A Software Development Kit, or SDK for short, provides developers with helpful resources and tools that they can use to create applications on specific platforms and integrate them into services from other providers. This can save developers significant amounts of time and, therefore money. SDKs are generally provided by software or hardware vendors. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) can also be used to add functions to apps or websites. To learn about the other advantages of SDKs, read below.
SDK in a nutshell
Software developers face significant challenges on a daily basis. In addition to creating concepts and prototypes for applications and completing their daily programming tasks, they must eliminate vulnerabilities, check and improve preliminary results and plan additional steps as the software becomes ever more complex. SDKs help developers create and integrate applications for specific platforms. In the same way as a toolbox, they provide the right tools that the developer needs for a particular job.
The tools differ from one provider to another. However, an SDK usually contains the following components:
- Compiler: a program that translates programming language into a form that a specific computer can execute
- Debugger: a tool that finds and diagnoses errors in systems and programs
- APIs: programming interfaces that help link applications to a particular system
In addition to this basic suite of tools, SDKs often include other helpful tools:
- Documentation – similar to operating instructions for the software
- Libraries with subprograms and routines for solutions and problems
- Editors for creating and editing code
- Development environments (Integrated Development Environments or IDEs) for the design and layout of graphical elements
- Drivers for controlling virtual devices
- Network protocols to support communication between computers/processes and data
Software Development Kits are usually provided free of charge. However, most of them are subject to a licence agreement. This means that an SDK can be freely available or tied to a specific vendor (proprietary). Consequently, only some developer kits are suitable for open-source software. Some kits are intended exclusively for applications from a particular vendor. Conversely, if an SDK is GPL-licensed (GNU General Public License), it cannot be used to develop proprietary applications.
The best-known examples of SDKs are Java Development Kit, Google Cloud SDK, Microsoft Windows SDK, Node.js SDK and the .NET SDK platform.
The difference between SDKs and APIs
An SDK contains additional tools and therefore acts as an application or software program element. On the other hand, a programming interface provides the developer with code that can link two different software programs. An API enables the communication between platforms and applications, although the method, sequences, and structure are predefined. An API is usually an integrated component of an SDK. It cannot be used to create new software but acts as an interface for a specific service or platform.
The advantages of SDKs
Using Software Development Kits saves a great deal of time and money. They can be used to develop standard components to which the developer can then add functions. Moreover, using an SDK does not usually require integrating additional features, which also controls the development process.
Other tools, such as graphical user interfaces, drag-and-drop operation and the use of ready-made program elements, can also speed up development. Furthermore, integration can also be performed internally without requiring in-depth programming expertise, which means that no external experts are needed.
Another major advantage is that an SDK includes integrated support – in the form of documentation and code libraries. This allows developers to follow a set of instructions that make it much easier for them to create the application.
With the help of SDKs, developers can also expand existing programs and applications by adding new functions, thereby reducing time-to-market. In addition, developers can improve functionalities without having to rewrite the code from scratch. For example, CIAM solutions (Customer Identity Access Management) can be integrated into portals and applications. This not only saves the company development costs but also allows it to offer its customers a seamless digital customer journey.