What is the Android SDK and How to Start Using it

Android SDK is a software development kit developed by Google for the Android platform. The Android SDK allows you to create Android apps, and you don’t need to be an expert to use it. In this tutorial, I’ll explain what the Android SDK is and how to get started with it. 

Android SDK comes bundled with Android Studio, Google’s official integrated development environment (IDE) for the Android operating system. You can learn about Android Studio and the Android App Development Kit another of my articles.

In this post, we’ll look at:

  • What is the Android SDK?
  • How to install the Android SDK?
  • What is the Android SDK Manager?
  • What are the components of the Android SDK?

What is the Android SDK?

Android SDK

The Android SDK is a collection of software development tools and libraries required to develop Android applications. Every time Google releases a new version of Android or an update, a corresponding SDK is also released which developers must download and install. It is worth noting that you can also download and use the Android SDK independently of Android Studio, but typically you’ll be working through Android Studio for any Android development.

The Android SDK comprises all the tools necessary to code programs from scratch and even test them. These tools provide a smooth flow of the development process from developing and debugging, through to packaging. 

The Android SDK is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux, so you can develop on any of those platforms.

How to Install Android the SDK?

The Android SDK is optimized for Android Studio, and hence to effectively reap its benefits, you will need to install Android Studio. Having the Android SDK managed from within Android Studio is easier since support for languages like Java, Kotlin, and C++ is handled automatically. Not only that, but updates to the Android SDK are handled automatically by Android Studio.

To install the Android SDK from within Android Studio, first start Android Studio.

  • From the Android Studio start page, select Configure > SDK Manager.
Configure SDK
  • If you already have Android Studio open, the SDK Manager icon is found on the top right corner, as shown below.

Install the required Android SDK platform packages and developer tools. A good start is  to install:

  • Android SDK Build-Tools
  • Android Emulator
  • Android SDK Platform-Tools
  • Android SDK Tools
  • Documentation for Android SDK
Install SDK packages

Click Apply, and Android Studio will install the selected tools and packages.

What is the SDK Manager?

The Android SDK is composed of modular packages that you can download, install, and update separately using the Android SDK Manager. The SDK Manager helps to update new SDK releases and updates whenever a new Android platform is released. The SDK manager can be found in the top right corner of the Android Studio screen, as shown below. 

SDK manager

All that is required to follow the instructions provided, and the updates will be immediately downloaded to your environment.

What are the Components of the Android SDK?

The Android SDK consists of an emulator, development tools, sample projects with source code, and the required libraries to build Android applications. Let’s look at the key components one at a time.

Android SDK Tools

Android SDK Tools is a component of the Android SDK. It includes a complete set of development and debugging tools for Android, and is included with Android Studio. The SDK Tools also consist of testing tools and other utilities required to develop an app.

SDK Build Tools

Build tools are required for building components for building the actual binaries for your Android app. Always ensure your build tools component is up to date by downloading the latest version in the Android SDK Manager.

SDK Platform-Tools

Android Platform-Tools are used to support the features for the current Android platform and are necessary for Android app development. These tools interface with the Android platform on the device you use for testing. They include: 

  • Android Debug Bridge (adb): This is a handy command-line tool that lets you communicate with a device. The adb command allows you to perform device actions, such as installing and debugging apps. It also provides access to a Unix shell that you can use to run a variety of commands on a device.
  • fastboot: This lets you flash a device with a new system image.
  • systrace: This tool helps collect and inspect timing information across all processes running on your device at the system level. It’s crucial for debugging app performance.

SDK Platform-Tools are backward compatible, so you need only one version of the SDK Platform-Tools.

SDK Platform

For each version of Android, there’s one SDK Platform available. These are numbered according to the Android version (eg. Android 7 Nougat) and an API version (eg. API Level 24). Before you build an Android app, you must specify an SDK Platform as your build target. Newer SDK Platform versions have more features for developers, but older devices may not be compatible with the newer platform versions.

Google APIs

Goggle provides a number of exclusive Google APIs to make developing your app easier. They also offer a system image for the emulator so you can test your app using the Google APIs.

 Android Emulator

The Android Emulator is a QEMU-based device-emulation tool that simulates Android devices on your computer, allowing developers to test applications on different devices and Android API levels without needing to have physical devices for each. The emulator comes with configurations for various Android phones, tablets, Wear OS, and Android TV devices.

The Android emulator provides almost all of the capabilities of a real Android device. You can perform the following activities:

  • simulate phone calls and text messages 
  • simulate different network speeds
  • specify the location of the device
  • simulate hardware sensors such as rotation 
  • access Google Play Store and much more

Often it is faster and easier to test your app with an emulator instead of using a physical device. 


In this post, we looked at some of the basics of the Android SDK. The Android SDK is the only way to develop for Android devices. Fortunately, it contains extensive documentation, tutorials, samples, best practice guidance, and an array of tools for many different development tasks. 

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