What is an SDK? Why is it Important?


What is an SDK?

SDK stands for Software Development Kit (also called devkit), which explains what it is – a kit. According to Braze, a software development kit is formed of 3rd party written codes that can be added to the digital applications to support new capabilities. It is like a pre-built tool or application segment. Although SDKs are commonly used for mobile applications, it is possible to use them on websites or other digital platforms.  

One common analogy to explain SDKs better is comparing them to the kits for model planes. You have the necessary items within the kit such as model plane pieces, glues, and other tools needed to put them together, instructions, etc. SDKs work in a similar way, they come as kits of a set of documents, codes, libraries, and other tools needed to construct applications on a specific platform. 

What Does an SDK Contain?

The content of an SDK varies depending on whether the kit is designed for an operating system, a particular programming language or a hardware component, etc.

SDKs should contain interfaces to connect software and also the tools needed in the development process. These components are: 

  • APIs (Application Programming Interface)
  • Documentation
  • Editors
  • Libraries
  • Run-times and development environments
  • Compilers
  • Debuggers
  • Drivers
  • Network Protocols
  • Examples and test projects

Some SDK manufacturers call their software with alternative names, such as JDK, Java Development Kit. JDK is a software development kit developed to build software on Java. To execute Java byte codes, you need Java Runtime Environment (JRE) which is a component of JDKs. Basically, JDKs contain everything JRE contains and also compilers and debuggers like other SDKs. Oracle and OpenJDK provide JDK. 

Let’s examine two of the most confusing components.

What is a Library?

A library, sometimes misused as an SDK itself, refers to a collection of pre-built codes which you can call from your own codes. Basically libraries save developers writing all those codes and functions themselves.

What is an API?

Application Programming Interface (API) is an interface that allows the software to interact with other software. API is the face of the library, it explains to the programmer what they can do with the library.  APIs reduce the number of codes the developers write and create consistency across apps. 

Confusion Between APIs and SDKs

It is quite common that APIs and SDKs are mixed up. One of the main causes of this confusion is because SDKs usually contain APIs. However, an API doesn’t always come within an SDK. 

So, when an SDK is used to build an application that would communicate with other applications, this SDK includes an API. Imagine you own a ride-sharing app. Instead of writing code to verify the phone number of the user, you would use an API to verify that via SMS. You would use a map API to locate the cars and users. You would use another API for the payment process, etc.

SDKs, on the other hand, include the package of tools that are required to build or improve your app.

We said an API doesn’t always come within an SDK. In this case, how do you choose between an API and an SDK? The Next Web gives this example: API is like a recipe to cook a cake. SDK is a box of cake mix. Although there are different uses for each, usually, however, generally SDKs are easier to integrate and more secure to use.  

What should you take into consideration before integrating an SDK?

Apart from the value that comes from the core functionality that an SDK provides, it is also important how an SDK brings that value. 

  • Integration: The integration process of an SDK to an app should be painless to the app developers. 
Image: Medium
  • Documentation: An SDK should include clear documentation of codes and sample examples to help developers.
  • Uniformity: An SDK’s features and methods should be uniform to work on different platforms. Having such consistency would help developers use the SDK on cross platforms.
  • Use of Resources: It is obvious that the SDK shouldn’t affect the performance of your app negatively. Maximum functionality and minimum resource usage should be ideal for an SDK. The main resource usage problems due to an SDK could be a drained battery because of intensive background process or unnecessary network polls; large network usage and huge size.
  • Transparency: An SDK should be transparent to your users with what it is doing and also with permissions. 
Image source: Medium, Permissions
  • Updates: SDKs should be compatible with the latest OS versions and architectures by bearing in mind the older versions. When new features are added, they should be explained to the users. 
  • Security: SDKs can be unsafe since they run different codes than your apps’. It is possible for malicious SDKs to violate user rights, and harm your app’s performance and cause your app to get banned from application stores. 

Why are SDKs Important? Don’t Reinvent the Wheel.

Imagine building an app as building a house. If you make a list of what you need to build a house, you would come up with the materials such as concrete and bricks or people to build the house such as roofers. Many people wouldn’t go, chop a tree to have some wood, or gather the components to make brick but they would buy the bricks or wood instead. This is a similar scenario for your app too. You can, of course, develop your app without any 3rd party SDKs, but users wouldn’t be able to use your app on different platforms and it would be hard to carry out all the necessary actions.

Having a well-built SDK makes your life easier as a developer, and increases the performance of your app by bringing new opportunities to reach and engage with your users.  

Storyly is an SDK helping you maximize your in-app engagement and grow your business by simply integrating stories to your app. Check out how your app can use Storyly SDK. 

Read more like this: