It's amazing how many tools there are to get you from 0% to 100% in building a business almost over night.

I want to explore what those tools are, how they help, and which ones are the best.

This post will be updated as I discover more tools and conduct more research.

What is low-code?

Any tool that saves you hours a day in any of the following categories — and can be configured with code — counts as a low-code tool in my book:

  • Hosting (deployment, scaling, security)
  • Backend (data collection, data processing, connecting to APIs, data storage)
  • User Accounts & Payments (user management, memberships, subscriptions)
  • Front-end (UI components, state management, app frameworks)
  • Marketing (landing pages, email lists, analytics, blogging platforms)
  • Customer Engagement (gathering feedback, usability testing, roadmaps)
  • Product Iteration (incorporating research, building new features quickly)

Low Code Tools 👇

To cut down on the amount of tools, each tool must be:

  • Designed for indie makers (takes max 3 hrs to set up)
  • Priced for indie makers ($10-$50)
  • Extremely well designed (does what you tell it to)
  • Highly innovative (10x better results than average)
  • Well documented (reliable and easy to navigate)
  • Actively maintained (has received an update recently)

Each tool is rated:

  • 🧐 I want to try this
  • 🤩 I actively use and love this
  • 🥰 I've heard great things about it
  • 🤓 Created by an indie maker
  • 🤯 WTF! THIS IS REVOLUTIONARY!

Mobile App Generator

Tools that let you build apps that work on smartphones, very quickly.

  • Adalo — 🧐🥰 Exports a real mobile app. Has a database API. Allows you to trigger native smartphone notifications.
  • Glide — 🤩🥰 Converts a spreadsheet into a responsive web app in minutes. Great for simple projects. Does not export a real mobile app.
  • DraftBit — 🤯 Has great UI and animations. Doesn't support exporting a real mobile app (but plans to). Doesn't support a custom backend (but plans to).
  • Thunkable — 🧐 Aimed at beginners, but still fully-featured. Exports a real mobile app. Uses a snap-code-into-place UI like Scratch.

Simple Backend as a Service

These offerings provide a really simple service, but make it easy to transform an otherwise static site into a dynamic one

  • EasyDB — 🤩🤓 The easiest way to add a database to your web app. The database expires after some time unless you pay for it.
  • Userbase — 🧐🤓 Quick and easy way to get a real application up and running, with user accounts and a database included!
  • JSON Box — 🧐🤓 A quick and easy way to add dynamic data to your website or app. Great for prototyping. Has some limits on data size.
  • Auth0 — 🧐 Allow users to sign into your app from a variety of platforms. Especially great if you need PCI or HIPAA compliance.

Backend as a Service for Complex Apps

These tools remove concerns about data management, data storage, user management, and file storage.

  • Hasura — 🤩🥰🧐🤯 Build applications with realtime data and authentication on top of GraphQL. The easiest way to build a modern API-based backend.
  • AppWrite 🥰🧐🤓🤯 A community driven, open source backend for web and mobile. Supports user accounts, database, and file uploads.
  • Base API 🥰🧐🤓🤯 Simple, easy-to-use interface with support for authentication, sending emails, uploading files, and a lot more!
  • Supabase — 🥰🧐 An open source alternative to Firebase. Realtime data. Generates APIs automatically. In early stage of development.
  • Firebase🤩🥰 One of the faster ways to build a web app, with support for realtime data, user accounts, and everything you need out of the box.
  • Prisma 🥰 Provides a front-end for your database that makes it easier to work with (query builder, migrations, editing data).
  • AWS AppSync 🧐 GraphQL + user authentication as a service and built right into the AWS ecosystem.
  • Nhost 🧐🤓 Like firebase, but with SQL and GraphQL instead of noSQL and REST. Has user accounts and file uploading built in.

App Generators

These give you a head start in developing an app and often come with crisp code, beautiful UI components, admin dashboards, and seamless interfaces.

  • Divjoy 🥰🧐🤓 Generates a full-stack React application with a landing page, authentication, database, and hosting configuration built in. Really cool!
  • Create React App 🥰🧐 The officially supported way to create single-page React applications. It offers a modern build setup with no configuration.
  • React Slingshot 🧐 React starter kit with Redux, Babel, React Router, and PostCSS built in.

Complex Visual Web App Builders

These make some things easy, but aren't that flexible. I think these are mostly for building back-office apps and not user facing apps. Also might not be mobile friendly.

