business is about the allocation of resources. If a business has the resources to staff a team of engineers and experienced backend developers, then Codeless may not be the right solution. But if the business has budgetary constraints, time limitations, or simply the desire to simplify the application development process, then Codeless is a perfect solution.

Mark Piller
Mark is the founder and visionary behind the innovative company Backendless and its mobile backend as a service platform. Since 2012 and with no outside financing, Mark built the company from an idea to a dynamic, growing player in the mobile backend services space. Prior to Backendless, Mark worked at webMethods where he was responsible for architecting the company's API services solution. Other past ventures include leading the design and implementation of multiple features of Glue, a web-services platform from The Mind Electric that was acquired by webMethods, as well as senior technical positions with ObjectSpace, MCI and SABRE.

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