SDKs (software development kits) are commonly known as a toolkit, devkit or just a kit. SDKs are made up of inbuilt functions, methods, documentation and components to help novice and veteran engineers alike throughout the software development process.
We can think of the SDK as a tool box that takes care of all the things developers need when they run a program including external plugins, development packages, testing dependencies, debuggers, compilers and more.
SDK vs. API
An API (application programming interface) is a collection of tools and rules that are used to communicate between abstracted platforms. SDKs, on the other hand, are used to build native applications from scratch. Internally SDKs use APIs to communicate with different services for development purposes.
How Does an SDK Work?
SDKs come in the form of an installable package from a number of well-known companies. The developer should always refer to the company’s official documentation on its website. (There are some unofficial developers’ SDKs available as well but it’s best to avoid them since they could contain harmful code.)
Here’s an example: For the Java language, the most well known and official SDK is Java Development Kit (JDK). If you are using Windows, developers usually prefer
.zip format files for both 64-bit and 32-bit computer processing units (CPUs). For macOS, developers use
.gz files. Hence, the nature of the package you’ll install changes depending on the developer’s preferred hardware and operating system (OS) combination.
After installing the SDK, a developer will need to add the package into the PATH variable in order to use it. Today, it’s fairly common that we take an integrated development environment (IDE) (such as VSCode or IntelliJ) and integrate it with SDK. This allows us get the proper interface for writing code while debugging and using more advanced compiler options.
Benefits of an SDK
SDKs contain all the building blocks you need in order to build your application for a specific platform. Many SDKs include:
- Application programming interface (API)
- Network protocols
- Testing and analysis tools
- Integrated development environment (IDE)
- Example test project
Why Use SDKs?
It’s not really a matter of “want.” Software developers need SDKs to develop desktop, mobile and web applications, regardless of what programming language they use, the platform on which they’re building or the software framework with which they’re familiar. Without the SDK, you cannot develop advanced applications since the plugins and dependencies needed for such advanced applications are provided by the SDKs themselves.
In an ideal world, developers wouldn’t need SDKs. It would be great if we didn’t have to install packages from the internet and add them to the PATH variable (PATH is the system variable of your OS and essentially locates needed executable files for the program to run).
That said, with SDKs developers get a highly optimized compiler, debugger and garbage collector as well as testing and development frameworks that communicate with OS and hardware. SDKs also support advanced user-interface based testing and development functionalities such as an Android emulator or monetization plugins.