When businesses or enterprises decide to create websites associated with their products and services, there is a lot of planning and development that goes into this process. The technicalities behind setting up a website require specialists with coding skills. This is where developers come in. A lot of times, during the development process, terms like APIs and SDK are mentioned. In this article, we will breakdown the question of what is an SDK vs API and how they compare in terms of functionality and usage.
What is an API
Application Programming Interface (API) is a technology interface designed for interaction between different applications, systems, and programs. An API is like an intermediary that takes a request from one user and checks with another user to see if they can meet this request. The API will then bring back a response to the first user depending on the data they find (if available or not). The communication between APIs and the applications they interact with is defined by a set of rules which determine protocols, functionalities, data structures, and routines.
Most tech companies have built APIs for their customers to interact with their websites. These intermediaries streamline the process of getting information in a readable format to users from a company’s website.
What is an SDK
An SDK can comprise one or two APIs in layman’s terms, but an API does not have to consist of an SDK. A Software Development Kit provides various tools like libraries, documentation, code samples, guides, and processes that enable software developers to create a specific application on a platform. An SDK is like collecting tools that a car manufacturer gathers to develop the intended car model.
SDKs have been used for a very long time. Most of the websites and applications that users interact with were built on the Software Development Kit functionalities, even before the advent of APIs. These software development tools integrate services for hardware tools, video game consoles, operating systems, software frameworks, and other development platforms.
SDKs are like rectangles, which consist of both squares and rectangles geometrically. While APIs are squares that are only comprised of squares geometrically. SDKs can help create applications from scratch for a particular purpose, but they can also incorporate APIs to help them achieve a specific functionality, like communication, as a platform.
API vs SDK
To understand better the difference between these two software, getting an idea of how they work will paint a better picture. So, what is an SDK vs API work instruction?
APIs act as communication intermediaries between two applications. To illustrate this, an example of a coffee shop, a customer and the waitress will paint a clear picture. When a customer walks into a coffee shop, the waiter/waitress comes to receive an order with a hand menu. This waitress communicates with the customer and the chef in the kitchen. In this case, the server is like an API, and the customer and the chef are two different systems or applications.
The API (server) shows the customer (application A) the products available in the kitchen. When the customer places a request, the server (API) prepares it and sends it back via the server to the customer. APIs collect and pass information between two systems and deliver this to human users in a readable format.
An SDK follows a set of instructions and tools to create a software or an application to be used by a company or by developers. An SDK can be used to create an application from scratch with the sets of tools it boasts of. Most of the SDK tools can be downloaded individually by developers. Sometimes, the different application requires a specialized SDK to build them. For example, the iOS applications require a specific iOS SDK software to create them.
Generally, an analogy of a house and its components would describe the difference between API vs. SDK functionalities. A home with all its rooms, utilities like furniture, telephone lines, and other members represents an SDK. These features are brought together to build the house and make it habitable. However, the API can be just a single feature like the telephone made to create a communication channel between the different rooms in the house.
Users of APIs and SDKs.
Developers use SDKs when building general usage apps or specific platforms such as Android or Azure SDK. Generally, engineers will use SDKs to develop any software and application. These are the building blocks to software and application that companies, developers, and non-technical consumers use daily.
APIs are used by developers when there are needs for communication from system to system. Or example, websites can use APIs to communicate with external applications to access data pulled from these external platforms on their website. A good example of API usage is on travel agency sites where these websites use RESTful APIs to draw data from different airlines and make these available on their platform whenever a user enters a search query on flight times or prices.
SDKs save developers a lot of time and simplify their work because they provide a recipe for creating a product. Without SDKs, developers would have to build and reinvent certain operations from scratch, which is very technical and time-consuming. APIs are the communication channel between two different application components, allowing a back and forth transmission of data to promote the application’s functionality.
Examples and Use Case For APIs
Consider how this might play out using a ride-share app as an example. First, you sign up for the ride-share application. Then, you can map your route, find your driver, and pay for the ride all without ever leaving the app.
The ride-sharing app is likely using APIs to make all of this work. For example, an API like Telesign could verify that you own the phone number you provided at sign up. Calculating the time and distance of the ride is probably done with a maps API. An SMS API like Nexmo could notify you that the driver has arrived at the pickup location. When it’s time to pay, your payment is likely processed with an API like Stripe. Finally, when you get a receipt for your ride, this is sent to your email with an API like SendGrid.
All of these APIs act like building blocks, allowing developers to build applications much faster. They also prevent developers from having to “reinvent the wheel,” and spend time creating functionality that already exists.
Comparing API vs SDK
Pros and Cons
APIs are like a set of instructions that developers can play around with. They allow users to be creative when setting up a communication channel between applications. SDKs, on the other hand, are like a pre-mixed set of instructions. Users cannot get creative or tweak these libraries to come up with a completely different product.
Users without preliminary knowledge of coding or creating a specific application can find the API instructions challenging to follow and understand.
SDK inbuilt functionality allows even new developers to create an application because everything has been measured and arranged to fit the perfect model.
SDK integrations allow users and developers to oversee added security function that can prevent fraud and other insecurity issues. For example, end to end integrations of services on platforms such as iOS and android enables more secure connections and navigation. APIs, however, do not make this process as simple and developers can easily miss securing applications.
SDKs provide easier integration into other applications because of their built-in functionality. On the other hand, APIs require a user to understand the product that the API is being integrated into and the software that accompanies this integration. This means that APIs need in-depth knowledge and background research o products before any integration is done.
APIs are lightweight and blend into a website’s framework easily without slowing down the operations. Users can get their apps up and running faster with APIs performing communication functions. Since SDKs are blocks intended to stack together to form a perfect model, it may take a while to up them and run. Luckily, the ready-made blocks reduce the time it takes for developers to set up an application.
APIs are by themselves alone cheaper. However, when you combine SDK’s functionalities while also using API to provide communication, some users would prefer this comprehensive package; building an application and integrating a communication platform in one software.
In conclusion, when users question whether to use or not to use API or SDK, the answer lies with what they want to achieve from their application. Both these software tackles the same issues but only with different approaches. Users must determine if they wish to build an API, use a pre-built API, or combine an SDK with an API to achieve a business’s goals.
Regardless of the technologies used, APIs and SDKs help developers reduce the workload on building an application from scratch. Developers end up using both software as websites mature and demand for better-streamlining.