Webhooks

Last Updated Jun 29, 2021

You may have seen webhook integrations in some of your applications and maybe wondering what they are and what's the purpose of using them. It’s indeed something worth considering since webhooks are growing in popularity. Google trends also indicate an increased interest in webhooks over the past five years.

What are webhooks?

Webhooks are a way that allows web applications to communicate with each other automatically. They facilitate sending real-time data between applications whenever a specific event occurs. As webhooks deliver data to other apps as it happens, you can get data immediately.

This contrasts with typical APIs where you often have to poll for data to get it in real-time. That's the reason why webhooks are much more beneficial for both providers and end-users. The only downside of webhooks is the difficulty of setting them up initially.

Real-life use cases of webhooks

  • MailChimp utilizes a webhook to signup users to newsletters through websites.
  • Paypal uses a webhook to inform your accounting app when your clients make payments.
  • Shopify provides webhooks to maintain parts of your e-commerce system up-to-date, eliminating the need to update new transaction details manually.

Webhooks Vs. APIs: What's the difference?

There are many ways that apps interface with data, while webhooks are just one of them. Using APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) such as an email validation API or currency converter API is the most popular way; however, there are some significant differences between these two methods.For instance, webhooks are automatic, and you don't have to utilize them manually to get their functionality. Once you set them up, they run on their own. On the other hand, APIs follow a manual approach and you need to request data to make them work. 

How does a webhook work?

Let's consider a typical scenario of a bank where you make a withdrawal using an ATM. The ATM checks your balance and issues you the amount of money you requested. Once this transaction is fulfilled, your balance will be updated. This, in turn, triggers an action which is sending an SMS with the details of the withdrawal.

That's how webhooks work: they use an action to serve as a trigger for another action. Simply stated, Webhooks are mainly user-defined HTTP callbacks that get triggered by specific events. They notice the trigger event whenever it occurs in the source website, collects the data, and then sends it to the specified URL as an HTTP request.

Webhooks even allow you to configure an event in one site and trigger an action in another site using that event. As you may have understood by now, the basic difference between APIs and webhooks is that APIs work on a request-based output mechanism while the latter works on an event-based output mechanism.

What is the importance of webhooks?

There are mainly two methods that enable your apps to communicate with each other to exchange data: polling and webhooks. In our previous example with the bank, polling is similar to going to the bank and inquiring about your balance each time you make a withdrawal.

Nowadays, everyone wants a simpler way to fetch data in real-time so that they can easily do anything they want using it. That means no regular polling is required for large exports from your system, which would risk overloading the system or losing data if there's a bug. Therefore using webhooks is a simpler and convenient solution, as they are automated messages sent from apps when an event occurs.

Want to do more with webhooks?

Check out the following tutorials to see how to work with webhooks on various platforms:

Try Abstract's suite of free API's,
trusted by 100,000+ developers.
Get started