  • AppGyver 🧐🤯 A state-of-the-art visual app builder with high security and a good database. It's geared towards enterprise, but free for smaller customers.
  • Bildr 🥰🧐 A powerful way to build interactive websites. Interface is like a design tool (e.g. Figma) instead of a standard website builder.
  • UI Bakery 🥰🧐 Build front-end UI components using their visual builder and export nicely formatted Angular code.
  • Budibase 🧐 Set up a web app's backend (database, models, records) using a visual interface and connect it to your front-end through a visual builder.
  • Bubble🧐 Visual web app builder. Leader in the space. You can use a template from Zeroqode to get started or use their How to Build tutorials.

SaaS Generators

These give you a head start in starting a full online service business and they usually come with landing pages, payment integration, and some UI components.

  • Laravel Spark 🥰🧐🤯 A Laravel package that provides scaffolding for your SaaaS app: subscriptions, invoices, Bootstrap CSS, backend APIs, and Vue.js.
  • Gravity 🧐🤓🤯 A Node.js SaaS boilerplate with React UI that comes with support for subscriptions, user accounts, flexible database support, and more.
  • Jabloon 🧐🤓 A Ruby on Rails SaaS starter kit that uses Tailwind CSS + Stimulus JS and has payments, auth, email templates, and UI components.
  • Bullet Train🥰🧐🤓 A Ruby on Rails Saas template that comes with some UI components and has user accounts, subscriptions, and good test coverage.
  • SaaS App 🧐 Open source SaaS starter kit built on React and Node. Supports user accounts, teams, Stripe subscriptions, and file uploads.

Convert API to a SaaS

If you're a developer who can build useful APIs, but doesn't want to add billing, memberships, and marketing, these can get you set up quickly.

  • SaaSBox 🧐 Plugin in your API and get a Saas product that you can charge money for, including a user management dashboard and simple landing page.
  • Saasify 🧐 Monetizing your API easily as a SaaS product, and get user accounts, subscriptions, and developer documentation built in.

All-in-One SaaS Management

You have an online business, but don't know how to manage customer feedback, handle billing, or integrate a help desk. Start here.

  • Outseta 🧐🤯 An all-in-one SaaS management platform. Includes an embeddable billing widget, CRM, email lists, help desk, and authentication.

Traditional Approaches to Flattening the Stack

The first generation of all-in-one web app frameworks that made it much easier to create powerful online products.

  • Rails 🥰🧐🤯 A modern, full stack web app framework with a huge community, tons of resources, and many examples of successful products built on it.
  • Laravel 🥰🧐🤓🤯 An amazing and easy-to-use full stack framework, with a huge ecosystem, exciting community, and lots of cool plugins.
  • Django 🥰 The alternative to Rails for developers who love Python. Great community, excellent documentation, and a lot of powerful features.

New Approaches to Flattening the Stack

These solutions try to keep the benefits of modern frameworks (developer ergonomics, real-time updates, component front-ends), while removing the headaches (asset bundling or server-side rendering or too much to keep track of)

  • Blitz 🧐🥰🤓🤯 A framework that's really taking off! A full-stack Node.js framework that lets you import server code in your React components!
  • Remix 🧐🥰🤓🤯 A React framework by the creators of React Router. Adds APIs and conventions for server rendering, data loading, routing, and more!
  • RedwoodJS 🧐🥰🤓 A React framework that makes building a full-stack web app feel like building a Jamstack website. Uses GraphQL and Prisma.
  • Inertia.js 🧐🥰🤓 An exciting framework that gives you the instant, real-time interactivity of front-end frameworks with classic server-driven code.
  • Hyperstack 🧐🤯 Build your UI, your front-end logic, and your backend logic all in one language: Ruby!

Revolutionary Approaches to Flattening the Stack

Some of the most interesting and revolutionary tools are in this category. These tools allow tons of flexibility while completely removing at least one full layer of the product development stack (e.g. database, back-end, build tool, hand-off).

  • Elm 🧐🥰🤓🤯 A language that helped inspire React! It has a simple, easy-to-use API, helps saves you time, and compiles down to plain JavaScript.
  • Imba 🧐🥰🤓🤯 An amazing new language designed specifically for building web applications. Based on Ruby. Treats DOM elements as first-class citizens.
  • Mavo🧐🤓🤯 Build interactive websites and web apps using a declarative language that harnesses the simplicity of HTML.
  • Phoenix LiveView🧐🥰🤯 This is a very exciting framework that lets you build web apps with real-time experiences using server-rendered HTML.
  • Alan — 🧐🤓🤯 A framework that uses a high-level model-based configuration to output a software application. Looks very promising.
  • Anvil 🧐 Build full-stack web apps with only Python. An all-in-one framework that comes with a UI builder, database connector, and user accounts.

