SDK vs API: What are the differences?

You may have heard about SDKs (Software Development Kits) and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) before, but perhaps you\’re not entirely sure what they are or how they differ. These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually have distinct meanings and serve different purposes in software development. While both SDKs and APIs play crucial roles in simplifying and streamlining the development process, they approach this task from different angles. 

So, if you want to embark on this journey, this article will delve into the intricacies of SDKs and APIs, unraveling their unique characteristics, exploring their key differences, and highlighting their significance in the realm of software creation.

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1. What is an SDK?

Definition

A software development kit (SDK) is a collection of development tools that allow developers to create software for a specific platform or programming language. It provides an integrated platform for developers to shorten the development process. Instead of writing their own code to develop an app, developers can use an SDK, which already includes librarié, code samples…

Companies often make their SDK available to help developers easily integrate their services. In fact, almost all software developers need to use SDK to add advanced features, advertisements, push notifications for the applications. 

If you can not imagine what SDKs are, then here are some common SDKs:

  • Android SDK:  The Android SDK provides a comprehensive set of tools and libraries for developing native Android applications. It includes the Android framework, Android Studio IDE, and various development tools.
  • iOS SDK: The iOS SDK provides a collection of tools and frameworks for building native iOS applications. It includes the Xcode IDE, Cocoa Touch frameworks, and various development tools.
  • React Native SDK: The iOS SDK provides a collection of tools and frameworks for building native iOS applications. It includes the Xcode IDE, Cocoa Touch frameworks, and various development tools.
  • Flutter SDK: The Flutter SDK enables developers to create native mobile applications using Dart, providing a framework for building UI, animations, and interactions.
  • AWS SDK: The AWS SDK provides a set of APIs and tools for interacting with AWS cloud services, such as Amazon S3 for storage, Amazon EC2 for compute, and Amazon DynamoDB for database management. It enables developers to build applications that leverage AWS cloud infrastructure.

Workflow

Firstly, the SDK workflow begins with installing the SDK and importing the necessary libraries. Developers then write code utilizing the SDK\’s components, guided by the SDK documentation. Thorough testing and debugging follow to identify and resolve any issues. Finally, the application is packaged and deployed to the intended environment.

To illustrate, let’s say you want to build an Android application that uses the Google Maps SDK to add a map to your app, the first step is to install the Android SDK. After importing the Google Maps SDK libraries into your project, you can use the Google Maps SDK libraries to create a map and add it to your app. The final step is to test and debug your app and then deploy the app to the Google Play Store. In this way, developers can make app development easier. 

2. What is an API?

Definition

An API (standing for Application Programming Interface) is a set of rules and specifications that connect your software with modules and third-party services, APIs define the communication between components within a software. It is a way for one application to access the functionality of another application. Developers often use APIs to connect different applications together, or access data and services from third-party providers.

There are many different kinds of APIs, depending on the use case and functionality. Here are some common ones:

  • Google Maps API: The Google Maps API provides developers with access to Google Maps data, such as maps, locations, and directions. It enables them to integrate maps into their applications and add location-based features.
  • Facebook Graph API: The Facebook Graph API allows developers to integrate Facebook social functionalities into their applications. It enables them to access user profiles, manage posts, and facilitate social interactions.
  • Stripe API: The Stripe API provides developers with a comprehensive set of tools for accepting payments through credit cards, debit cards, and other payment methods. It enables them to manage payment subscriptions, handle refunds, and prevent fraud.
  • Web API: The Web API encompasses any API that can be accessed over the web using HTTP, including REST API, SOAP API, XML-RPC API… It is typically used to expose functionality from one application to other applications, or to provide access to data and services. 

Workflow

An effective workflow of an API involves understanding its functionalities, integrating it into your application, testing and debugging the integration, deploying and maintaining the application, handling errors and ensuring resilience, and continuously improving the application\’s performance and features.

For example, the process of building a web app using the Stripe API starts with going to the Stripe website and reading the Stripe API documentation. The developers then write code to call the Stripe API in their programming language of choice. Before deploying the code to production, the developers need to run their code and test it to make sure that it is working as expected.

