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Appsmith vs Retool: In-Depth Guide

Ronan McQuillan
12 min read · May 10, 2024

The market for low-code platforms has grown massively over the past decade, with new players coming to the fore. Retool and Appsmith are two of the most prominent brands in this space, offering developers a range of visual tools for shipping internal applications quickly.

But, choosing the right platform for your specific needs can be a fraught process.

Even direct competitors like Appsmith and Retool present stark differences in terms of their positioning, key use cases, target personas, and core functionality. So, figuring out what’s going to be the most cost-effective option for you can be very tricky.

Today, we’re covering everything you need to know. Specifically, we’re going to closely examine where each one sits in the market - alongside their strengths and weaknesses across core aspects of the app-building lifecycle.

We’ll also check out where Budibase fits into the picture, serving the needs of busy IT teams that need to ship professional tools at pace.

By the end, we’ll be fully equipped to make an informed decision on which low-code platform is right for particular use cases and situations.

Let’s jump in.

Appsmith vs Retool: positioning

Retool and Appsmith are relatively similar platforms, each offering developer-centric tools for building custom internal tools.

Before we get into the weeds of the capabilities on offer within each, it’s worth taking some time to look at how they position themselves in the market and what pain points they set out to solve.

Here’s how this breaks down.

User personas

First up, we have key user personas - that is, the kinds of colleagues that each platform is optimized for.

Retool is probably the most popular low-code solution that targets professional developers. More specifically, it’s mostly aimed at full-stack engineers - who are comfortable working with databases, APIs, and JavaScript but need a faster way to build basic UIs.

As such, it’s centered around a set of visual tools for configuring and arranging pre-built React components and connecting them to a huge range of data sources. But compared to other low-code tools, Retool presents quite high barriers to entry in terms of technical skills.

So, we’ll need a certain degree of development experience to use it effectively, even for relatively basic use cases.

Importantly, Retool is also positioned more towards the enterprise end of the market, with comparatively high per-user costs, along with key features for larger teams like source control and SAML-based SSO restricted to custom-priced licenses.

Appsmith is also heavily tailored towards professional developers who need to build internal tools on top of existing data assets. So, it solves the same basic problem of enabling us to use visual development to configure pre-built UI elements that connect to databases and APIs.

However, in some ways, Appsmith presents less of a steep learning curve than Retool, with basic tasks like outputting forms or tables based on connected data being a little bit more streamlined - although potentially at the expense of configurability.

Whereas Retool is positioned more towards enterprises, Appsmith could be a more attractive option to a wider range of organizations, with key enterprise features available at lower price points than its larger competitor.

Use cases

Both platforms are heavily focused on internal tool development, but we can see subtle differences between the two even within this.

Internal tools include the likes of workflow apps, approval flows, forms, dashboards, admin panels, and other simple data management use cases.

One important difference is that Retool is more often the stronger choice for more advanced or esoteric use cases. Since it provides a larger number of built-in components and native integrations, we’re more likely to be able to build these kinds of solutions out of the box.

On the flip side, since it lacks this flexibility, Appsmith is more likely to struggle with these kinds of use cases.

However, there are also some areas where Appsmith has the edge. It feels a little bit stronger on data visualization, with a greater number of chart types and more configurability on offer. So, it could be a better option for the likes of reporting, dashboards or admin panels.

Appsmith is also open-source, so it could be preferable for some organizations in more security-focused areas.

When it comes to key use cases, we also need to be cognizant of scale. That is, there’s a big difference between an app that a handful of colleagues use occasionally and one that your entire team uses every day.

The big thing we need to consider here is pricing.


This is an area where comparison becomes a bit more difficult, as Retool and Appsmith bill on very different models.

Like most low-code platforms, Retool is priced on a per-user per-month basis. This distinguishes between colleagues who can build and manage apps and their end users.

There’s a workable free tier that lets us build as many apps as we want for up to five users, 5GB of internal data, and 500 monthly automation runs. Paid tiers start at $10 per month for standard users and $5 for end users on the Team tier, with up to 5,000 automation runs.

