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Internal tool builder.

UI Builder
Our review

What we like

Impressive level of UI flexibility and customization - simple drag & drop to writing custom JS & React with external dependency support. Auto-generates UIs from database schemas including those tedious features like sorting, pagination, filtering & search. Real browser devtools-like debugger. Can also build native mobile apps and automated data pipelines & workflows.

What we don't like

Themable, but no true dark mode. Remotely querying databases over the internet has inherent latency challenges (you can self-host Retool or use their cloud database).

Reviewed: 2023-01-26

Open source vs commercial (Appsmith & Retool)

with David Mytton & Jean Yang

S01 E062021-08-12


David: One of the nice things about Retool is it allows you to query all the sources with SQL, even if they aren't databases. Appsmith and Retool both expose the UI so that everything is a JavaScript object. If you need more customizability, then you can just get into the code and you can even create your own react components with Retool. The main difference then is the philosophy behind how these are developed, so I thought it'd be interesting to have a discussion about that.

Developer Interview

With Snir Kodesh, Head of Engineering


What is Retool and why did you build it?

Retool is the fastest way to build internal apps and tools. We all used to work on internal tools ourselves, and we realized that we were building tools that were quite similar. That’s how the idea for Retool came about.

Internal tools are not particularly desirable to write for most software engineers, in the sense that they don't really progress the art form of the business model. At least from my personal experience, they are a bit of a tax when you're building product: you build the internal tool in order to support that product in the wild.

This creates a good opportunity for us to effectively group the common pieces, and ship them as an abstraction. This is what Retool does— it allows people to build internal tools easily, in a highly accelerated way.

Every internal app has some sort of view and a connection to a datastore. Retool is a collection of drag and drop components that allow you to construct that front-end, and hook into your back-end. We also make all of that really simple. You can get what might take the order of weeks in just hours, and be set up with a tool and process that works out of the box. It's also beautiful, elegant, and a lot easier than writing everything from ground up.

Engineering Profile

Build internal tools remarkably fast.

Retool’s goal is to build internal tools remarkably fast. Despite software’s massive impact on our lives, software development hasn’t fundamentally changed in the past two decades. At Retool, we’re thinking about what comes after programming languages: coding from scratch isn’t something most companies should be doing in 15 years. We’re starting with internal tools but our ambitions are much larger.

What are some recent examples of interesting development challenges?

Building a real-time app development environment and it’s natural extensions, for starters :) How do we support multiple concurrent users? How do we version control Retool apps and help our customers deploy them across environments? How do we support deep native integration to third party services (data warehouses, datastores, custom APIs, etc)? The surface area that powers Retool today is so vast, and we’re also innovating in adjacent areas!

The thing that’s most exciting about Retool is how much of a platform it is – just permuting components + resources + code + Retool versions by our customer leads to an unbounded set of possibilities. That’s fundamentally what allows our customers to build anything with the product. By extension, supporting it across all the permutations as we deploy at warp speed is a challenging infra/correctness problem.

There’s a lot more here – from building a best-in-class layout and drag-n-drop engine, running untrusted code safely, the tension between product extensibility/power and performance, and making Retool even more accessible and powerful.

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