The low-code market is booming!

We're talking simpler application delivery and lower development time – all thanks to low-code tools. These tools save engineering resources by:

  • accelerating POCs & customer integrations
  • extending your SaaS application without having to code
  • enabling support to help customers with ad-hoc requests
How much faster is low-code development compared to traditional development?
How much faster is low-code development compared to traditional development?

As a developer, you might find open-source low-code platforms especially handy. You can take advantage of the flexibility and scalability of these platforms while still having access to the source code.

That's why we're bringing you the top 8 open-source low-code platforms available right now. You’ll discover several categories throughout the article:

  • Automation platforms: n8n, Node-RED
  • Database platforms: NocoDB, Baserow
  • Backend tools: Directus, Supabase
  • Dashboard builders: Appsmith, Metabase

Don't get left behind – it's time to take your engineering skills to the next level.

But first things first!

What is open-source?

The term open-source has two distinct meanings. Firstly, it refers to the availability of the program's source code to the public. Secondly, as per the OSI definition, open-source software (OSS) should be free to use and enable redistribution.

To comply with this definition, there are multiple OSS licenses available. However, there are also licenses such as fair-code, which offer free usage and access to source code but with certain restrictions on redistribution.

What is an open-source low-code development platform?

Open-source low-code development platforms provide an easy way for developers to create web and mobile applications with minimal coding. These platforms enable developers to quickly build applications by leveraging a library of pre-built components, such as user interfaces, databases, and APIs.

Each open-source low-code platform has its own unique features, however, most of them share the following characteristics:

  • Drag-and-drop, and sometimes even node-based interface. This allows you to create applications using flow charts and other diagrams.
  • Code replacing functionality which saves time as users don’t need to constantly re-create core blocks.
  • Visual tools for data modeling and UI creation.
  • The possibility to write code snippets and even the whole code blocks for custom functions.
  • Automated ways of application lifecycle management: debugging, staging, deployment.
  • Means of collaboration and a possibility to extend the platform or suggest changes as a contributor.

Most open-source low-code platforms are free, but they often have paid enterprise-level features.

8 best open-source low-code platforms

Now we are on the same page about open-source and low-code. Let’s take a closer look at the platforms!

Automation tools

n8n

n8n is source-available low-code for workflow automation
n8n is source-available low-code for workflow automation

n8n is a source-available (not open-source!) flexible workflow automation platform for technical people who want to build complex workflows faster.

You can pick from hundreds of ready-made nodes and connect different systems (databases, CRMs, analytics platforms and much more). For custom automations you can use the HTTP Request node or write JavaScript code. But that's not all – advanced users can even create chatbots and API services.

n8n key features:

  • Can be used in the cloud, installed on your own server, or run as a native application,
  • n8n can be extended by adding npm packages, installing new libraries, and calling system commands,
  • Can be scaled well both vertically and horizontally,
  • Over a thousand of workflows templates are available for quick start,
  • Very complex processes are supported: branch and merge data, debug workflows, and reusage of your work.

Pricing

When it comes to pricing, n8n offers a free tier, as well as two paid plan options: cloud plans starting from 20€ per month and self-hosted plans starting from 25€ per month.

Node-RED

Node-RED: programming for event-driven application
Node-RED: programming for event-driven application

Node-RED is a low-code programming tool for wiring together hardware devices, APIs and online services in new and interesting ways. This tool is focused more towards hardware projects, IoT, telecom and other devices. There are not so many built-in nodes, however, lots of community nodes are available. You can build event-driven applications and connect IoT devices with APIs.

Key features:

  • Support for MQTT, Modbus, AMQP, CoAP, BLE, OPC UA, mDNS protocols,
  • Can be installed locally, in the cloud, as well as on Arduino / Rapsberry Pi or even Android devices,
  • Browser-based flow editor,
  • Allows User Interface and dashboards creation.

Pricing

Node-RED is a part of OpenJS Foundation and comes for free. While deployment considerations should be taken into account, some vendors offer a cloud version of Node-RED and charge for hosting.

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Did you know? There are more workflow automation tools, such as KNIME Analytics Platform for data science. You can also check Huginn – an open-source Zapier and IFTTT alternative for creating simple automations.

Database platforms

NocoDB

NocoDB is an open-source self-hosted platform that converts any database into smart spreadsheet
NocoDB is an open-source self-hosted platform that converts any database into smart spreadsheet

Much like Airtable, NocoDB turns a database into a configurable interface. It´s a great tool for small teams to work with SQL databases in a more convenient way. The greatest advantage of this tool is that it supports external databases that eliminates the vendor-lock risks.

Key features:

  • NocoDB supports MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, SQLite & MariaDB,
  • It provides an API for data manipulation,
  • NocoDB API is also able to configure the platform itself (work with users, projects, etc.),
  • Supports file uploads (files can be stored locally or in the S3 bucket).

Pricing

At the moment NocoDB is a completely free self-hosted solution. An enterprise plan with additional features is currently in development, and a cloud-hosted version is available for private beta testing.

