Admins / Architects / Consultants

What Is Salesforce Apex and How Does It Work? A Guide for Admins

By Andrew Cook

In the world of Salesforce administration, customizing the platform to fit unique needs is vital. Apex, Salesforce’s special coding language, plays a big role here. It lets admins and developers create custom solutions that work smoothly with existing processes. Understanding Apex is key for admins to make the most of Salesforce.

This guide breaks down Apex basics for admins, whether you’re new to Salesforce or looking to expand your skills. It shows you how to use Apex to customize Salesforce to fit your organization’s needs perfectly. Let’s dive in and see how Apex can help you make Salesforce work even better for your team.

What Is Code?

Before we start on Apex, let’s take a step back and define what we mean by ‘code’.

Think of code as the way we communicate with computers. It’s like giving them a set of precise instructions, much like following a recipe to cook your favorite dish. Just as people speak different languages around the world, computers understand different coding languages.

You might have heard of some of these languages, like JavaScript, Java, Ruby, or Python. They all serve the same purpose: telling the computer what to do. Even though they might seem different at first, they share common foundations.

As a Salesforce Administrator, you’ll come across a language called Apex. While it might seem daunting at first, it follows similar principles to other languages. As you dive into Apex, you’ll start recognizing patterns and structures that are common in programming. Don’t worry if it feels overwhelming at first – with practice and patience, you’ll become more comfortable with it.

What Is Apex in Salesforce?

Now we know what code is, we can dig a little deeper into Apex specifically. Apex is a programming language developed by Salesforce specifically for building custom functionalities within the Salesforce platform. It’s a strongly typed, object-oriented language similar to Java, and it’s designed to work seamlessly with Salesforce’s data model and user interface.

Salesforce Administrators and Developers use Apex to create custom business logic, automate processes, and extend the capabilities of Salesforce beyond its out-of-the-box features. This includes creating triggers, which are pieces of code that execute in response to specific events, such as when a record is inserted, updated, or deleted, building custom controllers and extensions for Visualforce pages, which are used to customize the user interface, and developing Apex classes and batch processes to perform complex data manipulation and integration tasks.

Apex code runs on the Salesforce servers, making it tightly integrated with the platform’s security model and data management capabilities. It allows organizations to tailor Salesforce to their unique business needs, enhancing productivity and efficiency for users across the organization.

How Does Apex Work?

Explaining how code works can be a little boring. So, I’m going to spice it up and explain how Apex works in the context of a bustling restaurant kitchen, where data is the ingredients and processes are the recipes!

Just like how chefs use different tools and techniques to cook delicious dishes, Salesforce Administrators and Developers can use Apex as their special recipe book to create custom flavors and dishes tailored to the restaurant’s unique tastes.

Writing the Recipe (Writing Code)

In the kitchen, the chef writes down the recipe for a new dish. Similarly, developers write Apex code using their favorite recipe book (Salesforce Developer Console or Integrated Development Environment).

Preparing the Ingredients (Compilation)

Once the recipe is written, the chef prepares the ingredients by chopping, slicing, and mixing them. Similarly, Apex code is compiled into an intermediate form called bytecode, ensuring it’s ready to be cooked (executed) on the Salesforce platform.

Cooking in the Kitchen (Execution)

When a customer orders a dish, the chef follows the recipe step-by-step, cooking it in the kitchen. Similarly, when a user interacts with Salesforce, the corresponding Apex code is executed on the platform’s servers, performing tasks like data manipulation or enforcing business rules.

Using Fresh Ingredients (Accessing Salesforce Data)

Just as chefs use fresh ingredients from the kitchen pantry, Apex code can access Salesforce data using queries and DML statements, ensuring the data is up-to-date and accurate.

Creating Unique Flavors (Enforcing Business Logic)

Chefs add their special touches to dishes to create unique flavors. Similarly, developers use Apex to enforce custom business logic and rules, ensuring Salesforce processes align with the organization’s requirements.

Mixing in External Ingredients (Integration and External Services)

Sometimes, chefs need to use ingredients from outside the kitchen. Similarly, Apex code can integrate with external systems and services, like ordering ingredients from suppliers and using APIs to fetch data or perform actions.

