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n8n at a glance - the ultimate guide

n8n at a glance - the ultimate guide

The automation and iPaaS world has had a new rising star for some time now: n8n. The tool has been the topic of conversation in the automation and developer bubble for a while and has experienced additional significant growth in the last year. So it's time to give n8n a thorough check to see what the hype is all about. Here we go!

What exactly is n8n?

n8n is a tool and platform, founded in Berlin and launched to the market as an open-source project in 2019. The name stands for "node-based workflow automation", the 8 stands for the eight letters between the first and last word of the phrase.    

n8n is an iPaaS platform. This means it is a tool for cloud automation with the aim of connecting cloud apps (such as Office365, Hubspot, Asana and so on). This allows apps to exchange data and information with each other that would otherwise have to be moved manually with many individual clicks. The aim of such platforms: By automating small, administrative and time-consuming steps, the people behind the computer have more time for other, more fulfilling tasks. Click here for a more detailed blog post on iPaaS.

IPaaS can be used for a wide variety of purposes: Marketing, HR, CRM, sales, administration, accounting and many more areas can be integrated, making iPaaS attractive for countless companies. Obviously n8n isn’t the first one who noticed this: The tool has to compete with existing giants such as Zapier, Make or PowerAutomate. But more on the direct comparison with the competition later.

How and what can be built with n8n

n8n can either be self-hosted or used as a desktop version. If you opt for the first option, you can host the tool with Docker, Kubernetes or other cloud-based services. The Docker Compose option, for example, makes it easier to deploy, manage and scale n8n. This allows you to define and start all the required containers in a single YAML file. The desktop version offers the same functions, plus it scores with a desktop user interface.

Once set up, n8n can automate a large number of tasks: From emails and appointments to payment processing and inventory management, everything is possible. Messages via various channels such as Slack or SMS are also no problem, and all data is always up to date. The tool can also integrate data from various sources such as social media, databases and data storage services.

The strengths and advantages of n8n

Although n8n is still a relatively new tool, it already has many impressive details and functions:  

Multi triggering: it is possible to start a automation workflow in n8n via different triggers and then run it together in one process. No other tool can do this in a comparable way.  

Fast app development: Yes, n8n does not yet have the mass of supported apps. However, new apps can be added quickly either by n8n itself or with good programming skills. Especially if you host n8n.io yourself, you can basically do whatever you want with the code and extend it as you wish using many common programming languages such as JSON, Javascript or Python. But the most popular apps such as Google Drive, Slack or Airtable are already available.

Modular structure: The n8n interface is completely convincing thanks to its simple drag-and-drop builder. This detail is particularly important when it comes to realising automation without extensive programming knowledge. It is immediately recognisable which tools are used, which functions are carried out and what happens afterwards.    

Export as JSON: In n8n, entire processes can be exported as JSON. This makes it easy to duplicate processes or use them as templates. This is a feature that is offered by many other tools, but is almost never implemented so easily. This is due in particular to n8n's open source model, which still has a lot of potential for the coming months.  

n8n compared to similar tools

Open-Source Code: The biggest asset of n8n is that it is open source. The source code is freely accessible via n8n.io, allowing you to host and further develop the tool yourself. On top of that, n8n is even fair-code licenced.

n8n.cloud: n8n is also available as iPaaS, which means you can use the tool immediately via n8n.cloud and use it on n8n's servers. 

Apps: n8n currently supports just over 200 apps, and the trend is rising. Unfortunately, the tool has to admit defeat in a direct comparison with the competition: Zapier, the undisputed number one with over 3000 supported apps, and Make, with currently over 1000 apps, are much further ahead. Of course, n8n knows this itself, but also benefits from its strong community: not only does it regularly receive suggestions as to which apps could be supported, but also concrete development.  

Price: n8n is cheaper than Zapier for example, and also offers a free, self-hosted option. In addition, the number of users is unlimited in most subscriptions.  

Data protection: In contrast to other tools, n8n is relatively conservative and transaprent when it comes to collecting data. Data is of course most secure in the self-hosted version, but n8n also endeavours to keep the risks low for the iPaas option.

n8n Pricing: What does the tool cost?

n8n is not just n8n. As previously mentioned, n8n.io, which can be hosted locally via the open source code, is available completely free of charge. However, in this case the number of monthly workflow executions is limited.  

N8n.cloud, on the other hand, is associated with costs:  

n8n-review-pricing
Source: n8n.io

The price table (also compared to other tools) is very manageable: three packages at 20, 50 or 120€ per month with different numbers of workflow executions and active workflows. A Workflow Execution means that an execution is counted as soon as an entire, multi-stage workflow has run through once (regardless of whether it is successful or fails). Active Workflows in this case means a series of interconnected nodes. Nodes are a term that comes up again and again in n8n. Nodes are configured to perform a specific step or action, such as "Retrieve all users from Slack".

That's it, there are not many more details. There's also a 30-day trial for testing.

n8n Review Conclusion: n8n as an alternative for other iPaaS software?

If you are relatively new to server deployment or cloud services, it might be challenging to set up n8n.io yourself. Some knowledge of APIs and webhooks is also required to utilise the full potential of the platform. It is therefore advisable to get experts on board during the process - because once properly set up, n8n is fairly easy to maintain.  

n8n is still a young and relatively small tool, with a strong community and funding behind it. There are currently still some weaknesses for corporate use. The focus of n8n itself is still clearly on hosting, expanding and using the code itself. For service providers, however, it still needs a few more features, such as more supported apps or better user management (which, by the way, none of the competitors have solved well either). The tool still needs some time to be attractive and ready to use for large and medium-sized companies, but it's still worth trying it out and seeing how far you can get with it.    

In addition, n8n is currently in a strong growing phase, which promises further development of the tool in the future. So maybe this n8n review will have to be completely revised again in a few months, who knows?

n8n review: Prozess Ansicht

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