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
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!
n8n is a source-available (not open-source!) flexible workflow automation platform for technical people who want to build complex workflows faster.
- 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.
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 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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).
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 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:
- 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.
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 $5 per user per month.
Directus provides a set of tools for any SQL database: REST API, GraphQL, authentication and access control, file transformations. You can also use Directus as a headless CMS or even create internal tools using its frontend capabilities.
- Connects to PostgreSQL, MySQL, SQLite, OracleDB, CockroachDB, MariaDB, and MS-SQL databases
- Provides a cloud version as well as on-premises
- Allows building workflow automations
- Supports multilingual content
Directus has a free tier on both cloud and self-hosted versions. Standard cloud tier starts from 25$ per month.
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.
- 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.
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.
- Connect to your own data via API or SQL Queries,
- 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.
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 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.
- 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).
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).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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: