Retool vs Appsmith: Which low-code platform is right for your business?

The Superblocks Team

The Superblocks Team

February 6, 2024

5 min read


Introduction to Retool and Appsmith

Appsmith and Retool are low-code platforms that enable businesses to build custom internal software, without the overhead of do-it-yourself (DIY) development. These platforms offer drag-and-drop interfaces for building application UIs and out-of-the-box integrations with databases and SaaS platforms. Using these platforms, developers can build and iterate on internal tools much more efficiently than DIY app development.

While Appsmith and Retool address similar business challenges, each platform has its unique advantages and drawbacks, which are covered in detail below. Notably, Appsmith is an open-source offering based in India focused primarily on internal web applications, while Retool is San Francisco-based and offers a wider swath of platform capabilities including web apps, automated workflows, mobile applications, and a hosted database.

In this article, we'll dive into Appsmith and Retool to help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each platform and identify the best fit for your business.

The benefits of internal tooling platforms

Most businesses have a variety of internal processes that rely on spreadsheets or email. As operational complexity increases, these processes become outdated or fall out of compliance, inhibiting teams from best serving their customers.

Business build custom internal software to manage this operational complexity, enabling teams to better serve customers and successfully scale their business. However, building and maintaining these tools from scratch is expensive and time-consuming, requiring frontend, backend, and infrastructure engineering expertise.

Internal tooling platforms like Appsmith, Retool, and Superblocks enable higher development velocity for organizations, protecting engineering resources and resulting in better software for operations teams. 

Internal tooling platform evaluation criteria

We've compiled the common set of decision criteria used to select a low-code internal tooling platform, based on several customer evaluations in the space: 

  • Easy to use: Low-code platforms must be easy to use and intuitive to ensure adoption across users of varying technical expertise. These tools must enable developers to quickly build applications and streamline workflows
  • Scalable and performant: Enterprises are building mission-critical apps, so these apps must be scalable and performant with high data volumes and intensive processing
  • Extensible with code: Organizations have unique needs and the ability to implement custom logic and extend the app builder with custom code in a language of their choice is necessary for a future-proofed solution to avoid being blocked on the platform’s out-of-the-box capabilities
  • Cost-effective to self-host: Mission-critical apps interact with production databases and other sensitive data, making it a requirement that data does not leave their VPC. A vendor must offer this functionality without significant additional overhead to avoid bloating the total cost of ownership
  • Cutting-edge AI: Enterprises want to work with modern and innovative vendors incorporating the best technologies. AI is crucial for accelerating software development and empowering organizations to deliver quickly and efficiently
  • Exceptional support: Enterprises require that bugs, issues, and feature requests are handled in a timely manner and that their requests are resolved quickly to not block any of their business activities and impede development of mission-critical apps
  • Monitoring and observability: Enterprises need to monitor the software they build with low-code platforms using their observability vendors like Datadog and New Relic so they can detect errors and ensure software quality remains high
  • Real-time streaming: Enterprises must provide ops teams real-time data and insights for optimal decision-making, so platforms need to support building on top of streaming platforms like Kafka, Kinesis, Confluent, and OpenAI

Keep reading to see how Appsmith and Retool stack up against this evaluation criteria.

Appsmith overview 

Appsmith is an open-source low-code platform that allows developers to build internal dashboards and applications. Appsmith provides a library of drag-and-drop components to craft app UIs, and integrates with various databases, APIs, and third-party services, making it capable of addressing a variety of use cases. 

Benefits and key features of Appsmith 

The Appsmith platform offers several key features and benefits to businesses, many of which are a result of its open-source nature.

  • Open source and transparent: Developers can access and inspect the entirety of the Appsmith codebase to dive deeper into how it works and have confidence that there are no backdoors or security vulnerabilities for transparency and trust. They can also contribute back to the platform
  • Collaborative community: As a result of being open source, there is a large active community of developers that benefit from community support, contributions, and knowledge sharing
  • Component library: Appsmith offers a library of pre-built drag-and-drop UI components for building web applications
  • Flexible component styling: Appsmith enables developers to customize the style of components with a variety of styling properties for many components
  • Integration library: Appsmith integrates across a variety of tools and software including databases and APIs, allowing businesses to easily connect to their data sources
  • Per end-user pricing model: Appsmith’s usage-based pricing is based on end-users of applications, so businesses do not pay for seats for developers who build applications in Appsmith

Drawbacks of Appsmith

The Appsmith platform is suitable for organizations looking for a low-code platform who strongly prefer open-source, and are willing to make sacrifices on performance, extensibility, and support. When evaluating Appsmith, some key drawbacks for consideration are:

  • Lackluster performance: In Appsmith, data processing and business logic is written in JavaScript which runs in the browser. This architecture means performance is limited to browser memory and CPU, resulting in poor performance at scale
  • Limited Extensibility with Code: Appsmith supports client-side JavaScript only, which limits developers' ability to extend the platform with custom logic and functionality beyond Javascript. Appsmith’s custom components offering is limited to an iframe widget that renders raw, sandboxed HTML
  • No Workflows & Scheduled Jobs: Appsmith does not have a workflow offering, so businesses would need to contract with another vendor to handle programmatic workflows
  • Legacy on-premise deployment for self-hosting: Keeping customer data in your network using Appsmith requires deploying the entire Appsmith platform on-prem. This deployment model results in high ownership costs due to dedicated infra, DevOps, and downtime for upgrades
  • No US-Based Support: Appsmith is based in India and does not have US-based support, which is often crucial to US-based enterprises

Retool Overview 

Retool is a San Francisco-based internal tooling vendor founded in 2017. Retool offers a low-code platform made up of several different offerings including:

