Will Low-Code Tools Bring APIs to the Mainstream? Art Anthony October 15, 2020 Here at Nordic APIs, we’ve noticed a rise in the popularity of low- and no-code tools recently. A glance at Google Trends would suggest that it isn’t just in our heads… In my day-to-day job as a copywriter, for example, I’ve noticed more and more clients using excitable variations of the phrase “no code required.” Although these tools don’t necessarily address integration and event-driven communications in quite the same way as traditional APIs, many tools share similarities with them or enable event-driven workflows powered by APIs. Below, we’ll be exploring the relationship between APIs and low/no-code. More than that, we’ll be asking whether or not these tools are finally democratizing the API. Examining the Rise of No/Low Code No matter how successful products that require a ton of coding knowledge are, their potential customer base has a hard limit. Low and no-code tools are designed to appeal to the masses, enabling users to do all sorts of things without much technical knowledge. With more and more emphasis being placed on investment and acquisition in the tech space, the growing popularity of no-code tools isn’t surprising. Investors are often looking for mass adoption, and tools that facilitate technical processes without code could be really valuable. A service like MailChimp (sorry, email designers), with its WYSIWYG editor, is one example of this; it’s enabled countless marketers and entrepreneurs to create things that they couldn’t hope to do manually using HTML. The prospect of non-technical players being able to use APIs with the same confidence that they create emails is exciting. When looking at the relationship between no code and APIs, we came across Parabola. In the same vein as IFTTT, this app integrates with services like Shopify, Shipstation, Salesforce, and, crucially, “any API.” Described by its creators as a “drag and drop productivity tool,” Parabola is a powerful idea because it allows non-technical users to engage directly with APIs in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. Over on Instructables, Parabola’s Chris Kirk has put together an excellent step by step guide on how to do just that. Most business workflows involve event-based communications that rely on web APIs. Integration is more important than ever these days, and SaaS tools, in particular, make a lot of noise about all the other services they can integrate with. It’s a smart move for low-code tool creators to consider integrating with APIs, like Parabola does, because it enables them to build better-connected offerings than standalone one-trick ponies. Not only that, but having API access to any data stored on such low-code platforms is essential so that adopters don’t have to sacrifice programmability for usability. No Code Vs. Low Code The extent to which tools do away with code varies massively from service to service. At one end of the scale is IFTTT, which allows users to build applets or pick one from an open-source-esque database of applets built by others. IFTTT does all of the hard work, plugging into any required APIs, exposing their fields, so all users have to do is log in to assemble a connected experience. At the other end, we have services like WayScript. Described by its creators as “a rapid scripting platform for developers,” WayScript allows users to create triggers and integrate with APIs using different programming languages to send data to different apps. Sitting somewhere in the middle are apps like Claris – “No code. Low code. Pro code…Easy for anyone. Powerful for pros” as their website puts it – or Mendix, which offers a WYSIWYG no code IDE for business users and a low code IDE for professional users. We spoke briefly with Patrick Johnson, founder of no-code software testing app PreFlight, who elaborated on the appeal of such products: “The benefits of no-code are expanding things that would take a programmer or an engineer to do, and allowing anybody to do them. But no code goes beyond that sort of stuff.” He continues that “the general idea is that there’s a ton of time saved if you can automate the code-writing. Take PreFlight, for example. Instead of writing a test out manually, you can just do it using a recording of yourself performing the test; then, it writes that test for you.” What the Future Holds for No-Code Tools and APIs It’s easy to see how low and no-code tools can make API connections easier, and they’re already widely being used in tandem in the home automation space. Using various IFTTT applets, for example, it’s possible to power up the smart light bulb on your porch when the Domino’s Pizza app indicates that your dinner is out for delivery…Not the best business use case perhaps, but an interesting example of diverse products being pulled together without any coding required. On the other hand, consider how Zapier allows the automatic import of new leads from Facebook advertising into a spreadsheet or database that can be used in Hubspot. Or how a tool like Kissflow can consolidate collaborative processes, task management, service requests, and reporting into one place. That’s the idea behind their “digital workplace” software. Johnson adds that “when you’re writing programming instructions, things get updated and go out of date. When you’re using these programs, it’s usually more evergreen than that; they perform functions in the abstract, rather than specific instructions.” As Bill Doerrfeld writes, “low-code can grant cloud-agnostic…[and] device-agnostic capabilities.” He suggests that a low-code layer could specifically “help cater to other experiences, such as voice, chatbot, or smart televisions.” It’s a big ask, but if, as Johnson suggests, “we can understand the intention behind what users are trying to achieve, we get to update everybody across the board so things go more efficiently.” Could that mean no more worrying about versioning or deprecation? IFTTT’s approach to connections between apps is a good example of the potential here. In terms of automation, we’re not quite where we could be just yet; currently, Applets are tweaked and maintained behind the scenes by IFTTT rather than via a true open source approach or a system capable of “learning” from errors. Even so, the reliance on – and crossover with – APIs by no and low code tools (and the rise in popularity of those tools) remains an exciting prospect for everyone in the API space. Right now, many low-code tools place their emphasis on enabling users to build an app without spending, say, $50,000 on a team to develop their offering. We wouldn’t be surprised if that focus gradually shifts towards a code-free way for the general public to consume APIs.