Explainer: SDKs vs Libraries

The term software development kit, commonly referred to as SDK, is one of the most used (and misused) terms in app development. It is often confused with a library


What It Is: An SDK, is a set of reusable development tools and libraries specifically used to create an application for a platform. These tools often include an integrated development environment (IDE) that contains all the documentation, example code, and debugging/compiling resources needed to build an app. IDE is where developers write the code with the provided tools and the SDK makes it so they have to code every action completely from scratch. Wrapped along with the tools are licenses that limit what the use of SDKs. Libraries, on the other hand, allow simple execution of predefined actions built to easily be added into an app.


Why It Matters:  Libraries are often incorrectly called SDKs. The difference: a developer can’t build an app off a library. Every company that offers add-ons for your app that require a developer to install calls their product an SDK. Products such as analytics, ad platforms, networks, and notification services are additional libraries that a developer can easily install into an app for added performance or function. The confusion of terminology can add an unnecessary level of complexity, particularly when technical and non-technical people plot out an app strategy.


Who Is Doing It: There’s no shortage of players who trot out SDK to earn cool-kid points, even when what they really offer is a simply library. Every single analytic platform (Flurry, Motally, Distimo), ad network (Jumptap, Millenial Media, iAds), and ad platform (Medialets, MOcean) all label their libraries as SDKs. SDK has become little more than a buzzword.


Assessment: The confusion doesn’t seem to be an issue in this space as those using the tools are well aware of what each one can and can’t do. Mobile apps are typically built with an SDK for each specific platform while new features and functions by installing additional libraries. The terminology mix-up, at this point, is probably not holding the market back, although it will do little to to combat perceptions in the tech world that the media and marketing industries don’t really understand technology.

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