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API and SDK, 101 (Or, the plumbing that makes customers give you more money)


A beginner's guide to achieving ... well, whatever you want to

If you dip a toe into the world of software development, you will quickly come across the acronyms API and SDK. "Hmm," you may ask yourself. "What's API stand for? And," you may continue, "what is the meaning of SDK?"

Glad you asked. We're here to shed light on the issue.

API stands for application programming interface. SDK, on the other hand, stands for software development kit.

There. Aren't you glad that's cleared up? OK, fine.

Back in 2009, Stack Overflow user Sliceoftime asked what the difference was between the two concepts.

User Jason S replied;

an API is an interface. It's like the specification of the telephone system or the electrical wiring in your house. Anything can use it as long as it knows how to interface. You can even buy off-the-shelf software to use a particular API, just as you can buy off the shelf telephone equipment or devices that plug into the AC wiring in your house.

an SDK is implementation tooling. It's like a kit that allows you to build something custom to hook up to the telephone system or electrical wiring.

So: an API is like a diagram of a completed system that's ready to be used for a specific purpose. The "I" is the important letter: the API bridges the gap between the end user and the back-end stuff. According to the website, APIs "govern how one application can talk to another, and are largely how data gets shared across the web." If you want to use an API, you plug in a "device" — whether that's an off-the-shelf solution or a program you've written — to accomplish … well, whatever you want to.

Or, as the website puts it: "An API is a set of methods and tools that can be used for building software applications." goes on to present a list of 50 useful APIs for developers. Prominent among them are the Google APIs, which "in one way or another … support most modern sites online." One highly popular Google API is the Maps API, with which programmers can take Google Maps data and use it in their own pages and apps. Google's own Maps API tutorial explains to people with some JavaScript knowledge how to begin developing applications.

SDKs work similarly, in the sense that you can use existing code to make new applications. However, rather than acting as an interface to a back-end system as an API does, an SDK acts as a set of building blocks. An SDK would include an API, but also a wide array of other tools. According to VentureBeat:

Instead of having to manually code something that simply replicates functionality you'd find on Twitter, LinkedIn, Nest devices, Apple products, and anything else technological, you can use software development kits (SDKs).

Clique offers APIs and SDKs providing a full series of voice functions to users. With them, you can build applications that work across platforms, devices, and locations, to provide secure and efficient communications by integrating voice, messaging, and related technologies.

Together, they enable developers to get the job done efficiently, without duplicating effort. They also give you the wherewithal to accomplish … well, whatever you want to.

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