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Altova debuts debugger for low-code applications

Low-code app development could gain a quality boost from Altova and its debugger for low-code applications, which helps developers catch and fix bugs in the development process.

Now that the use of low-code tools has gone mainstream, developers are using them to build more complex applications that require greater testing and quality control.

Altova, a maker of application development tools for mobile apps and data integration, has introduced a new debugger with the release of its MobileTogether 7.0 low-code app development platform. The debugger helps developers test and troubleshoot apps during development, and the 7.0 release features new tools for defining controls and UI refinements.

Debugging low-code applications is relatively new to the industry, but also timely analysts said.

"We've been observing an uptick in low-code users starting to tackle mission-critical, high-scale projects," said Julia Caldwell, a researcher at Forrester Research. "As a result, we've seen more questions around testing and quality assurance. It's clear more attention needs to be paid to testing and quality assurance in low-code, but it's not well understood how the disciplines, tools and processes change when you move away from the traditional development setting."

The new debugger in Altova's MobileTogether Designer lets developers debug both the execution flow of event handlers and operations, as well as the results of XPath/XQuery functions called during execution. This approach to debugging process speeds up development, said Alexander Falk, president and CEO of Altova, based in Beverly, Mass.

Altova's low-code development tools can be used to build sophisticated mobile apps, said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at Intellyx in Suffolk, Va. "Such apps need debugging just as any other app might," he said. "The debugging focuses on how the app displays information on the mobile screen. Just because a developer uses a low-code tool doesn't mean the app will automatically look or work properly."

The Altova platform features a visual programming language called Action Trees, Falk said. These applications can run on Windows, in a browser and on iOS and Android devices.

"With the added complexity also came the desire for many developers to be able to go into a debugging mode when developing mobile applications," Falk said. "We knew we had to deliver a full-featured product, rather than just a graphical or visual programming language."

Low-code reaches inflection point

Meanwhile, although low-code platforms have been around for 30 years, adoption has just reached an inflection point, Caldwell said. But it's still unclear whether low-code tools can deliver software with the appropriate levels of quality, scale and sustainability for complex enterprise systems, she said.

It's clear more attention needs to be paid to testing and quality assurance in low-code, but it's not well understood how the disciplines, tools and processes change when you move away from the traditional development setting.
Julia CaldwellResearcher, Forrester

"The merits of testing do not change in low-code development, but the rigorousness may," Caldwell wrote in a blog post. "The layers of abstraction in low-code development create a somewhat uncharted gray area -- how much traditional testing is still relevant when bundles of code come in precreated components? In cases of customization, how much custom code can be tested in the native low-code platform, and how onerous is it to integrate with existing continuous integration/continuous deployment tools?"

Forrester plans to deliver a report on the best practices for testing low-code apps, given their growing complexity.

"We spoke with a number of low-code vendors and a few customers to develop some focused recommendations for how to think about testing in low-code," Caldwell said. "The burden of testing is largely affected by which mode of low-code development you are using: native platform tooling versus custom code development."

As developers begin to customize and extend their apps beyond the platform's out-of-the-box functionality, the testing requirements tend to increase. However, functional testing is still always required.

"There is also a bigger conversation around risk assessment that needs to occur, but for now, we've found that prebuilt vendor components used to compose low-code apps generally reduce the technical testing burden," Caldwell said.

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