One thing that you learn (the hard way, sometimes) as a developer is that the amount of time and effort you invest in writing an application does not necessarily correlate closely with the amount of functionality you actually build. That’s because there are often tools and resources available that can substantially shorten the time it takes you to achieve a desired programming goal.
One prime example of such tools is a Software Development Kit, or SDK. If SDKs don’t feature prominently in your programmer’s toolset, you may be missing out on important opportunities to get more programming done in less time.
Let’s take a look at what SDKs do and how they can benefit developers.
What Is an SDK?
In a nutshell, an SDK is any type of toolset designed to simplify development for a particular platform, or sometimes even a specific application.
In other words, SDKs provide resources that make it faster and easier to implement functionality that you’d otherwise have to build from scratch.
SDKs can take many forms. It’s common for them to include APIs (in fact, it’s so common that some people use the terms SDK and API interchangeably, though this is somewhat misleading), but SDKs can include more than APIs. They might consist simply of software libraries that make programming faster. They could also include analytics or debugging tools designed to help you build and manage an application within a specific type of environment. They may even include integrations that make it possible to communicate directly with hardware from within an application, without having to build the requisite calls yourself.
If you like analogies, think of an SDK this way: SDKs are like IKEA furniture packages. They come with many preconfigured components, as well as documentation, that make it possible to build something (a piece of furniture, or a software application) quickly. Sure, you could always go cut down a tree, hew the wood and then use it to build a bedframe by hand. But almost no one does that, because there are much easier and faster solutions available.
Why Use an SDK?
The most obvious benefit of SDKs is that they save developers time. Instead of reinventing the wheel by creating functionality that someone else has already built into an SDK, programmers can take advantage of pre-built libraries, APIs and other tools that come packaged within SDKs.
However, faster and easier development is not the only reason to use an SDK. Consider these other advantages:
- The functionality that you get inside an SDK is often thoroughly vetted — in many cases, by the experts who manage the platform for which you’re building your app. Thus, SDK code is more reliable, generally speaking, than code you’d build yourself.
- For similar reasons, an SDK can help you to keep your application more secure and more up-to-date, since the functionality that you implement via an SDK often comes from a trusted central source. (Keep in mind that using an SDK does not give you license to ignore potential security vulnerabilities — ultimately, you still need to own security in any app you build — but an SDK can help to reduce some security risks.)
- SDKs often make it easier to take advantage of optimizations, such as libraries that have been optimized for a specific type of environment or hardware device. In this way, SDKs can lead to better overall app performance.
SDK Example: IPC SDK
To place SDKs into a real-world context, let’s take a quick look at one SDK, the Worldpay Total IPC SDK. The IPC SDK is designed to make it easy to build Windows or iOS mobile apps that use card readers and connect to Worldpay’s Integrated Payments Hub for payments processing.
Depending on which platform you are developing for (Windows or iOS) you would use the IPC SDK somewhat differently. (In that sense, it’s a good example of how SDKs are not a single specific thing; they’re a broad category of developer toolsets, which can be implemented in many ways.) On Windows, the SDK provides a service that in turn manages the card reader on your device. In contrast, on iOS, the SDK is available as a software library.
No matter how you access the IPC SDK or which operating system you’re developing for, however, you get the same core functionality. The SDK manages application access to your users’ devices’ card readers, without you having to worry about drivers or the other technical tedium that you typically have to deal with when you’re building an application that interacts with a specialized hardware device. Plus, the IPC SDK avoids passing data from payment cards through your application, which makes it possible to avoid EMV certification testing.
If you’re a developer, you could live life the hard way and write everything from scratch yourself. But there is rarely a reward for doing things the hard way in the world of programming (at least when you’re building software that people are actually going to use). On the contrary, the developers who achieve the greatest rewards are those who take advantage of tools like SDKs for building applications more quickly, and with fewer performance or security headaches.