Tasting and Adjusting (Error Handling and Logging)

Finally, before serving a dish, the chef tastes it to ensure it’s perfect. Similarly, developers use error handling and logging techniques in Apex to identify and fix any issues before deploying their code, ensuring a smooth experience for users.

Benefits of Using Apex

There are many benefits to learning and using Apex as a Salesforce Admin. First and foremost is its native integration. Apex is Salesforce’s proprietary programming language, tightly integrated with the platform. This means it can seamlessly interact with Salesforce data, objects, and processes, allowing for powerful customization and automation.

Next is its extensive functionality. With Apex, administrators can extend the capabilities of Salesforce beyond its out-of-the-box features. This includes creating custom business logic, implementing complex workflows, and building sophisticated automation processes.

Another benefit is security. Apex enforces Salesforce’s security model, ensuring that data remains protected and access is controlled based on user permissions. This helps maintain data integrity and compliance with regulations.

It’s difficult not to include this in any benefit of using Salesforce technology in this day and age: community support! The Salesforce Trailblazer Community is vast and active, with many resources, forums, and documentation available to help administrators learn and troubleshoot Apex development. If you ever get stuck, there is always someone willing to help.

Lastly, we have scalability. Apex applications can scale with the growth of your organization, handling large volumes of data and complex business requirements efficiently.

Challenges of Using Apex

As with most things in technology, along with the benefits, there are challenges. One such challenge is the learning curve in getting to grips with Apex. For administrators with no prior coding experience, learning Apex can be challenging. Understanding programming concepts, syntax, and best practices may require dedicated time and effort. Luckily, there are some very good resources out there, such as Trailhead and Camp Apex, to help you get started. Our Apex Cheat Sheet is also a good reference point if you ever get stuck in writing your code.

Next, we have limitations. While Apex is powerful, it also has limitations. For example, there are governor limits that restrict the amount of resources, such as CPU time and database queries, that a transaction can consume. Administrators need to be mindful of these limits when designing and developing solutions.

There is also the issue of maintenance. As with any custom development, Apex code requires maintenance and updates over time. Changes in Salesforce releases or business requirements may necessitate modifications to existing code, which can be time-consuming.

Then, there is debugging. Troubleshooting Apex code errors can be complex, especially for beginners. Administrators need to become proficient in debugging techniques and tools to identify and resolve issues effectively.

Finally, and something I have heard the most grumblings about, we have the subject of deployment. Deploying Apex code from sandbox environments to production requires careful planning and coordination to ensure smooth transitions and minimize disruption to users.

How I Got Started…

I always wanted to learn more about Apex but didn’t really know where to start. Bear in mind: I’ve been working in Salesforce for a long time and this was before Trailhead was around. So I started off simple, exploring what sort of tasks I could do more quickly with Apex than I could do using the UI.

Cue: the Developer Console! Now, I know a lot of seasoned developers are not fans of the Developer Console, and rightly so, considering the type of development work they do on a daily basis. But for me, opening the Developer Console and searching for some records with a SOQL query and then manipulating them, I felt like Neo in the first Matrix before he unplugged! So this is something I’d urge admins to try out if this is their first foray into the world of Apex.


For Salesforce Admins, customizing the platform is crucial. There is no escaping that Apex, Salesforce’s special coding language, is key to achieving this. It empowers admins and developers to craft tailored solutions that seamlessly blend with existing processes. Understanding Apex is essential for admins to maximize the potential of Salesforce.

I hope this guide has equipped you with essential insights into Apex, from grasping the basics of coding to mastering its functionalities. With this knowledge, admins can now navigate the complexities of Salesforce customization with confidence.

While Apex offers numerous benefits, it also presents challenges like a steep learning curve and complexities in debugging and deployment. Nevertheless, with determination and community support, admins can overcome these hurdles and embark on a journey of innovation, transforming Salesforce into a fine-tuned tool that meets their organization’s unique needs.

The Author

Andrew Cook

Andrew is a Salesforce Technical Instructor at Salesforce Ben. He is 14x certified and has worked in the ecosystem for 12 years.

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