Retool is a Game Changer for Making Simple UIs to Play With Your Data 📊

Don’t you love it when you have something you’re trying to do, Google it to see if anyone else has had a similar issue, and find a product that does exactly what you need and more? Well, that was my experience with Retool.

The backstory is pretty straightforward and probably pretty common: I was building an app for my client, and the client needed a way to make tweaks to the data the app was running on. For example, the client wanted a way to add notes to each record in a table. Normally this would mean either 1) having the client learn SQL and write his own queries to insert and update values in the database, or 2) building an entire webserver + frontend stack just for this minor feature request. Or possibly 3) having the client send me notes in a CSV file whenever he needed it updated which I would manually import into the database.

All of those options are subpar and rather unpleasant (I should know because I’ve implemented each one of them on multiple occasions for previous work 😬 ). They are time-intensive, error prone, and tedious.

So I googled something like, “database front end javascript library”, and what appeared in my search results changed my life. 🙌

I realize that dramatic language may risk having you write this article off as hyperbole (and I realize that by writing that I am only increasing the risk 😱 ) but Retool really has been a game changer. To put things in perspective, I’m essentially on a two-person team right now: me and my client, and he’s doing mostly business development work, which leaves me as the only developer-type person. We don’t have time (and he’d rather not spend the money) to build UIs that are somewhat peripheral to the critical path of the project. That being said, Retool has made the work of simple-UI construction such a low lift that we are leagues ahead of where we would be after 3 months of work with a single full-time developer (who has plenty of other work to do on the project).

Below is a screenshot of me building an Amazon Web Services S3 file viewer using Retool:

(This is a demo app provided by Retool which doesn’t contain anything proprietary to my client)

In case you’re not familiar, S3 is Amazon’s basic file storage service. For this project, there are a number of files (e.g. pictures and docs) associated with database records which we are storing in S3. Of course, these files have some juicy info in them (and nice pictures 🖼 ) which my client would like to get at, but under normal circumstances we would again be left with the same 3 options as above if we wanted to give him a way to access them. But with Retool, building a file viewer is drag… and drop. Literally!

We have built over 10 different UIs like this now and it’s been a total force-multiplier in terms of what we’ve been able to get done with such limited resources.

(It’s also saved me from writing the boilerplate code of a database UI for the 10th time! 💯)