Deciding when to choose a standalone API (Application Programming Interface) over an SDK (Software Development Kit) is an integral part of the development process.
Both APIs and SDKs have similar aims — making life easier by enabling processes and communications that happen “behind the scenes.” End-users aren’t generally aware of how SDKs and APIs work, but they enjoy the improved usability these tools foster.
What is an API?
An API is an interface that enables communication between two unrelated systems. For example, an API can facilitate communication between a hosted platform and an end-user application.
APIs are the quiet heroes making our lives easier every time we interact with the internet. Thanks to API tools, it only takes a few clicks to do things like order groceries, make appointments, book a vacation, or use social media.
An excellent example of a useful API is the online car rental process through a price comparison travel website. The steps involved might be:
1. The end-user interacts with the website’s form to indicate preferences like pick-up location and the type of car they’d like.
2. The site returns a list of prices aggregated from several car rental agencies by interacting with each agency’s API.
3. The end-user selects a vehicle and completes the reservation process either directly on the travel website or when redirected to the rental agency’s site.
In this scenario, APIs allow the aggregor (the travel site) to retrieve information from databases and applications at each agency, within a few seconds. Importantly, the API can communicate with a wide range of unrelated resources regardless of their proprietary nature.
APIs can be used within the structure of an SDK or independently.
What is an SDK?
An SDK, or Software Development Kit, is a set of tools a DevOps team can use to create platform-specific applications. This kit is often called a “devkit.”
Among other tools, a devkit includes code libraries, utilities (for instance, GUIs), code samples, and documentation.
Developers have used SDKs to create almost every program end-users employ to interact with the world, online and off. SDKs, by utilizing APIs, power a vast range of interactive technology, from web browsers and mobile apps to smart thermostats and video doorbells.
Why use an API?
APIs are a more streamlined tool as they do not require an extensive, integrated library to function, unlike an SDK. In situations where a developer needs to focus on a few specific functions, an API makes more sense. This is especially true when working with atypical platforms.
APIs can help developers create a customized interface that adds end-user value by pulling in useful third-party tools. For example, the Google Maps API can allow a retail mobile app user to access directions for the closest store without leaving the app.
Additionally, some modern APIs can provide game-changing benefits like built-in-data protection, a significant concern for both companies and end-users.
In general, an API gives the developer a more robust tool with greater flexibility to customize the user experience.
API implementation often requires a higher level of expertise vs. an SDK. Not all developers can handle the level of sophistication needed to implement a standalone API solution properly.
This is not true of all API offerings, however. StrongSalt provides support throughout the development process, for example.
Why use an SDK?
Sometimes, an SDK is easier to understand right out of the box. This aspect is especially attractive in a company that cannot invest much on development.
Another positive is that SDKs often have a support team attached so that DevOps teams can reach out for assistance.
In some cases, using an SDK is the only way to develop specific applications. Apple requires developers use its iOS SDK to develop iOS apps, for instance.
The main drawback is less customization and being “locked-in” to specific protocols that may or may not make sense for the brand.
SDKs are “bulkier,” requiring more room for storage, more time spent on organizing a file structure and keeping current with updates. It can also become a chore to sort through all the documentation provided with an SDK to find specific tools.
Blurred lines in modern development
It would be a disservice if we didn’t also acknowledge that while traditionally a SDK is usually downloaded and standalone whereas API services are usually cloud-hosted and need a server in order to provide the service, the architecture of each is also getting blurred.
This is true of SDKs as well. SDKs traditionally are “standalone” in that once you download it and you pay a license, that’s it – except when you need to upgrade. However, today, many SDKs will potentially utilize the API as well, so in other words, the SDK will call the APIs to provide services that the SDK needs.
Perhaps the easiest way to determine whether an API or an SDK is more appropriate is to work backward. Ask yourself what you want users to be able to do that is distinct from what other providers are offering. If the answer involves tasks and functions specific to your brand, the innovative functionality of a modern API may provide the ideal solution.
StrongSalt’s encryption-as-a-service API allows DevOps teams to build data protection into any application without impeding usability and without a need for cybersecurity expertise.
– Decentralized, searchable, and shareable encryption protocol
– Comprehensive protection – the API can be applied to any data type, including passwords and keys
– Integrated data security at every point
Best of all, the StrongSalt’s robust, encryption-enhanced API is easy to implement.
Learn more about the powerful versatility of StrongSalt’s Privacy API.