Webhooks Are Not the Same as APIs by@pragativerma

Webhooks Are Not the Same as APIs

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Webhooks provide a way for a web application to notify another application about the events occurring in the former application. For example, when a user signs up for a new account on any service, the web application may send a notification to an external application to handle user registration. A webhook is a lightweight version of APIs or a reverse API as it is an event-based one-way form of communication between two web applications. API is a set of rules that govern how two applications communicate with each other, which is typically used when two applications need to share resources.
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Pragati Verma

Software Development Editor @HackerNoon | ex - SDE @BrightMoney | Full Stack Web Developer

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In the current fast-moving tech world, every business is in a race to deliver faster services to its users. And what helps them achieve this goal is the duo of APIs and webhooks. They are responsible for handling the communication between two applications. But they are often confused with one another.


In this article, we will discuss what makes them different from one another and what is the best case where they should be used.


Introduction to webhooks

Simply put, webhooks provide a way for a web application to notify another application about the events occurring in the former application. For example, when a user signs up for a new account on any service, the web application may send a notification to an external application to handle user registration, for instance, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.


Webhooks also allow sending real-time notification updates on events that occur within an application such that they can be used to track user activity within the web application and send data to other applications or services.


Webhooks are a lot similar to APIs, but the emphasis of webhooks is to POST notifications. Hence, it can be called a lightweight version of APIs or a reverse API as it is an event-based one-way form of communication between two web applications.


Webhooks are basically user-defined HTTP callbacks that are used to notify other services about any activity in your web application. For instance, they can be used to send an email notification whenever there is a new post from anyone.


Here is an example of webhook configuration:


{
    "recievedBody": "recievedBody",
    "_query": {},
    "_headers": {
      "content-type": "application/json",
      "accept": "*/*",
      "accept-encoding": "gzip, deflate"
    },
    "_method": "POST",
    "_url": "/hook/5d691738cb5a286adc1e68e2"
  }


How webhooks work

A webhook is a simple yet immensely powerful tool that enables you to create custom integrations between applications. It helps in notifying an application that a specific event has occurred in another application, allowing for seamless communication between the two applications.


Creating webhooks is as simple as it sounds, you simply have to provide a webhook URL to the application that you want to notify, and the application will make a request to the specified webhook URL everything a particular event occurs. Thereafter, you can use the webhook to trigger any action that you desire, for instance, send an email or update the database.



Webhook Architecture

Webhook Architecture


Having learned about webhooks, let’s see what are APIs, and then we can compare the two and understand what makes them different from each other.


What are APIs

API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is a set of rules that allow the software to communicate with another software. For example, APIs allow the software to communicate with the operating system on a computer and share resources.


The most common use case that we see in web applications is that APIs allow the frontend to communicate with the backend, allowing two-way communication that happens on a request and response basis. When a user requests any resource on the frontend, a request is sent to the server, and after internal processing, the server sends an appropriate response back to the user.


Now that we understand what are APIs, let’s jump to the actual question - how are webhooks different from APIs?


What is the difference between webhooks and APIs

An API is a set of rules that govern how two applications communicate with each other, which is typically used when two applications need to share a resource. It can be used to access data from other applications or to send data to other applications.


Meanwhile, a webhook is a way for an application that allows to automatically provide real-time data to the other applications, unlike an API that needs concurrent requests to see real-time data. This makes webhooks ideal for applications where data is needed in real-time, for example, applications that allow collaborative editing.


Then obviously, as discussed earlier, webhooks allow for one-way communication, whereas APIs allow two-way communication between applications.


When to use webhooks

Some common examples of scenarios where webhooks are handy would be updating a CRM system with an “unsubscribed” status for a particular mailing list, notifying a CI server to start with the build whenever a developer pushes new commits in a specific repository or sending automated emails in case there is an update on your application.


However, webhooks can be dangerous in case there might be failures in the application sending updates because there are chances of data loss - you might never know about the changes if the application fails or goes offline.


Moreover, there is minimal control over data as you will have to accept as much data as you get. Although there are ways to tackle this situation, they are fairly complicated and require extra effort than making changes to an API.


When to use APIs

APIs are a great fit for application integration when you know that your application will have a constant change in data and require control on the data. For example, if you want more data at once, you can increase the paging size. Also, you can specify a rate limit on your APIs to avoid performance bottlenecks and overburdening the server with requests beyond its capability.


Conclusion

When it comes to data change, webhooks are nowhere near as adaptable as APIs, which is why they alone have major restrictions on the extent of interaction between applications and systems. However, this does not diminish their worth. And hence, the duo of webhooks and APIs can be the best team for your application to sync data between apps, platforms, and databases.


In a nutshell, a webhook is an excellent, and often even necessary complement to API-based application integration.

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