What is an SDK? A complete guide

So what exactly is a software development kit (SDK)? And what's the difference between an SDK and API? Read on to find out.

What is an SDK? A complete guide

If you've ever been part of a company building or upgrading an app, you'll have come across the term software development kit or SDK for short. If you're a developer, you'll already be familiar with the term. But marketers and product managers can also benefit from a good understanding of how SDKs play a vital role in app development.

Below we'll explore what an SDK is, what to look for before you choose an SDK for your mobile application, and we'll answer the question, "what exactly is the difference between an SDK and API?".

What is a Software Development Kit (SDK)?

A software development kit (SDK or devkit) is a toolbox that contains pre-built components that developers use to add functionalities to applications for specific platforms. SDKs save developers from building every aspect and writing every line of code of an application themselves.

SDKs usually contain some basic ingredients: documentation, code samples, APIs, programming tools a debugger and more. SDKs are designed to allow developers to create applications on specific platforms, such as using an iOS or Android SDK.. With an SDK, you can save time by integrating vital app functions like payment, location, messaging, analytics and advertising quickly and reliably.

A fairly common real-world analogy is a kit for making a model plan. When you sit down to put the model plane together, you'll have all the tools you need to start building; the pieces, the glue and the assembly instructions. Much like the model airplane, an SDK contains all the necessary components required to integrate new capabilities into an application.

Why should you use an SDK?

When you're thinking about using a third-party mobile SDK instead of building your own functionality, it's important to evaluate the pros and cons. There are many benefits that adding an SDK can bring to your application:

  • Quicker development: Developers simply don't have the time to develop every new functionality from scratch. SDKs allow developers to integrate precoded features simply and efficiently and in turn accelerating development and reducing the time to market.
  • Cost-saving: You might see the initial cost of an SDK as being more expensive than building a functionality yourself. But using an existing SDK means you significantly reduce engineering time and the costs needed to maintain and update your code.
  • Customization: Whatever your use case, there is an SDK for you. SDKs can help you tailor your app and create a truly personalized user experience that stands out from the crowd.
  • Improved user experience: Before you go to market and provide a great user experience, you need to make sure your app is robust with no errors or bugs. By using an existing well-built SDK, you can ensure it works well with other applications and already runs smoothly.

What makes a great SDK?

There are thousands of commercial and open-source Android and iOS SDKs on the market right now. So picking the right one for your use case can be a tough decision. Of course, features and price play a big role, but there are some fundamental things to keep an eye out when you're looking for an SDK:

  • Great documentation: An SDK is made for developers, so clear, up-to-date and functional documentation is vital. It should contain code samples and examples for easy integration.
  • Quick to integrate: The ideal time for integration is between 5 - 10 minutes (although this varies depending on the type of SDK!). It shouldn't be overly complex to integrate and should be logical with minimal need for support.
  • Scalable: If you’re planning to grow your business, a good SDK needs to be extensible if it is to scale with your app.
  • Battery efficient and lightweight: SDKs can negatively impact CPU and drain battery. Fortunately, there are many SDKs available that are both lightweight and mitigate the impact on battery life.
  • Secure: You need to make sure that any SDK you use protects your user's data and your app information. The SDK must follow opt-in permissions flows according to current guidelines.  

What's the difference between an API and SDK?

There is often confusion when it comes to what constitutes an API versus an SDK. While there is some overlap, it's important to understand the difference.

An Application Program Interface (API), as the name suggests, is an interface that allows apps, programs or platforms to interact with each other. If you've already built an application but need a new feature, you can use an API to integrate a ready-made functionality that communicates with an external service. A popular example is using a payment processing API in an application instead of building one from scratch.

An API is purpose-built to perform a specific function that facilitates communication between applications and programs, whereas an SDK provides developers with all the tools to build applications for a specific platform.

Here's a summary of some of the key differences:

  • APIs communicate with other products and services to quickly integrate specific functions into your application, whereas SDKs are a set of tools that allows developers to create applications
  • You build with an SDK; you use an API
  • While SDKs contain APIs, APIs never contain SDKs

To conclude

There you have it!  SDKs give developers the resources they need to speed up development time and create a truly great application. Whether you’re a developer or marketer, you can reap the benefits of SDKs - but to really make your application shine, it’s important to choose the right SDK for you.

Roam.ai’s location SDKs

As we’ve figured out Roam.ai provides an extremely accurate and battery efficient location SDK and location APIs for various platforms and programming languages. If you’re interested in improving the quality of location data or you’re looking to create a location-aware app for either iOS or Android, Roam.ai’s SDK is here to help.  


Our developers know first hand how SDKs can benefit other developers, so we’ve built an SDK that you can easily integrate and customize to your specific use case. To find out more or request new features, start for free or contact us today.