Software Development

A beginner’s guide to the software development kit

Andrew Karasev
Andrew Karasev
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Getweb Inc - Full-Cycle Web Design And Development Services

Software Development Kits (SDKs) are pretty common in mobile application development. They are toolsets used to develop native applications faster and more efficiently. Instead of having to code everything from scratch, developers can use SDKs to craft stunning platform-specific applications.

Here we’ll discuss –

  • What an SDK actually is,
  • What it contains,
  • How it works,
  • Why you need one,
  • What separates an SDK from an API, and
  • How you can find out the best SDK for your app development project

What Is a Software Development Kit (SDK)?

Software Development Kit

Mostly seen in native mobile application development, a Software Development Kit (SDK) is a familiar name among developers. It is basically a set of tools that helps developers create native applications easily. SDK contains all the essential building blocks that you can use to build your own application. Every major platform has its unique SDKs that help developers create seamless applications.

When building a house, you can’t just make the house appear from thin air, right? You need to use building blocks like brick, wood, cement, tile, and many more. You may also use pre-built structures to create new parts of your house.

An SDK works in a similar way. It has a collection of all the necessary tools, documents, and libraries that can help developers to build spotless platform-specific applications.

Some of the most widely used SDKs are:

  1. Google AdMob (Ad Network)
  2. Intercom (CRM and Marketing Automation)
  3. OneSignal (Communication)
  4. Google Firebase (Analytics)
  5. AltBeacon by Radius Networks (Data Intelligence)

What is inside an SDK?

Let’s get to know what are these “building blocks” that come with an SDK. Most SDKs contain building blocks like these:

Documentation

Clear, organized, and comprehensive documentation is essential for a smooth development process. A great SDK will come with documentation that has clear and simple instructions, up-to-date information, examples, and necessary samples that will help developers build your app seamlessly.

Some SDKs also feature step-by-step tutorials, code samples, libraries, references on how the code works, and the best ways to implement them. The more information-rich, simple, and concise the documentation is, the better that SDK will perform.

Debugger

A debugger is used to identify and fix minor issues within the code, making the development process faster and more efficient. Your SDK will contain a standard debugger for your native platform to help establish a smooth development process.

Compiler

Compilers are used to run codes and check their performance. SDK is a toolset where compilers, debuggers, IDE, and API – all are individual tools that can help your code run smoothly.

The primary job of a compiler is to transfer your code into a specific programming language that is easy for the machine to understand. You can compile code snippets from the library or your own code via the compiler and that’s why they are essential in every SDK.

Integrated development environment (IDE)

Integrated Development Environment or IDE refers to a visual editor. This IDE helps developers design stunning visual elements. What makes IDEs different from other editors is that you can do all of your coding tasks in one single place. An IDE will allow you to modify source codes, debug, and build executables from the same environment.

Application programming interface (API)

APIs allow the software to communicate with each other. Every SDK includes one or more API that ensures smooth communication among applications. Softwares use API to provide a better user experience.

The workflow of an API is limited but essential. For example, if you want to book a trip via a third-party application, that application can contact your google calendar app through an API to create reminders.

Many people get confused between an API and SDK. We’ll try to explain the difference later in this article. Now let’s check out how an SDK really works.

How do SDKs work?

The primary goal of an SDK is to simplify the development process and that’s why implementing an SDK into your system is pretty straightforward. You can incorporate an SDK into your development process in just a few steps:

Step 1: Download the specific SDK for your application. Usually, SDKs contain detailed documentation and instructions.

Step 2: The next step is to add that SDK into an IDE

Step 3: Start building awesome applications using the tools and instructions provided

However, SDKs often come with regulations or license agreements that developers need to be aware of. These licenses aren’t compatible with each other, meaning an app developed in one SDK might not work in certain conditions. There are 3 main types of license agreement used in the development sector and they are as follows:

  • General Public License(GPL) – open source software that you can use, share, and modify
  • Lesser General Public License(LGPL) – A free license that allows you to integrate a component into your project
  • Proprietary License – Custom license for closed source SDKs

SDK vs API: What’s the difference?

Api

Here comes the burning question, What’s the difference between an SDK and an API? Let’s find out.

SDKs come with one or multiple APIs, but APIs don’t contain SDKs. In other words, API is a subset of an SDK. This is the biggest difference that sets these tools apart. An SDK will contain necessary APIs to help developers create native applications. APIs on the other hand will help that application to interact with other applications. APIs also help expose necessary data within a set context and across channels.

For example, you can use Android SDK for developing an awesome weather app that shows your current location and weather on a map. However, to show accurate weather forecasts you need a good map, like Google Maps, but you don’t have the source code of Google Maps to integrate into your system. So, what to do?

An API can help you there. Although you can’t create applications through an API, you will be able to incorporate google Maps’ specific API that’ll enable your app to communicate with Google Maps and transfer necessary data so that your app works smoothly and be able to do what you intended.