  • Web apps: Retool’s classic offering, used for creating internal web applications such as graphical user interfaces (GUIs) for databases and admin dashboards. This product is most similar to Appsmith’s offering
  • Workflows: A UI builder for automating custom logic to replace on-off scripts and cron jobs
  • Mobile apps: A low-code builder for native iOS and Android apps
  • External apps: The ability to embed Retool apps in external websites and hook into external authentication systems
  • Database: A managed Postgres database that can be edited via a spreadsheet-like user interface

Benefits and key features of Retool 

Overall, Retool is a traditional vendor that’s suited for organizations that don’t want to invest in an open-source offering. Retool is a common choice for businesses looking for an enterprise-focused US-based vendor to build internal apps. Some key benefits of Retool include:

  • Drag-and-drop editor: Retool’s drag-and-drop editor makes it easy for developers without frontend expertise to build UIs
  • Large integration library: Developers can connect to any data sources by leveraging Retool’s library of 50+ databases and SaaS platforms
  • Automated workflows: With Retool Workflows, businesses can quickly and easily build automations to replace scripts and cron jobs. These workflows can be event-driven or run on a schedule
  • Frontend JavaScript: Developers can use JavaScript in app frontends to customize component behavior and manipulate data
  • AI capabilities: Retool provides native AI functionality to connect to external AI models like ChatGPT from apps and workflows, as well as a managed vector database to store unstructured text for use in AI. Retool offers pair programming via an AI assistant for JavaScript, SQL, and GraphQL

Drawbacks of Retool

Despite Retool's early entry to the internal tooling market, the platform has shortcomings that lead buyers to consider alternatives to Retool. Notable drawbacks include:

  • Performance bottlenecks: Retool apps suffer from lacking performance due to browser-based code execution, single-step queries, and lack of global edge caching
  • Limited code extensibility: Retool code extensibility is limited due to lack of language support beyond JavaScript in applications as well as limited support for writing custom components
  • Legacy on-premise deployment: Retool's legacy on-premise deployment is resource-intensive due to DevOps, infra, and downtime costs, resulting in a high total cost of ownership for enterprises with strict data security requirements. This deployment model also inhibits businesses from accessing new features without upgrading
  • Lack of observability: Retool does not integrate natively with observability providers like Datadog, Splunk, or New Relic, preventing developers from detecting errors and viewing aggregated data from their apps and production environments
  • No support for real-time streaming apps: Retool does not support streaming, preventing organizations from empowering ops teams with real-time insights
  • Limited customer support: Retool only offers dedicated customer support for customers on their Enterprise tier

Which platform is right for your business?

Both Appsmith and Retool are suitable low-code development platforms for businesses to build custom internal applications. Both platforms expedite application development and enable teams to rapidly build and iterate on internal apps without frontend expertise, dragging and dropping components to build UIs and connecting to databases and APIs. 

Retool is sometimes preferable to Appsmith for larger enterprises in US & EMEA regions because of its broader platform offering that includes automated workflows as well as US-based support, extensive AI integrations, and general enterprise focus. 

Appsmith is often the vendor of choice over Retool for smaller businesses due to its lower cost, as well as amongst teams that strongly prefer open-source software. 

Notably, both Appsmith and Retool have similar significant drawbacks across extensibility with code, performance, and self-hosting. Businesses choosing a low-code platform should deeply consider the implications of being limited to browser-based JavaScript from an extensibility and performance perspective. Businesses should also consider whether self-hosting will be a requirement, and if so, understand the cost of self-hosting a full on-premise deployment of Appsmith or Retool.

Superblocks - the superior alternative to Retool and Appsmith 

Superblocks is the #1 alternative to both Appsmith and Retool and the only vendor offering a full-featured, intuitive, low-code internal tooling platform without limits. Compared to these vendors, Superblocks offers similar benefits with none of the drawbacks, making it the preferred vendor for many top enterprises.

With Superblocks, businesses can extend their internal tools further with code, self-host without overhead, build real-time streaming apps, and deliver performant apps at scale - with support from the #1 customer success team in the industry. 

See how Superblocks compares head-to-head against Appsmith and Retool:

Key benefits of Superblocks compared to Appsmith and Retool

Full extensibility with code: Superblocks supports frontend JavaScript, Node, & Python and provides full extensibility with React. Appsmith and Retool Custom Components rely on one HTML file, with web-based imports limited to an iframe.

Scalable architecture and better performance: Application front-ends in Superblocks are multi-threaded for smooth UI rendering, while backend queries scale elastically with on-demand cloud compute. Appsmith and Retool JS queries are executed in the browser, and are limited by browser CPU & memory, resulting in high latency for large apps.

Drastically less overhead when self-hosting: Superblocks offers a lightweight on-premise Agent that is simple to deploy and provides access to new features instantly from the cloud. Self-hosted Appsmith and Retool offer legacy on-premise deployment, requiring dedicated infrastructure and DevOps upgrades with required downtime to address bug fixes or new features, increasing total cost of ownership.

Production monitoring & observability: Superblocks integrates natively with observability providers including Datadog, Splunk and New Relic, to provide visibility into metrics, traces, and logs from internal tools within your preferred provider. Appsmith and Retool do not have native observability integrations, leaving you blind when errors arise.

Support for real-time streaming apps: Superblocks has native support for streaming platforms like Kafka, Kinesis, Confluent, OpenAI, making it easy to build apps for real-time fraud alerting, live gameplay dashboards, best-in-class AI chatbots, and more. Appsmith and Retool lack native support for streaming, preventing organizations from making use of real-time insights.

Best-in-class customer support: Superblocks offers exceptional support across all tiers - customers consistently highlight responsiveness and dedication to customer satisfaction in G2 testimonials. Appsmith is based in India and does not offer US-based support - often critical to US-based enterprises. Retool’s support is limited to the enterprise tier and has mixed reviews.

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