API vs SDK: What’s the difference?

To understand the difference between an API (Application Programming Interface) vs SDK (Software Development Kit), you don’t need to be advanced in programming. In this article, we are going to unlock the definitions of APIs and SDKs, come up with case examples as well as draw a line of difference between the two.

What is an Application Programming Interface (API)?

By definition, APIs are sets of instructions and protocols used to integrate specific functionalities into an application. An API can help connect your apps or projects to external services, enabling seamless data transfer and adding a new feature altogether.

With an API, developers don’t have to worry about creating lots of custom code to enable functionalities, as various APIs exist to fulfill a specific function. As IBM mentioned, APIs allow companies to open up their applications’ data and functionality for third-party developers to use. So if you have a food delivery app and want to verify your user’s number, provide the location, and enable payment without leaving the platform, there’s an available phone, maps, and payment API to perform these actions.

What is a Software Development Kit (SDK)?

A Software Development Kit (SDK) is typically a set of tools that can be used to create and develop Applications. In general, an SDK refers to a full-suite software module that includes one or more libraries or APIs, processes, programming tools, sample code, documentation as well as guides that developers can use and integrate into their apps.

Although SDKs are commonly used for mobile applications, they can also be used on websites and other digital platforms too.

A common analogy that can better explain SDKs is to compare them with a model car kit. The kit contains the necessary items such as model parts, instructions, glue, and other tools needed to put them together.

api vs sdk

API vs SDK: What’s the difference?

An application programming interface (API) and software development kit (SDK) both play an important role in the software development process. As the name implies, an API acts as an interface between different applications or platforms and helps various software programs interact. They usually contain specifications that can be used to interface between different software programs. On the other hand, the SDK consists of development tools and pre-written code that developers can use to build their applications. The SDK usually reduces the workload and time required for developers to write their unique code to build software applications.

APIs may contain routines, data structures, protocols, and object class specifications to facilitate interaction between different programs. To facilitate interaction with embedded systems, the SDK usually consists of files or APIs in the form of complex hardware. The SDK plays a vital role in eliminating work duplication and saving developers the time to create new software applications. An API usually includes a set of rules and specifications, and software programs will follow these rules and specifications to facilitate easy interaction.

The API does not have any written sample code but includes a detailed description of function calls and function prototypes’ behavior. The SDK consists of sample programs, technical descriptions, utility programs, and debugging tools for programmers to integrate into the development of applications, thereby saving a lot of time and effort.

API vs SDK: Choosing the right option for your needs

SDKs and APIs are used to integrate important features like security and communications into web and mobile apps without having to reinvent the wheel. Each provides similar benefits but each also has distinct differences. So, what are those differences? Think of it this way. An SDK is like a box of cake mix. It has pre-built functionality that makes baking a cake faster and easier. You don’t necessarily even have to know much about or have any experience, with baking.

An API on the other hand is like a recipe used to bake a cake. It’s a set of instructions with room to be creative. You can get the same result, but without previous knowledge, it’s much more difficult and may have some unintended consequences. Additionally, you can get cake mix geared towards cupcakes, pancakes, or even in different flavors; in the same way, each SDK is a software toolset specially crafted for a given language or platform to interact with the underlying services.

api vs sdk

Though there are appropriate uses for each, there are specific benefits of an SDK over an API. I’ll discuss a few in this article, including easier integration, faster time to market, built-in security, and cost savings.

  • Easier integration: With pre-built functionality, integrating an SDK into an app could not be easier. SDKs can simplify standard processes such as creating authorization signatures or parsing SMS messages in the native language or platform, which greatly reduces integration complexity. Developers don’t need to have the expertise on the SDKs topic to be able to use it, as most SDKs come with the programming tools, documentation, and sample code to ensure they can be seamlessly plugged into apps.

APIs on the other hand requires in-depth knowledge of the product being integrated in addition to the development of the software for integrating the API. Thus, adding on research and development complexity.

  • Faster time to market: SDKs enable developers to launch their apps faster without having to spend time and money on developing complex infrastructures or processes. SDKs are generally all in one solution — they do not require integration with other components or significant design that can slow down the development process. SDKs will also incorporate best practices and should fully utilize the underlying API.

The creator of the SDK has already done the heavy lifting, developers can simply reap the benefits. Whereas, API integration can demand expertise in several areas of functionality based on the technology in use. Additionally, the process can include dealing with issues during the integration and performing A/B tests to figure out the best practices.

  • Stronger security: Few things are more important today than security, especially as apps and services become more and more interconnected. This is where SDKs can shine. Security systems can be extremely complex, requiring massive teams of experts to develop, update and test. SDKs can make it possible for businesses to add important security easily, whether it’s used to block fraud or enforce security requirements like storing sensitive information.

One of the largely overseen advantages of SDKs is the ability to have deep integration with a native platform such as Android or iOS to provide end-to-end integration of services for a more secure overall solution, which can be easy to miss when using APIs. On the flip side, it’s important to keep in mind that while SDKs can be more secure, it’s best to ensure you are using stable SDKs actively being developed by creators that you trust to be as secure as you need them to be.

  • Cost savings: The cost will always be one of the most important factors when building a new platform. SDKs can help here as well. Between reduced development cycle time and the ability to leverage expertise and fully-realized coding, integrating SDKs instead of APIs can save your business a huge chunk of cash.
  • Reliability: In today’s ever-changing landscape of apps, users expect new functionality fairly regularly. With new features comes the potential for bugs in the code. Since SDKs have been tested thoroughly before launch and also verified by other customers for their stability, the customers can be assured that SDKs are reliable and ready for production use in their apps. APIs on the contrary are integrated using software written from scratch and warrant quality tests before being put in front of customers.

API vs SDK: Conclusion

To sum up, APIs are like channels between different applications, while SDKs are tools for building software programs. An SDK contains an API as well as sample code, technical specifications, and tools whereas an API contains specifications and descriptions of functions.

I guess you are clear now about the difference between an API vs an SDK. You know ‘’what does an API mean’’ and ‘’what does an SDK mean”. Now let’s get to the real world and search for a company that can help you develop a software application or provide communication between third-party applications or platforms.


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