The business tier bills at $50 per month for standard users and $15 for end users. This doesn’t up our limits, but it does unlock additional features and pricing for external users.

Notably, both of these paid tiers impose a 25-user limit for self-hosted customers, meaning that self-hosting internal tools could become prohibitively expensive.

We’ll need custom enterprise pricing for key security features, SAML support, or custom branding.

Appsmith vs Retool

Novelly, Appsmith bills based on hourly usage. This can make costs quite unpredictable, but it might be preferable for irregular use cases.

Appsmith’s free tier is arguably more generous than Retool’s, allowing us to build unlimited apps for unlimited users. However, there are some important feature restrictions here. There’s no access to workflow capabilities or private app embeds, and RBAC is limited to three roles.

Paid plans start at $40 per month for up to 100 hours of usage. Beyond this, it will cost $0.40 per hour. This applies to both creators and end users. If we have large volumes of users interacting with Appsmith tools regularly, things could get expensive.

All plans offer Git-based versioning, which is an enterprise feature in Retool. The standard Business tier also opens up important enterprise features such as whitelabeled apps, granular RBAC, and custom domains.

Appsmith pricing

Building apps in Retool and Appsmith

Now that we’ve got a clear grasp of where Retool and Appsmith position themselves within the low-code market, it’s time to drill deeper into the specific capabilities that each one offers.

We can break this down into a few key stages of the app development process.


First up, we can compare how each option enables us to interact with our business data.

Retool offers a built-in database built on top of PostgreSQL. We can create a database schema in a familiar spreadsheet-like interface, including CSV uploads, and then query this within our end-user applications using standard SQL syntax.

This is managed by Retool for cloud customers, but we’ll need to provide our own Postgres database if we opt to self-host.

However, Retool is primarily intended to build tools on top of existing data. As such, it offers dedicated connectors for querying a range of relational and non-relational databases, as well as APIs and third-party software tools.

We can also connect to unsupported database tools using the JDBC protocol.

An important difference here is that Appsmith lacks a built-in database. We’ll always need to connect to external data to build our applications. This could rule it for certain kinds of projects. For instance, an internal database is important for rapid application development tools .

In terms of external data support, Appsmith and Retool have similar offerings. Again, there are a range of connectors for RDBMSs, NoSQL tools, and third-party app APIs within Appsmith.

There are minor differences between the two. For example, Appsmith lacks a connector for CouchDB but offers native integrations for a range of cloud-native database tools, like NeonDB, Fauna, and Supabase, whereas Retool does not.

UI design

Next, we can drill into what each platform offers when it comes to designing app UIs.

Retool is centered on a grid-based drag-and-drop interface for arranging and configuring UI elements. Screens are divided into twelve columns, making it easy to create professional-looking layouts - although at the cost of some flexibility compared to competitors.

One of Retool’s major selling points is its component library. There are 100+ highly configurable built-in UI elements that we can leverage to build app screens. Individual components offer a lot of flexibility. For instance, we can create highly tailored tabled and other core UIs.

A big complaint about Retool is that it’s particularly code-intensive. So, we’ll often have to use custom JavaScript for relatively basic tasks.

On top of this, certain design tasks present a steep learning curve. Adding navigation and multi-screen apps takes quite a bit of work, and the experience of connecting forms to data is comparatively unstreamlined in the core product, although there is a standalone form-builder.

Retool vs Appsmith

Appsmith’s design tools are very similar to Retool visually. It’s also centered on a grid-based drag-and-drop experience. However, this uses an array of equally spaced points rather than rows and columns.

This offers us a little bit more flexibility when we’re arranging components, but at the same time, it makes it a bit more fiddly to achieve professional or even symmetrical layouts.

Appsmith also lacks the variety of built-in components that Retool offers, with only a few dozen native UI elements available. Additionally, many of these are quite similar to one another, offering minor variations on core components like dropdown selectors.

Configurability for individual components is quite similar in terms of functionality, but we lack some of the design and appearance options we’d get in Retool for core elements like tables.

