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API vs SDK: What’s in a Name?

8 min read

Technology sure loves its acronyms and initialisms, doesn’t it? Pick a tech-heavy industry and you’re sure to be inundated with acronyms IRL ASAP! But YOLO, right? And you don’t want to risk FOMO, LOL.

But using acronyms and initialisms takes for granted that everyone knows what they mean, which usually isn’t the case. For instance, if you aren’t a developer or have no experience building software or websites, you might confuse API or SDK for something that’s NIMBY.

APIs (“application programming interfaces”) and SDKs (“software development kits”) are different tools people use to build computer software and make it communicate. And while they both may be used to achieve the same task — making an application work — they go about it in different ways.

How? Let’s have a quick chat about what APIs and SDKs are, and then we can talk about what they mean for ecommerce — both now and in the future.

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What’s an API?

In another Partner Hub blog post, we discussed the concepts of headless commerce and APIs, as well as how APIs help enable headless software to function. So let’s review.

In very simple terms, an API is a connection joint: between devices, software, hardware, etc. APIs facilitate communication between two or more things (say, your computer and some internet-based software) and establish ground rules for how and what information should be exchanged between them.

They also enable developers and other third parties to utilize a company’s copyrighted software in such a way that their own applications and users can use the software, albeit indirectly. This opens up the original copyrighted software for enhancements and modifications, which can allow the developers to offer that software in a more customized way.

Most APIs now help software and computers communicate and exchange data with each other through the internet, particularly with companies that offer software as a service (SaaS), such as Microsoft and Salesforce. If you’ve ever used any of Google’s suite of products, such as Gmail or Google Calendar, you’ve (maybe unknowingly) seen what an API can do.

What’s an SDK?

In contrast to APIs, an SDK is what developers use to create and fine-tune software for a specific software platform. Like plumbers and electricians need their toolbox for the task at hand, the SDK is the developer’s toolbox for building software.

SDKs are typically limited to a certain platform: if you’re going to make software or apps for Apple’s iOS platform, for instance, you’d need access to the iOS SDK. There are SDKs for software platforms, mobile apps, and more, and having an SDK helps developers standardize how they build applications for a specific platform.

SDKs are usually made up of a handful of resources, including code samples and libraries, analytics and testing tools, and any pertinent documentation or guides. In fact, SDKs typically include an API — otherwise, the software won’t work together with other applications the developer may use.

Why are APIs and SDKs important for ecommerce?

In very basic terms, APIs and SDKs make software and platform functionality possible. APIs let different systems and technologies talk to each other. SDKs let developers build software and enhance platforms. In a sense, SDKs build off of the groundwork laid by APIs.

Let’s go back to that iOS example. On its own and especially when it was first release, Apple’s iPhone and the iOS that ran on it were groundbreaking and revolutionary. It presented mobile phone technology with a focus on design and seemed to bridge the gap between cell phones and personal computers in a way we hadn’t really seen before.

None of that would have been possible without APIs. iPhones and iOS software wouldn’t be able to communicate with any servers or each other, as all data — music, pictures, notes, etc. — would have to be stored on the phone. iCloud wouldn’t work and Apple ID wouldn’t exist. Pictures couldn’t be sent through iMessage. In short, each iPhone would be an island.

But let’s say Apple did use APIs to make those core functions possible. Imagine if that’s where Apple had left iOS: just with its core pre-loaded apps and few-and-far-between updates, mostly addressing security issues. Without SDKs, that’s probably where the iPhone and iOS would still be (along with Android phones and operating systems).

Instead, developers using SDKs have been able to create millions of new software applications, functionalities, and ways of approaching technology that has completely transformed how we’ve used computers.

The world of ecommerce is no different.

Core ecommerce platforms have helped change the way we shop, buy, and sell things in a permanent way. APIs and SDKs have made ecommerce possible in the first place. And they’ve helped (and will continue to help) those platforms evolve to be more seller- and shopper-friendly, improving the interfaces we use to shop, enabling us to shop through our favorite social media sites, and building in integrations with popular shipping and logistics companies, for example.

Hopefully, this bit of background about some buzzworthy tech terms has piqued your interest in how developers are making technology and platforms like Ecwid better and better. Bookmark the Ecwid website and Partner Hub blog for more information about Ecwid’s SDK coming soon!

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About the author

Colin Thompson is a content writer at Ecwid. He writes about marketing, business development, and promotion for our Ecwid Partners. He loves cats, Chicago sports, deep dish pizza and going on hikes.

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