In a nutshell, here are the key differences between an SDK and an API:

  • SDKs come with integrated APIs, but API doesn’t contain SDKs
  • SDK is used to create an application and APIs increase the functionality of that application within the set parameters of that SDK
  • APIs can help communicate applications among each other, SDKs can’t do that
  • SDK works as a complete toolset whereas API serves as an interface
  • SDKs contain utility classes to call an API, APIs can’t do the same

Why are SDKs important?

Simply put, you won’t be able to create awesome native applications easily without an SDK. Imagine you have to plant, nurture, and harvest crops every time you want to eat something. Building an app from scratch can become a tedious and time-consuming work if there are no SDKs around.

Alongside simple functions, SDKs can also help build applications for the future. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are on the rise and you’ll need specific SDKs to develop related applications.

SDKs eliminate the need to reinvent the wheel every time you have a new idea. They contain all the necessary building blocks that can make the development process faster and more efficient. Without the help of SDKs, you wouldn’t have as many applications available today and the job of the developers would become unimaginably tedious.

What to look for in an ideal SDK?

Documentation

The right SDK will contain easy-to-follow and information-rich documentation. A perfect SDK will come with valuable information and proper guidance that will help developers understand how things work within the environment. It should also include code samples, libraries, and tutorials to make the development process seamless.

Customization

If an SDK doesn’t offer full functionality and control, that SDK isn’t the best choice for you. You may need to build custom applications tailored to your business needs and if you can’t do it with your current SDK, you might need to upgrade the license and/or switch to a new one.

Scalability

When you need to grow or shrink your business operation, an ideal SDK should be able to match up to your scale easily. The SDK should provide you with awesome flexibility when it comes to scaling your business.

Security

Security is a major concern in the digital world. If you use an SDK from a shady source, it might inject an undesirable piece of code or worse, malware into your application.

It could result in system bugs, data breaches, and many other complications you might want to avoid. That’s why your SDK must come from a reliable source.

Integration

The key purpose of an SDK is to make the development process faster and more efficient. If the SDK itself takes a long time and heavy assistance to be integrated into your system, that kind of defeats the purpose. The integration of your SDK should be quick and require minimal assistance.

The installation time depends on the type of SDK you are using. However, the standard integration time is 5-10 minutes. If your SDK takes more than that or complicates the development process, you should probably switch.

Efficiency

The goal of an SDK is to make the development process easy and efficient for the developers. If you end up with more code than you had before to achieve the same goal, it’s not a viable option.

SDKs can also affect the CPU and the battery of the end user’s device. If you want to maintain efficiency and reduce pressure on the user device, you should go for lightweight SDKs that have a low impact on the memory, CPU, and battery consumption of the device.

Ease of use

An Ideal SDK will be easy to use and provide in-depth instructions. It should also integrate well with other third-party SDKs. It should contain one or multiple APIs to communicate with other programs. Powerful SDKs also help developers to access a reliable community database for technical support.

Risks and benefits of SDKs

Risk And Benefits

Risks

Security risks

Data is the most valuable asset for any business and data security is still a significant issue. If the SDK you are using isn’t secured properly, API misuses can cause data breaches to your company as well as harm to the end users. That’s why you need to take a few extra steps to ensure maximum security throughout the development process.

Updates and permission

If your business works with multiple SDKs or different versions, it may become difficult to synchronize between the SDK and the API, resulting in security vulnerabilities and various end-user problems. To minimize issues, your DevOps team needs to keep an eye on the version updates and permission issues.

Benefits

Fast and efficient development

The primary responsibility of an SDK is to streamline the development process. If you need to code from scratch every time you want to develop an application, that becomes tedious and loses practicality. With the help of an SDK, you can cut development time and effort significantly.

Improved user experience

A well-built SDK can also help you improve user experience by enabling the app to work seamlessly with other apps and minimizing bugs or any other usability/functionality issues. A dynamic and robust SDK can make your software stable and flawless.

Cost reduction

Alongside cutting down engineering time and effort, a powerful SDK can also help you save on the development cost in the future. It can also help the system to become low-maintenance and help you update your code easily. However, an SDK is initially more expensive than developing a feature.

Tips on implementing SDKs

Here’s how you can make the most out of your SDK:

  • Keep the documentation simple and instructive
  • Don’t complicate things with technical jargon
  • Maintain a consistent coding style
  • Regularly remove deprecated codes
  • Check security vulnerabilities and update dependencies
  • Make the SDK easily accessible for everyone
  • Keep the codebase simple, clear, and intuitive
  • Leave no scope for guesswork from any side

Andrew Karasev
VIP Contributor
Andrew Karasev
Full Stack PHP Developer

Andrew simply loves working with cutting-edge software engineering technologies. For the last 8 years, he spent most of his waking hours handling the frontend and backend development needs of numerous clients.

Andrew excels in PHP, HTML5, CSS3, MongoDB, Vuejs, MYSQL, Angular 2x+, jQuery, JavaScript, and React JS. He likes to keep himself updated with the whole development process from server infrastructure and database structure to mobile responsiveness and analytics.


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