Experience with Low Code Apps? (My Favorite: Retool)

I am interested in others’ thoughts aobut low code apps in general and specific recommendations in particular.

In my consulting work I need to access and prepare reports from a lot of databases - often which have APIs for programmatic access. I am too busy to create a full app to read/write to a database with custom workflow features, but often it is a lot easier if I can write or tweak such a project without hiring someone to do the coding. Hence a low-code app may be a good middle-ground.

I have explored lots of options but have been frustrated because there is little transparency on pricing. Most of the companies want you to do an online demo, which may be impressive, but then the pricing is $500 to $2,000 per month or more which does not seem to me to be realistic.

Many of the truly low-cost apps are “no code” rather than “low code” systems; that makes them easy to use but limits their capabilities.

Lately I have been working with and amd impressed with Retool - it is a low-code app with price points of $0, $10, or $50 per month based on features. It has a large number of built-in capabilities and integrations but - this is key - everything about it can be easily customized or extended using Javascript. That to me is a great compromise between ease of use vs capability to customize whatever you may need into the future.

So for now I am focusing on learning the nuances of Retool as well as Javascript. I am curious what favorite low-cost or non-code apps others may have and the rationale.

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I’m not sure I know what “low code” actually means, beyond what I can guess from your description, and I have no idea what the other “players” are in this arena.

No-code is a web app which creates custom apps with no programming knowledge needed at all.

Low-code web apps do most of the heavy work to give you widgets or templates to make an app but you have the ability to customize it with your own code if desired.

Of course there is some overlap between the two depending on how various companies market the software.

See also:

A friend raved about Tableau when she was in grad school. I haven’t used it, but the dashboards and plots look nice.

Tableau is certainly King when it comes to data visualization. It is harder to use it in a more generalized sense to build workflows managing data beyond dashboards.

They used to be very opaque about pricing; they are more clear now - subscriptions start at $70/month, which is not insignificant but is a lot lower than many of the competitors.

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Where your databases live is an important factor, which you didn’t mention.

If the data are in Azure or AWS, or a local server, then the Power Platform is a higher end possibility – but getting to the point of creating solutions can be a heavy and expensive lift, depending on what the goal is.

That part is an interesting question.

Much of what I want to analyze is hosted in publicly available databases with REST API access.

But my most notable/ambitious goal is to create a custom front end/dashboard for Devonthink. There are many aspects of DT3 as you know which are not in any other app; but the Devonthink web server is not its strong point.

So I plan to create a custom app which will let me access DT3 data from the web, then write the required front-end from there.

The DEVONthink server does not have a public-facing API as far as I know. (I see you asked Jim Neumann that last year, and he said “no”.)

So, just curious, short of screen scrapping the DEVONthink web server remotely, are you thinking of creating your own web service with DEVONthink databases on the back end?

FWIW, I am not aware of any low-code / no-code tools that access DEVONthink databases other than perhaps some JXA tools that I haven’t run across.

I thought about building an API but my current plan is a bit simpler:

(1) Upload the Devonthink “Metadata Overview” to Retool as a spreadsheet. That will let me easily build a front-end to display all DT3 metadata and custom metadata in whatever format I prefer.

(2) When I want to display actual documents in retool, I will take the corresponding x-devonthink link and use it as a parameter in a Keyboard Maestro URL trigger. In turn that will let me run an Applescript to retrieve the desired document.

Then I can use Applescript (or more likely Python) to upload the document (or a folder) to Google Drive and also upload to Google Drive a URL link corresponding to the requested document(s). Retool can then display the content of that URL in an iFrame. Thus it should be possible for the user to be able to select any desired document or Group in Retool on the web and retrieve the document from the Mac which runs DT3 without being aware of the details of how it is being done in the background.

(3) If I want to upload a document from the web to my Decos server, then I can use whatever front-end I wish. The back end will use the SMTP email service in Retool connected to my existing “Utlimate Email Import” script:

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You’re on the threshold of a new career, @rkaplan :laughing:

I don’t use DT but this seems pretty slick @rkaplan!

Using Google Drive to generate the previews for a bunch of different file formats is clever. I’m not familiar with the metadata table, but I think I’d start with uploading it to Google Sheets and just pull in the files using App Script. Depends on what you want to visualize, of course. App Script is one of the most popular low code platforms despite not being labeled as such.

Retool is great, though. I really like what it abstracts and doesn’t abstract; I think it does a great job of forcing the user to learn the right hard parts so they master the platform.

No Code/Low Code is a big thing in my field of project management. See below from the organization that certifies project managers:

Introducing Citizen Developer | PMI Citizen Developer

I think this is a convoluted approach, if you absolutely neEd web access to your documents you should use a native web solution. Notion has recently published their API. May be uploading from DEVONthink to Notion is a better approach?

@pantulis I am not sure I follow you

The reason for the convoluted approach is the lack of a Devonthink API. While it would be wonderful if Devonthink were to publish an API, it is almost a sure bet that they will not.

If I could upload all my Devonthink data to elsewhere, then I would just upload it to a web-based database such as Postgres. But I don’t want to do that because then I would no longer be using Devonthink; there are many features of Devonthink that are not available in any other App I know of.

What I was suggesting is that you are trying to mash up DT, AppleScript, Google Drive and Retool, only because DT does not have a web API. I predict countless hours of yak shaving in your future. So, maybe you are better off using something like Notion (disclaimer: happy DT user here).

I agree it would be better to have a unified solution.

But Notion cannot replace Devonthink in terms of its ability to function as a document database/organizer, particularly as data scales into Gigabytes.

And Notion cannot be used to create a customzied front end UI except in a very limited sense.

So how would Notion help here?