What Is an SDK? (With Its Components and Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 14, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When creating software applications, developers often employ SDKs in their development of online platforms. SDKs are useful tools for integrating software with particular platforms or technologies. Understanding what SDKs are and how they work is essential to developing programs or applications for certain platforms. In this article, we explain what an SDK is, explain the components that make a good SDK, outline the benefits, and discuss the difference between an SDK and an API.

What is an SDK?

In answering the question, "What is an SDK?", it's important to understand its function in the context of software development. A software development kit or devkit (SDK) is a collection of software tools and applications that developers use to create programs designed for particular platforms. An SDK bundles all the necessary elements for the relevant platform, such as code samples, libraries, guides, and documents, integrating them for use in developing software or programming languages for these platforms.

For instance, a developer creating an application for a smartphone operating system needs an SDK to integrate their app into a particular OS. Developers require specific SDKs for each different operating system with which they wish to integrate. They can also use SDKs to integrate their product with Bluetooth or wireless products. Collating all the technical information and resources developers require makes seamless integration faster, smoother, and more efficient.

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What makes a good SDK?

The key function of an SDK is to provide value in the form of convenience to organizations wishing to integrate with a platform. For this reason, many of the aspects that make an SDK effective relates to how easy to use or comprehensive it is to external entities. Here are some characteristics of good SDKs that offer integrating entities high value:

  • Comprehensive: Documentation is thorough and comprehensive for users to gain as much necessary information as possible.

  • Positive impact: The integration results in a positive impact on a device's data consumption, battery life, or CPU.

  • Cooperation: The SDK works well together with other devkits.

  • Ease of use: The SDK allows other developers to use it easily.

  • Beneficial functionality: The SDK is functional enough to add value to other apps.

Benefits of an SDK

SDKs come with many benefits for platforms and application developers. Some of these benefits relate to the process of software integration, while others refer to tangential elements like marketing and sales. Here's a list of some of the main benefits of providing SDK downloads for your app:

Faster integration

Faster integration with your app means quicker collaboration between apps and operating systems. It also makes integrating with customers' current tech stack faster and simpler. This ultimately benefits sales rates by providing the tools that customers need from the start of their experience.

Efficient development

Using SDKs helps to complete much of the compatibility work for apps to immediately use and integrate without requiring app developers to devise the code themselves. This way, the developer can focus their attention on building the app rather than spending time coding elements that an SDK provides, such as notifications or crash reporting. For example, imagine you wanted your application's users to be able to share an asset like text or images on a social media platform. By using that platform's SDK, you can speed up the deployment of your app by saving time coding that function.

Better reach

With a robust and effective SDK, more tools can integrate with a company's product. If you offer more opportunities for interoperability, you can increase your chance of achieving higher exposure to other compatible tools. Overall, this benefits a brand and makes the product more widely relevant in the market.

More control over your developed app

Providing SDKs gives you increased control over your user interface inside other integrated apps. This benefit also offers an opportunity to manage the product's integration with that app and how it looks to users on the applications that use your SDK. Providing an SDK can also ensure a positive user experience and protect your most essential functions from tampering.

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How SDKs work

SDKs can vary in their components, elements, policies, and instructions. Considerations like company size, scope and scale of applications, and complexity of products can all affect the makeup of an SDK. Here's a breakdown of the essential components of most SDKs and what they provide in the software integration process:

IDEs

SDKs consist of many functional and directive elements to help developers in their programming and integration. These elements usually include an integrated development environment (IDE) that works as a central programming interface. This can include programming windows in which to write source code. An IDE may also comprise debuggers for correcting errors and include visual editors for the program. This tool helps developers to create and edit the application's graphical user interface (GUI). Compilers are other common IDE components that developers use to create applications from source code files.

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Sample code

Typically, SDKs contain sample code, offering developers libraries and example programs. Samples like these are helpful for illustrating to developers how to use the SDK to build their applications and apply it to more complex purposes. These samples act as guides or templates for developers, rather than requiring them to interpret code without an example. Understanding how code relates to an application, either in part or in full, is helpful for applying those principles to a developer's own coding.

Documentation

Along with the other components, SDKs often offer technical documentation. These documents can include frequently asked questions and tutorials for application and integration. It's even possible for SDKs to include sample graphics, such as icons or buttons, to incorporate into users' programs or applications. Providing users with information, documentation, guides, or other helpful elements increases the developers' ability to integrate software as effectively as possible and create opportunities for the platform and its applications.

Cost

As SDKs can help encourage developers to build applications for their platforms, it's in the company's best interest to offer their SDKs without charge. Typically, developers can download an SDK directly from the company's website and immediately start using it for programming. Incentivizing users with zero or low cost is mutually beneficial, making integration more accessible for developers and, in turn, resulting in higher adoption and integration of the platform or application.

Differences between SDK and API

An API is similar to an SDK. An application protocol interface, or APIs, defines an interface between two unrelated software programs. This interface is a piece of code that allows communication between two separate applications. Here's a basic outline of the two in relation to one another:

API

An API is a very simple coding integration between two pieces of software. APIs usually carry small pieces of information from one app to another and back. APIs are usually quite specific and serve a singular purpose. For example, when you book a trip in a travel app, an API communicates with your integrated calendar to populate it with your trip's details through targeted integration. An API is simply a component of an SDK.

SDK

While APIs may carry out a single communication within the integration function, an SDK contains everything necessary for communication with other software. An SDK not only consists of the necessary coding to create these single functions but also materials for building entire new apps, such as tutorials, technical notes, code libraries, documentation, and debugging facilities. Simply put, an SDK is far more exhaustive and can contain multiple APIs within it.

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Considerations for SDKs

While an SDK is a helpful tool for developers building apps and is useful for integrating with multiple programs, platforms, and operating systems, it's important to mention a few essential considerations. Companies that publish applications may have specific preferences for how users interact with their products, so they may ask their SDK users to comply with specific requirements. For example, SDKs may include agreements or rules for those who use them to agree to before use. This is often the case for products in their alpha or beta stages.

SDKs with algorithms make them confidential and unavailable to the public. Users may be required to sign an agreement not to disclose any information to third parties. In rarer cases, access to an SDK can offer particular users or platforms exclusive privileges. A company may sometimes include a licensing agreement as an element to control the circumstances of the software's release.

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