Exciting frameworks & stacks

These are some of the most exciting combos in the front-end framework world.

  • React + Next.js or Gatsby 🧐 Build full-stack Jamstack web apps on top of React with some good conventions and a strong ecosystem.
  • Svelte + Sapper 🧐 File-based routing and code splitting, built on top of Svelte.
  • Vue.js + Gridsome 🧐 Lets you consume APIs from anywhere, transform it into a GraphQL API, and render it with Vue.js.
  • Vapor 🥰 A server-side Swift framework that provides a nice interface for all the common web app APIs.
  • Marko 🧐 A front-end JS framework with a focus on best-in-class performance. Supports server-rendering without too much work.
  • Meteor 🤩 A framework for building real-time web apps that has everything built in! Real-time database, user accounts, shared client/server code.

Auto-Generated Admin Panels

Uses a database schema to auto-generate a UI that lets your manage users and app data easily.

  • Forest Admin — 🧐🥰🤯 A framework for building powerful admin panels. Can be combined with Hasura for super-powered development capabilities!
  • BaseDash 🧐🥰🤯 Edit a production database with the ease of editing a spreadsheet! All changes are versioned.
  • Backpack for Laravel 🧐🥰🤓 Lets you manage your back-end models, create new pages, change user roles, see debug logs, and manage files!
  • React Admin 🧐🥰 Build a usable admin interface for all your app data and users with very little effort.

Generate UI Quickly With Pre-Built UI Components

These UI frameworks come with pages and components pre-built, so you can just piece them together like a puzzle to create a great web app.

  • Tailwind Starter Kit A quick (and free) way to get started with your project by using pre-built Tailwind CSS components
  • Tailwind UI Generate components for your project by using Tailwind beautiful components hand-crafted by the creators of Tailwind

Generate UI Quickly (Assembly Required)

You still need to take care of the back-end, but these easy-to-use libraries will make your front-end look nice without much work

Generate UI Quickly Using a Visual Builder

These UI frameworks come partially pre-assembled or let you build UI with a visual builder

Generate Front-End Fast (Unique Tools)

These tools take a new approach to generating front-end code, giving you a head start while also remaining flexible

Build Configuration Generator

Workflow Builders & Process Management

There are so many of these...

Workflow Builders For Marketing Automation

Spreadsheet as a Database

A quick and easy way to get started.

Spreadsheet to Website

Spreadsheet to Web App

  • Pory (beautiful, great idea. made by an indie hacker)
  • Stacker — Use Google Sheets and Airtable as the foundation for your admin panels and internal workflows. Allows customizing the UI and theming.
  • DashDash (this looks really nice)
  • Amazon Honeycode (looks promising)

Internal Spreadsheets with Advanced Functionality

These tools work as internal admin dashboards by adding advanced capabilities onto the spreadsheet model

New Types of Tools

Tools that do things a lot different than normal and could save a TON of time

  • Mint & Crystal (I want to try these, they were used to build Base API)

Rapid Application Development Frameworks

These tools focus on speed above all else. They might lose some flexibility, but your ability to get to market fast and test out your idea will more than make up for it.

  • Remake (a product by me, write web apps with HTML)
  • DataFormJS (really, really, really cool. definitely worth checking out)
  • Alpas
  • Buffalo
  • Dark (makes setting up a simple backend with persistent storage a breeze. provisioning databases, deploying, security, etc. amazing for building side projects quickly)

Rapid API Development Frameworks

These tools allow you to generate an API from a database very quickly, potentially saving years of work.

Convert 3rd Party Websites into APIs

These tools scan 3rd party websites, assemble their info into a structured format, and let you use the data in your own web app

Database Query to Application

These tools allow you to build app views from database queries, generating the front-end automatically

High-Level Web App Definition Languages

These tools allow you to create a very high-level definition of your app, which is then seamlessly transpiled into the language/framework of your choice.

Website Builder Builders

These tools work one level up from normal website builders, allowing you to make your own, custom website builder.