3. Key differences between SDKs and APIs

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While SDKs and APIs both aim to streamline software development and enhance application functionality, they differ in their specific approaches, target outcomes, their roles and applications vary in key aspects. The following table will provide a detailed comparison between SDKs and APIs:

FeatureSDKAPI
Acronym forSoftware Development KitApplication Programming Interface
SizeTypically larger, as they include a comprehensive set of tools, libraries, documentation, and sample codeCan vary in size, depending on the complexity of the API and the scope of its functionalities
PurposeProvides tools and resources for building applications for specific platforms or programming languagesEnables communication between software components
ContentIncludes an API as part of its package, but also encompasses other resources such as code libraries, documentation, and sample codePrimarily consists of the rules and specifications that define how two software components can communicate
UsageTo build applications for specific platforms or programming languagesTo integrate applications with each other

Scope

SDKs are typically tailored to specific platforms or programming languages, providing a well-defined set of tools and libraries tailored to that environment. They offer a more narrow focus, catering to specific development needs.

Otherwise, APIs have a broader scope, transcending platform and language boundaries. They can connect applications across different platforms and programming languages, promoting interoperability

Language and Platform 

SDKs are typically designed for specific programming languages and provide APIs and tools that are well-suited to those languages. For instance, the Android SDK is primarily written in Java, while the iOS SDK is primarily written in Swift. This makes it easier for developers to work with the SDK and leverage the platform\’s native features and functionalities. APIs, on the other hand, can be language-agnostic, meaning they can be integrated with various programming languages. This is achieved by using standardized data formats. This allows developers to choose the programming language that best suits their project requirements and preferences.

SDKs are also typically tailored to specific platforms, while APIs enable developers to be integrated with various platforms, 

Functionalities

While SDK provides pre-built components, libraries, documentation, and sample code to streamline application development, API is completely different from it. It defines the methods, data structures, and protocols that govern communication between applications, ensuring consistency and compatibility.

Focus 

SDK’s focus is to provide a comprehensive development environment for a specific platform or programming language. This includes providing pre-built components, libraries, documentation, and sample code. 

On the other hand, API focuses on enabling communication and data exchange between applications across different platforms and programming languages. They define the rules and specifications for how applications can interact with each other, regardless of the platform or language they are built on.

4. When to use an SDK vs API?

The choice between using an SDK (Software Development Kit) or an API (Application Programming Interface) depends on the specific needs of the application being developed. Here\’s a breakdown of when to use each:

Use an SDK when you want to:

  • Build a native application for a specific platform, such as Android or iOS.
  • Leverage the platform\’s specific features and functionalities.
  • Follow the platform\’s recommended development practices.
  • Access to a comprehensive toolkit that includes libraries, documentation, and sample code.

Use an API when you want to:

  • Integrate an external service or functionality into your application.
  • Connect your application to other applications or platforms.
  • Access data or services from another application or platform.
  • Build a cross-platform application that works on multiple platforms.

In general, SDKs are better suited for building native applications for specific platforms, while APIs are better suited for integrating external services and functionalities into applications.

To illustrate, if you are building an Android application, you would use the Android SDK. The Android SDK provides everything you need to build a native Android application, including the Android framework, the Android Studio IDE, and a variety of development tools. However, if you want to integrate Facebook login into your web application , you would use the Facebook Graph API. The Facebook Graph API provides a set of tools and resources that make it easy to integrate Facebook functionality into your application.

Conclusion

In the dynamic realm of software development, SDKs (Software Development Kits) and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) stand as indispensable tools, empowering developers to build robust and efficient applications. While both contribute to streamlining development processes, they differ in their approach and focus.

The choice between using an SDK or an API depends on the specific needs of the project. While SDKs excel in building native applications for specific platforms, APIs shine in integrating external services and functionalities into applications. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, SDKs and APIs, of course, remain at the forefront of software development, empowering developers to create innovative and transformative applications that shape our ever-changing world.

If you want to learn more about software development and other related topics, then consider checking out our other blog posts. We cover a wide range of topics, from beginner-friendly tutorials to advanced technical discussions. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, feel free to read and share your thoughts with us!

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