What Is an SDK and How Is It Different from an API?Posted by: Beth George | On: 25th Jul, 2019 | web development
You hear your Chief Technical Officer or mobile developer keep talking about the issues with SDK, APIs and all. They may also be talking about APIs. They probably make these things sound very important but they’re pretty specialist terms so unless you’re a developer, you might not know what all of the fuss is about.
However, as far as jargon goes, SDKs and APIs are pretty run-of-the-mill so you should probably know what they mean. So, if your CTO is too busy to answer your questions about tech acronyms – and he or she is too busy – you can learn about them here.
So, what’s an SDK how does it work within a mobile app? And, what are APIs all about, anyway.
What Is an SDK?
SDK is short for Software Development Kit. It is a building block that can be added to an app to make it easier to develop. In many cases it speeds up development by quickly interfacing with third party services.
The SDK is usually just third party code available to make it easier to develop an app. In this case, people who want to develop for your project will likely have to register somewhere to be sent proprietary hardware as well as the digital SDK. Most startups charge developers for this hardware but release the SDK for free to encourage coders to develop content for the platform.
Why Is the SDK so Important?
In some cases, creating an SDK is the only way to develop an application, as it interfaces with some proprietary services. This allows developers to create software that is exclusive to your platform or device but that can’t be used by competitors.
If your startup deals with hardware as well as software, SDKs can take on a whole new meaning. Some hardware developers release SDKs to their general users. This allows individuals and organizations to create programming that works well with your hardware. Most major hardware companies have SDKs that are freely available so that developers can create content for their devices. That’s how people make apps for everything from mobile devices to XR headsets.
Often, the SDK will be released to developers before the complete product is ready to go to market. That way, by the time consumers get the product, there is already a library of apps and tools that they can use. After all, you don’t want users to buy your product only to see that it doesn’t do anything.
In this way, the SDK is important not just for in-house developers, but for allowing users to generate their own content. Content that adds utility to your platform without your organization’s needing to develop or pay for.
SDKs released early can also help your organization user-test your platform before more people get their hands on it. This is often called an “SDK beta” and is made available to select developers before the larger SDK and the rest of your product launches. This can help to generate buzz for your product months before it goes to market.
Why Are SDKs So Much Trouble?
Usually, the challenge is that some SDKs are not fully tested or fully updated. This has to do with how early in the process they become important. Startups often move at breakneck speed so sometimes things are made in a rush and released as soon as they work at all rather than waiting until they work like they are supposed to.
This causes the developers to spend time troubleshooting third party SDKs – that is, SDKs created by individuals or organizations other than the developer and your organization.
This gets back to some of the things that were mentioned in the previous section that may or may not apply to the SDK that your organization is producing.
Chances are, the SDK is one of the first things that your organization needs to produce. As mentioned above, your SDK might even release before your product does. This means that it might already be out of date by the time that your product hits the market. This can lead to a parallel series of updates – updating the SDK to match the first version of the product, then updating the product and needing to update the SDK again.
What About APIs?
API is short for “Application Programming Interface.” APIs offer another way of interfacing the mobile app with third party devices and services. In this way, they are similar to SDKs in that they allow your product to share utility with other services and devices without your organization need to make those services and devices. They are different from SDKs an a number of ways as well. Perhaps the most important is that while SDKs are often shared with developers, APIs usually remain internal.
Why Are APIs So Important
Why APIs are important – or whether they are important – depends on your product. For example, they can mean different things depending on whether your product is meant for mobile devices or not, and the kind of utility that it is meant to give your users.
APIs on Web Platforms
Suppose your product is related to ecommerce. You have a platform that lists goods or services that are for sale but it also needs to be able to accept payment. Your organization will need to add payment processing features from a service like PayPal. An API is what makes your service compatible with PayPal’s service. API documentation will usually have details on what information the third-party API expects and what format it would reply in. REST and JSON are the most common API formats, but that’s probably more in-depth than you need to go.
Payment isn’t the only service that requires an API. Any service already offered by someone else that you want to take advantage of instead of building from the ground up requires an API. Other common examples include working with map providers and messenger services. As a result, a complicated project might require any number of APIs – and that’s just for it to work on a web browser.
APIs on Mobile Devices
Products that need to work on mobile devices may have all of the same API requirements that web-based platforms do. However, APIs on mobile devices also have another level of importance.
When talking about mobile devices and apps, APIs usually refers to software that allows your platform to access hardware on the mobile device. Common examples include things like positioning technology, or cameras.
APIs for mobile devices can be particularly tricky because iOS devices and Android devices use different coding languages. This means that if you want your product to work on both of those devices, you will need different APIs to make two different versions of the product – one that works with iOS and one that works with Android.
Why Are APIs So Much Trouble?
Once again, depending on what your product is meant to do, you might not need to deal with any APIs at all. Or, you might never hear about anything else.
Because services like PayPal and Google Maps want people to use their software, they make it fairly easy for developers to integrate them into their own platforms. Further, even though there are a lot of mobile device producers, the fact that they all run either iOS or Android makes selecting and using APIs for mobile devices fairly straight forward for a good coder. That’s particularly true because some new coding languages make it easier than ever to program with both operating systems in mind.
The biggest problem with APIs usually comes later along for startups that initially created their product for either iOS or Android and who now want it to work on the other platform. This doesn’t only require new APIs; it might also mean creating a new version of your product almost from scratch. That can cost extra time and money and more than a few headaches.
SDKs, APIs, Etc.
So, a brief recap:
SDK is short for Software Development Kit. It consists of software, and sometimes hardware, that developers – in-house or in the general public – can use to develop software that works with your product.
API is short for Application Programming Interface. It consists of software that lets your product take advantage of existing hardware or software made by someone else so that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time that you want your product to do another job.
If you had a headache reading this article, just imagine what the development team at your organization is going through. Here, we gave pretty basic explanations and examples of what these things are so that a non-coder can understand what’s going on in the memo or around the break room. However, both SDKs and APIs are both a lot more complicated when you’re using or creating them and there’s a lot that we didn’t get into.
This introduction has probably given you all of the information that you need about these specialist acronyms to go about your day-to-day functions but if you want or need to know more about them, there are a lot more resources around the internet. Or, you could just pick your favorite coder and offer to buy them a drink after work. They’ll probably be more than happy to tell you more than you’ll ever care to know.