  • GrapesJS
  • Shuffle.dev (truly amazing. this tool is responsible for building out 3 different website builders for 3 different CSS frameworks)

Quick Web App Prototyping

I hesitated to add this section, but I think it's relevant. If only because I feel the the goal of most low-code tools is to make building full apps feel more like prototyping. So, look at these tools for where production tools might head soon.

Convert a Static Design into An App

This seems like a big promise to fulfill, but if they can pull it off it would be amazing

  • Relate (a design + development code in one with real-time collaboration, so no hand-off from design to development is required)
  • Supernova Studio — translates Sketch and Adobe XD designs into UI code — no hand-off from design to development!
  • Yotako

Landing Page Templates

These tools will help bootstrap your marketing website by giving you the HTML and CSS to get started. You'll need to modify them and host it yourself.

High-Level CMS For Building Landing Pages

These tools focus more on high-level components, letting you define the content, but not getting into the details

CMS with Unique Approaches

Uses web native tools (like online spreadsheets) that are familiar to users and can easily hook into multiple platforms to serve as a back-end

  • Vapid (one of my favorites)

Headless CMS

Makes it easy to manage data, so you can just focus on displaying it.

Blog CMS

  • AnchorCMS
  • Ghost (absolutely beautiful)
  • Blot (amazing — pretty much the perfect blog platform)

Blog & Note Taking

When you want to share your journey with customers and build a community, which tools do you turn to?

CMS

Usually not great for building a full-fledged web app, but great for managing a website builder.

Beyond CMS

More powerful than the standard CMS

  • Wordpress (headless CMS, website builder, e-commerce) + Elementor or Sage + ACF
  • TinaCMS
  • Factor (not sure exactly what this is yet, but claims to save tons of time!)
  • Keystone 5 (CMS / App boilerplate)
  • Webiny (headless CMS + ui builder)
  • Stackbit (CMS for JAMstack)
  • Primo (development a component library in the cloud, while generating static assets, and give non-technical users a CMS interface for editing data. it's an IDE/CMS/SSG all in one product!)

Technical Documentation

Tools for Gathering Customer Feedback

Roadmap & Project Planning

How do you keep track of everything you're workin on and share it with other people?

Payment & Pricing Integration

Memberships & Marketplaces

These tools help you set up a marketplace or membership-based website really quickly

Form Endpoints

These services let you collect visitor information and possibly display it somewhere else.

Email List Automation

  • Sidemail — Create an email list, then send automatic campaigns and newsletters. Also sends transactional emails (e.g. "Thanks for your purchase!")
  • Mailerlite — Built for small businesses. Email campaigns, landing pages, and popup sign up forms.
  • ConvertKit — Built for indie makers. Email campaigns, landing pages, and popup sign up forms.

Addons & Popups

  • Poptin — Popups and embeddable forms to get visitors' email addresses and send them followup campaigns.
  • GetSiteControl — Popups and forms. Really nice product.
  • StaticKit — Squarely aimed at the JAMstack crowd. If you have a static website that you want to add forms and payments to, this might be the ticket.

Purpose-Built Apps

These tools help you do one thing really well with very little effort.

  • Flatfile (add a data importing feature into your app)
  • ConvertCalculator (build a calculator for your product)
  • Outgrow (build an interactive calculator or quiz)
  • Dash is a framework for building data visualization web apps in pure Python.
  • Luna — WYSIWYG language for data processing. Very exciting!

Comments & Tips

"Combine Hasura (automatic GraphQL on top of PostgreSQL) with React Admin (low code CRUD apps) and you can build an entire back office admin suite or form app (API endpoints and admin front end) in a matter of hours." — cpursley on HN

"We ended up using AppSync and it is fairly impressive. I highly recommend anyone who is stuck in the AWS ecosystem to check it out. AppSync integrates with a lot of other AWS services (Cognito, S3) very easily and allows you to use Dynamo/Aurora/RDS/Elastic as data sources. On top of this, you can also use Lambda to implement resolvers that need more intense business logic, making the service incredibly powerful." — afvictory on HN

"PostgREST is performant, stable, and transparent. It allows us to bootstrap projects really fast, and to focus on our data and application instead of building out the ORM layer." — Anupam Garg from a testimonial

"As I was looking at some of these workflows, I couldn't help but think how there will be this eventual shift like with Craiglist where companies will spring up that just focus on certain more complex popular workflows. . . . So my advice if you're looking for your next indie software idea. Just observe what these no-coders are automating on Zapier and build a nice UI around it." Kameron Tanseli from a blog post

Further Reading