Baserow

Baserow - an open-source no-code database and Airtable alternative
Baserow - an open-source no-code database and Airtable alternative

Baserow is very similar to NocoDB in many ways: it supports rich field types, allows collaborating on the data, supports API, webhooks and relations between tables, has Kanban, gallery and form views. However, there are several features that are different from NocoDB. Two of them are worth mentioning:

Key features:

  • Baserow supports hosted plans,
  • As of now it doesn't support external data sources. In case of self-hosting it means that Baserow can only work with a predefined database.

Pricing

For those interested in pricing, the hosted version has a free tier, while paid plans start at $5 per user per month. The self-hosted version offers an open-source free tier, with a premium plan costing also $5 per user per month.

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Did you know? There are several other open-source alternatives to Airtable such Grist, Rowy, Apitable.

Backend tools

Directus

Directus is an open-source data platform
Directus is an open-source data platform

Directus provides a set of tools for any SQL database: REST API, GraphQL, authentication and access control, file transformations. You can also use Directus as a headless CMS or even create internal tools using its frontend capabilities.

Key features:

  • Connects to PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQLite, OracleDB, CockroachDB, MariaDB, and MS-SQL databases
  • Provides a cloud version as well as on-premises
  • Allows building workflow automations
  • Supports multilingual content

Pricing

Directus has a free tier on both cloud and self-hosted versions. Standard cloud tier starts from 25$ per month.

Supabase

Supabase is an open-source Firebase alternative
Supabase is an open-source Firebase alternative

Supabase is a unique backend project. It consists of a set of tools, which provides user authentications and Row-Level security, data storage, REST API, edge functions and much more. All of these tools are built on top of PostgreSQL database, which ensures maximum scalability and eliminates the risk of vendor lock-in.

Key Features:

  • Supabase relies on well-known technologies, so you don’t need to learn proprietary tools,
  • It allows fine-tuning data access so that you have a complete control over what your users can see and do with the data,
  • If you are an expert in PostgreSQL, then you can use your knowledge and create tables, views and RLS policies via the SQL editor.

Pricing

Supabase has a generous free tier with paid plans starting from 25$ per project per month. You can also install the self-hosted version for free.

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Did you know? Several other open-source backend platforms are worth mentioning, such as Appwrite, PocketBase and Hasura.

Dashboard builders

Appsmith

Appsmith - an open-source workbench for internal tools
Appsmith - an open-source workbench for internal tools

While Appsmith positions itself as a low-code platform for internal tools, it can also be used for SaaS and public apps. The platform offers a range of building blocks like widgets, APIs and Queries to speed up the development process. As a developer-oriented platform, Appsmith comes with a JavaScript code editor, debugger and and Git version control.

Key features:

  • Connect to your own data via API or SQL Queries,
  • Create JavaScript async functions for custom functionality,
  • Prototype UI fast with a set of widgets, configure UI elements using code snippets,
  • Embed your apps via iframes and publish them on any website.

Pricing

Appsmith offers both cloud and self-hosted versions with a free tier. Business paid plan starts with 0.4$ per user per hour and has a cap of 20$ per user per month.

Metabase

Metabase is a low-code self-service analytics platform
Metabase is a low-code self-service analytics platform

Metabase allows users to build dashboards and get answers to their own questions about data. Users can connect to different data sources (SQL databases, BigQuery, Oracle and others), create dashboards and share them with colleagues.

Key features:

  • Query data with and without SQL knowledge,
  • Visualize data with graphs, tables and filters,
  • Set up user permissions,
  • Embed apps (full-app or standalone embedding is supported).

Pricing

Metabase Cloud starts from 85$ per month (for 5 users), while the self-hosted version offers a free open-source edition and a Pro plan starting at 500$ per month (for 10 users).

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Did you know? Many other open-source dashboard and app builders are available on the market. Check out Tooljet, Budibase, Openblocks, Convertigo.

Final thought

This article provided you with an overview of 8 open-source low-code platforms. They range from backend and database tools, to process automation and dashboard builders. All of these platforms have free tier at least when self-hosted and most of them offer additional enterprise features for a fee. These developer-oriented tools help to save time by reusing common components and also allow the creation of custom functionality.

With so many open-source low-code platforms on the market, how to choose the right set of tools?

First of all, each platform evolves over time, new players enter the market, and some low-code tools get abandoned. So whatever decision you make, be prepared to change it in the future.

There is no single way to pick the best low-code platform, but we suggest using the following techniques:

  1. Make a decision matrix, list the software you found and the features you need. Then evaluate each platform one by one and fill in the cells. Make a shortlist of the most promising candidates.
  2. Next, plan a small pilot project to validate your initial idea. Each platform is a complex software product, so it is better to test the waters before diving into the dev process.
  3. Ask experts! Reddit, Ycombinator and other websites are good places to begin. Almost every platform has a forum or a Discord channel. Share the results from your decision matrix and ask for input.

What’s next?

Which low-code development tools work well with n8n?

From our own experience, as a workflow automation software n8n integrates very well with Appsmith and Supabase / Nocodb. Using these platforms, you cover all aspects of low-code product development: frontend, backend and custom automations. NocoDB is a great tool for small teams and simple projects, whereas Supabase is a full-scale backend service.

Check out several other articles and learn how n8n can help you with: