Review: OutSystems makes React apps drag-and-drop easy

Low-code application development platform lowers the bar to building web apps, mobile apps, and responsive mobile hybrid apps

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At a Glance

Everyone wants software development to be easier and faster, even many developers. Unfortunately, the complexity of powerful programming languages isn’t always compatible with speed. Hence the popularity of “low-code” development tools, which allow you to assemble applications by dragging and dropping icons for interface elements and logical operators onto a canvas. The code gets generated behind the scenes.

OutSystems is a low-code platform that lets you visually develop your entire application, integrate with existing systems, and add your own custom code when you need it. OutSystems primarily targets web and mobile hybrid apps, and its development tools run on Windows. It also offers a beta-stage web-based development platform, which I did not test extensively, and exposes RESTful APIs for use as an MBaaS (mobile back end as a service).

OutSystems claims to have “unbeatable speed” for visually developing and deploying full-stack apps. I deplore such claims, as proving them is impossible, and my own informal tests don’t really support this one. What OutSystems does have is a pre-configured back end and a good set of “scaffolding accelerators,” i.e. drag-and-drop components.

In general, drag-and-drop development environments target “aspiring” or “citizen” developers rather than experienced programmers. I, for one, prefer to generate scaffolding from the command line and then edit actual code, but I am probably not a typical new OutSystems developer. There is an ecosystem of experienced OutSystems consultants who not only understand the product’s visual development paradigm, but also know when and how to code custom components for the product’s front and back ends.

The OutSystems back end runs on Windows, .Net, and SQL Server by default, and with RHEL, Java, and Oracle as alternatives. The front end code generator uses the metadata from your drag-and-drop design to create HTML5, JavaScript, and React for the web and Cordova hybrid apps (wrapping the React web app) for Android and iOS. If you build native apps with Xcode or Android Studio, you can call into the OutSystems APIs to integrate them with your back-end data.

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