Webhook – is it different than API or are they the same?

Posted on: July 23rd, 2022
By: Tadeo Lemus

While going through an application, you might have seen the mention of a certain “webhook” somewhere in the “settings” option. And, you probably have also wondered if you should use or stay away from them.

The answer is – yes. You should utilize them as far as you can. However, before you do that, let’s learn a little about this element first.

What is a webhook?

Like yourself, the aps on your smartphone or on the PC can communicate with each other too. They mostly do it to share information. But, in some cases, it might help with the overall development procedure of the application as well.

Now, coming back to the main topic, communication can be done in two different ways – through polling or a webhook. Here’s how they usually work.

So, polling is like knocking on your neighbor’s door and asking if they have a newspaper (data) or not. However, you’ll need to go to them every time you’re in need of it.

Conversely, webhook is almost like getting a newspaper subscription system. There’s no need to ask for anything. They’ll just toss it in front of your house every morning.

Okay, so that was the rhetorical viewpoint of the webhooks. The technical verdict of the same would be –

A webhook is a type of automated text message sent from an application whenever something happens. It’s faster than polling and doesn’t require manual work at all.

Hence, in most cases, webhooks offer the best possible return than polling. But, how are they different from the APIs? Let’s find out.

Is using a webhook-based infrastructure advantageous?

Of course. A webhook-based model can be nearly-perfect for a developer, and for some good reasons as well. Here’s what you need to know about it.

Benefit – 1: Automating the data transfer procedure.

The payload from one application to another is sent as soon as the particular event happens on the server. Therefore, there’s no need for you to get into the app again to manually start the process. It’s simple, straightforward, and automatic.

Benefit – 2: Easy setup (get, set, and go!).

If an application supports webhook, you can set it up through the user interface of the server quite easily. You can set a parameter or two (whatever you’re interested in) and keep the app’s intention as clear as possible. 

Benefit – 3: Ideal for lightweight payload.

Webhooks are ideal for carrying out lightweight payloads instead of operating on something a little too heavy and congested. Therefore, it’d be best if you use it for sending a notification of a message. This will make your job much easier.

Webhook and API – what’s the difference?

The aim of an API and a webhook is quite similar – to send a small amount of data from one application to another. However, the difference is in how they do it. To make it easier for you, I have shared the differences in the table below. Keep reading, then.

An API, in essence, is a software intermediary, which enables two apps to communicate with each other. However, it might need a manual prompt to start working properly.Also known as reverse API, a webhook aids two apps to talk to each other as well. But, it doesn’t require any manual push. Instead, it’ll send the data as soon as the event happens.
An API is a request-based module. Hence, it’ll only work when a request comes from a third-party application.Conversely, a webhook is event-based. So, it will send the notification whenever such an event occurs on the facet.
It might take quite a bit of time for an API to work properly. Primarily, it’ll depend more on the third-party app rather than the event.A webhook tends to work automatically. Therefore, it can send the data whenever it receives the same. The lightweight the data, the quicker it will go.

When should you use a webhook?

The usage of a webhook and an API is quite situational. Hence, it’s best to know about it as much as possible, so that you don’t make a grave mistake. 

So, the best use cases of a webhook are –

  • Building a customized content-based workflow.
  • Offering a way to sync data or content for integration of Mailchimp or Salesforce.
  • Managing and clearing a custom-made cache in an external place or system.

In addition to it, you can also begin a CI/D pipeline to deploy your website again. I generally use the same for a JAMstack website.

When should you use APIs?

Unlike a webhook, an API will work perfectly when you’re making consistent incremental alterations in data. For example, if you own an eCommerce website, you’ll need to track your data regularly. And, in that case, only an API will work ideally for you.

Apart from that, an API can also be popular for –

  • The applications that don’t support webhook integration.
  • The payload of a webhook cannot contain as much data as you need about a specific event. Hence, in that case, an API will be used.
  • An API can help you focus on the result, rather than the event. So, it’s better when the events are constantly changing.

However, the only issue with API is that you’ll need to check up on the same incessantly. So, it might be better for you to stay away from it.

Difference between a webhook and API

So, to conclude, both webhooks and APIs tend to have more than one use case. And, they can be highly efficient in what they’re supposed to do. 

However, if your goal is to transfer data between two or more services, it’ll be best for you to go for webhooks. They’re fast, agile, and can be automated.

On the other hand, an API can carry a heavy payload and survive frequent data changes. So, be sure to keep an eye on what your end goal is and choose an option accordingly.

Have any questions or comments? Write them below!

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