An Empirical Study of Developer Discussions on Low-Code Software Development Challenges

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Low-code software development (LCSD) is an emerging paradigm that combines minimal source code with interactive graphical interfaces to promote rapid application development. LCSD aims to democratize application development to software practitioners with diverse backgrounds. Given that LCSD is relatively a new paradigm, it is vital to learn about the challenges developers face during their adoption of LCSD platforms. The online developer forum, Stack Overflow (SO), is popular among software developers to ask for solutions to their technical problems. We observe a growing body of posts in SO with discussions of LCSD platforms. In this paper, we present an empirical study of around 5K SO posts (questions + accepted answers) that contain discussions of nine popular LCSD platforms. We apply topic modeling on the posts to determine the types of topics discussed. We find 13 topics related to LCSD in SO. The 13 topics are grouped into four categories Customization, Platform Adoption, Database Management, and Third-Party Integration. More than 40% of the questions are about customization, i.e., developers frequently face challenges with customizing user interfaces or services offered by LCSD platforms. The topic “Dynamic Event Handling'' under the “Customization'' category is the most popular (in terms of average view counts per question of the topic) as well as the most difficult. It means that developers frequently search for customization solutions such as how to attach dynamic events to a form in low-code UI, yet most (75.9%) of their questions remain without an accepted answer. We manually label 900 questions from the posts to determine the prevalence of the topics' challenges across LCSD phases. We find that most of the questions are related to the development phase, and low-code developers also face challenges with automated testing. Our study findings offer implications for low-code practitioners, platform providers, educators, and researchers.

In 2021 IEEE/ACM 18th International Conference on Mining Software Repositories (MSR)*
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