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The Difference Between APIs and SDKs

If you’re new to app development, you might be wondering what the deal is with the SDK vs API debate. APIs and SDKs both play a vital role in the development process, but they are two distinct tools that may or may not be used in combination with each other.


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In all honesty, APIs and SDKs aren’t all that similar. The difference between an SDK and an API is pretty vast. In this post, we will explain APIs and SDKs in more detail so you can get a good understanding of what both of these tools are. Then we’ll explore the differences between SDKs and APIs to give you a complete understanding of this important development topic.


What are APIs?

API stands for application programming interface. APIs are a crucial part of mobile and web development. These tools give developers the ability to interact with or connect an external service to their application which increases its functionality. Pretty much all of the apps you have ever used have likely relied on the power of APIs to deliver key features and services.

The best way to illustrate what APIs are and how they work is through an example. Let’s look at a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft. Both of these apps rely heavily on APIs in order to deliver the quality User Experiences that have made both companies very successful.

When you open one of these apps and enter the address of the place you want to go, you see your route mapped and an estimated time for the ride given. Now, Uber and Lyft could have created map features in their apps that allow them to show this information. However, there are a ton of ready-made APIs like Google Maps and MapBox that developers can easily plug into their apps to provide this feature.

Following the thread of the rideshare example, additional features such as payments, proximity alerts, and receipts are all handled by separate APIs too. An easy way to imagine APIs are ready-to-go features that can be plugged into any app to extend functionality.


Why Do Developers Use APIs?

Now that you know that a lot of the apps you use rely on APIs to provide features, you’re likely wondering why APIs are used versus just creating a feature in development. APIs save developers a lot of time during the development process.

Why should developers spend copious amounts of time working with different mobile app development languages to create features and functions that already exist? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. For example, Google Maps already provides a better service than most developers will be able to create on their own. This API can easily be plugged into their app to provide the same functionality it would have taken months to create otherwise.

Plus, trusted, popular APIs get a lot of support and regular maintenance, so developers don’t have to worry about them failing or have to spend hours debugging them. Without APIs, development would take a lot longer, and the services provided by many apps would be lacking in quality.


What are SDKs?

SDK stands for software development kit. As you can guess, based on the name, SDKs are used in software development. They provide developers with a set of tools that can be used to develop software for a specific platform, operating system, hardware, etc.

A great way to imagine SDKs is to think of a toolbox. A toolbox is full of different tools, and much like a toolbox, an SDK often has a set of tools that include:

  • APIs
  • IDEs
  • Code samples
  • Libraries
  • Documentation
  • Additional utilities

SDKs were developed to reduce the complexities of developing software programs. These software development kits are crucial tools that are sometimes required to create specific apps. For example, if you want to create an iOS app, you have to use the iOS SDK.


Why Do Developers Use SDKs?

In some cases, developers don’t have a choice, as is the case with iOS apps, but for the most part, developers use SDKs because they make their task of developing a certain application easier. For instance, some projects may require a mix of programming languages.

SDKs make it easier for developers to navigate the complexities of large web design and mobile development projects, and they provide helpful resources like documentation and code samples so that developers can quickly troubleshoot issues that may arise during the development process. SDKs also come packed with APIs and resource libraries that speed up the development process.

If specific SDKs are available to use on a certain project, it doesn’t make any sense not to take advantage of the tools being offered. It would be like going to build a house and turning down the tool kit that includes a hammer, nails, and a saw.


The Difference Between APIs and SDKs

APIs and SDKs are not competing interests. In many cases, SDKs include APIs. Most development projects will utilize both an SDK and API. The best way to understand the difference between APIs and SDKs is to imagine a box of Christmas lights. The SDK is the entire box of lights, the cords, the bulbs, etc. The SDK is the full kit.

On the other hand, in this example, the API is the cord that connects the lights to an electrical source. The API has one function. It makes one connection. In the example of the lights, it is the electrical connection. We have already seen that apps can use multiple APIs, but each API has one purpose and function.

This example is a good way to visualize the difference between SDKs and APIs because both tools work towards the end goal together. In the example, it is creating beauty with a string of lights. In app development, SDKs and APIs might work together to create a stunning cross-platform app or essential business program that allows a company to deliver high-quality services to its customers.


Final Thoughts

The development process can be complicated. Understanding when to use SDKs and APIs and which tools are right for your project can be difficult. If you’re unsure how to proceed, or you need more help and guidance understanding SDKs and APIs, reach out to an app development partner.

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