Again, building front-ends in Appsmith feels fairly code-intensive, and the situation is similar to Retool for key design tasks like building navigation menus and multi-step apps. Other core tasks, like connecting forms to data, are much more streamlined, however.



Workflow automation is one area where there’s a clear gap between Retool and Appsmith, with the former offering a considerably more mature product.

Retool’s automation builder is centered around flexible workflow diagrams. This offers a range of effective templates for generic use cases, like writing new rows in a Postgres database to Google Sheets.

Automations can be triggered by either API requests or time-based rules. We can then initiate requests from in-app events. Automation actions include querying external resources, triggering other workflows, sending AI prompts, or executing custom JavaScript and Python scripts.

We can use control blocks to filter, branch, and loop within our automation rules as well as awaiting responses from external events. This is an effective, coherent way to build fairly advanced workflow solutions.

The downside is that, as most tasks can only be carried out with custom code or queries to external resources, Retool Workflows require a lot of technical expertise. We’ll even need to use API requests to handle built-in functions.


Appsmith’s automation capabilities are quite a bit less mature. In fact, their workflow automation builder is still in its beta stage.

As such, this is contained outside of the main app-builder platform and requires a separate sign-up to the beta program.

It takes a different approach to Retool and most other low-code platforms that use visual development tools for automating tasks. Instead, Appsmith has opted for a code-first experience, essentially offering a dedicated JavaScript editor.

The idea is to enable us to create workflows that can be triggered by sending webhooks from external platforms like Podman.

As such, this could be a viable way to speed up the development and management of certain automation tasks, but we’ll need to be developers to take advantage of this.



Customization is the degree to which we can add new functionality or design elements to the apps we build on either platform.

In Retool, this primarily comes in the form of custom UI components. These can be written in React and imported into our Retool instance using HTTPS or SSH.

Custom components can then interact with the rest of our applications using the provided TypeScript API.

This provides a huge amount of flexibility and reusability, but it’s a slightly complex process to get up and running with custom UI elements.

Again, Appsmith provides a somewhat different experience to most low-code platforms in this regard. Rather than creating and importing custom components, we can build custom widgets directly within the platform.

This resembles traditional front-end development, enabling us to write custom UI elements in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We can also import third-party libraries using UMD or ESM.

This will be a very familiar, flexible experience for certain kinds of users to achieve powerful results. However, customization work could potentially take a lot longer than Retool’s React component imports.

Hosting and lifecycle management

Lastly, we need to consider how Retool and Appsmith stack up when it comes to managing our internal tools in the longer term.

We can use both platforms as cloud-based or self-hosted solutions. Retool offers self-hosting on a virtual private cloud or behind a VPN, with options including Docker, Kubernetes, AWS, Azure, and Google Compute Engine.

However, it’s important to note that Retool imposes a 25-user limit for non-enterprise customers who choose to self-host, so this is unlikely to be a cost-effective option for many small to medium-sized organizations.

Enterprise customers can also take advantage of Git-based source control management.

We can set up workflows to manage changes to our applications using tools like GitHub, GitLab, Azure Repos, CodeCommit, and Bit Bucket.

Appsmith can be self-hosted using a range of tools. The recommended platforms are Docker and Kubernetes, but AMI, EC2, Fargate, Azure, Google Cloud Run, Azure, Digital Ocean, and Ansible are all also supported.

Importantly, self-hosted Appsmith customers don’t incur additional usage limits, so it may be more cost-effective for many businesses.

Like Retool, Appsmith offers Git-based source control with a similar range of platforms. Notably, this is available across all pricing tiers, although community edition licenses limit us to three repositories.

You might also like our guide comparing Superblocks vs Retool.

Turn data into action with Budibase

Budibase is the open-source, low-code platform that empowers IT teams to turn data into action.

Where Retool and Appsmith both target engineers, we recognize that internal development teams have never been more stretched.

Our platform is the ideal way for solutions architects, data professionals, systems engineers, and other technical non-developers to build custom applications at pace.

With extensive external data support, autogenerated UIs, free SSO, optional self-hosting, generous per-user pricing, and more, there’s never been a faster, easier way to output custom web applications.

Check out our product page to learn more.