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SDK vs. API: Settling the difference for anyone to understand

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SDK and API tend to be confusing terms for non-developers when trying to understand their purpose and concept. Some believe that they need to choose between the two when developing an app, which is wrong. Within this article, you'll get an overview of SDKs and APIs and be able to distinguish when to use one or the other.

SDK and API tend to be confusing terms for non-developers when trying to understand their purpose and concept. Some believe that they need to choose between the two when developing an app, which is wrong. Within this article, you'll get an overview of SDKs and APIs and be able to distinguish when to use one or the other.

A common misconception around SDKs and APIs is that you need to decide which one you're going to use for successful app development. Although they heavily overlap, there is a significant difference between the two, and this is our attempt at explaining it.

What is an SDK?

SDK, short for Software Development Kit, is a collection of tools that enables developers the creation of custom apps that can be added on top of another program. It's important to note that they are platform and operating system specific (iOS SDK, Android SDK...).

By implementing SDKs, you are enhancing an existing app by adding more functionalities. An SDK usually includes documentation, processes, libraries, code samples, and guides that help developers during integration with their own apps. Think of it as a literal toolkit; you are provided with all the components to build a table yourself. Of course, tools and components will vary depending on the manufacturer, but generally, you are equipped with all of the necessary building blocks to assemble your project.

What makes SDKs so great is the time efficiency. There is no need to build functionalities from scratch. Everything is pre-built. You just need to make the new functionalities compatible with the existing system.

In case you're wondering what comes within a good SDK, these are the things to look for:

  • Designed to be developer-friendly and easily integrated into the target app.
  • Contains detailed documentation explaining how to use the SDK.
  • Brings extended functionality, which adds value to the app integrating the SDK.
  • It doesn't introduce performance penalty of any kind of mobile application (CPU, data consumption, battery, etc.).
  • Doesn't complicate the integration of other SDKs within the same app.

What is an API?

API, short for Application Programming Interface, enables the connection between multiple programs. It is an intermediary allowing applications to talk to each other. API, in general, is an interface and can be used for multiple purposes and discussed on different levels of abstraction. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to API as a set of functionalities offered by a particular backend service (REST endpoints and message formats).

To better understand the concept and use case for APIs, let's take a common example – weather forecast. Picture this; you own a traveling company, and you have a booking website. You want your customers to see the weather forecast for their destination and selected time period. What you need is a weather forecast display to showcase such information. The problem? You own a traveling company, not a meteorological service. In order to fetch weather data, you'll need to make some calls to a weather service and display information to your website's end-users.

Each weather forecast functionality (temperature, humidity, UV index, and more) can be apart of your website by integrating a specific API in your weather display. This API will then communicate with a server containing the necessary weather data. It will retrieve the data, and with the help of JavaScript, the information will be available on your web page.

To conclude, APIs provide efficiency and faster time to market when developing apps by eliminating the need for creating functionalities from scratch.

Difference between an SDK and API

Since SDKs and APIs overlap in theory, it can be confusing to tell the difference between the two. If you are struggling to make a decision whether to use an SDK or an API, ask yourself the following:

How much functionality do I really need to add on top of an existing app?

As mentioned, the main motivation is time efficiency, but also the trade-off between the complexity of integrating and the impact of the integration on the app itself. Now let's assume that a certain business offers both SDK and API. Which one will you choose?

If you need a small set of functionalities necessary to enrich your app, you can go ahead and choose a set of appropriate APIs to integrate with your app. The complexity of integration is significantly reduced. But remember, each functionality is produced manually by integrating an individual API, making the time efficiency questionable.

On the other hand, if you need to cover a more complex set of APIs for the same service, choose an SDK. SDKs notably simplify the integration process because a single SDK can contain multiple APIs. Conclusion; SDKs reduce the complexity of integration and ultimately bring more business value.

sdk vs api

3D Secure Mobile SDK

3DS Mobile SDK offers a more secure and frictionless in-app purchasing experience. It enables fast checkout without browser redirection accompanied by data enrichment allowing for more precise Risk-Based assessment of transactions. By integrating 3DS Mobile SDK, you are providing your customers with a smooth online shopping user experience on mobile while heightening online payment security measures at the same time. To find out more, go to our recent blog post: 3D Secure 2 Mobile SDK: In-app purchasing never looked so good.

If you want to find out more, contact our ASEE 3D Secure Team or download the datasheet.

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