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What is webhook? Learn what it is used for

by MagDIGIT
What is webhook and how it works

Do you know what a webhook is and what it is for? Webhooks are an amazing tool that saves you a lot of work. They are very popular today. And their popularity means that they can be integrated into most of the web applications out there.

Webhooks have a large number of uses and open many possibilities. One of them can be to connect your email marketing software with other applications. For example, it can be used to connect your payment gateway so that the user receives an email every time a payment bounces.

You can also use them to sync customer data with other applications. For example, if a user changes their email address, the webhook allows you to make sure that this change is also reflected in the CRM.

It is very possible that you have used them and do not even know what a webhook is. Here you can clarify all your doubts and learn how to take advantage of these powerful automation tools.

Table of contents

    1. What is a webhook?
    2. Differences between an API and a webhook
    3. API and webhook are not mutually exclusive
    4. How a webhook works?
    5. Why you should not ignore webhooks?
    6. Best practices for working with webhooks
      1. Consult the webhook documentation
      2. Verify that the events are sent
      3. Try to configure them in Local
      4. Host the created logic

What is a webhook?

A webhook is, to put it simply, an automatic communication system between apps. What they do is provide a simple solution for the exchange of data between web applications, or even between our website and those applications.

Differences between an API and a webhook

Very often webhooks are confused with APIs or are mentioned together. Although they are two different things that can help you achieve some similar result. Webhooks are tools for different applications to communicate with each other. For their part, APIs use an application programming interface. They are often confused because the same service offered by a webhook can also be offered by an API.

In fact, APIs are often more flexible and standalone solutions. However, sometimes its use is not feasible. Above all, in very small projects or due to the lack of technical knowledge to handle them, which can make the process very complex.

In these cases, using a webhook is more affordable. Webhooks are easier to use than APIs. But what is the main difference between API and webhook?

Well, it’s about how they receive the data. With an API, the data is obtained through a process known as “polling. ” Polling occurs when your application periodically makes a request to an API server to check for new data.

On the other hand, the webhook allows the provider to send data to their application in real-time. This is why webhooks are sometimes called “reverse APIs”.

API and webhook are not mutually exclusive

Knowing what a webhook is and what an API will help you choose the system that best fits your project. However, they are different does not mean that they are exclusive. They can be used together and, in fact, it is very common to see them working together.

For example, they usually work together when you have a web application that, as soon as an event occurs, sends data to another application that has an API. These can be email managers, social networks etc.

In these cases, information is sent from the application to a control URL, which is what works as a webhook. In it, the data will be collected and the API call will be made to transmit the information.

How a webhook works?

image credit: Google

 

Now that it’s clear what a webhook is and how it differs from an API, it’s time to get a deeper understanding of how they work. Webhooks are dispatches of HTTP requests previously defined by the user that are triggered by specific events.

They are like small pieces of code that are linked to a web application and that, when given certain actions, are sent to a URL that the user has specified in the form of an HTTP request. You can even configure an event on one site to trigger an action on another.

For webhooks to work, it is necessary to register a URL to notify you every time an event occurs. The created route should contain the logic that will be executed once the event occurs.

In this way, a system does not have to know the nature of what is to be executed. You just have to keep track of the routes to report. And this results in a powerful automation tool. The application that receives the information from the specified URL not only knows what happened but how it should react to the event.

Something to note here is that the logic must be accessible via an HTTP POST request. A POST request is a method that allows the transfer of information in the body of the request via HTTP.

It is directly in the body where you will find the information that specifies what event has occurred. In addition, it will also include information about which user activated it, at what time and more specific data of the event, as well as the text format (JSON, XML). Therefore, it is advisable to always read the document.

Why you should not ignore webhooks?

It is not only important to know what a webhook is and how it works. It is also interesting to know why you should implement them in your marketing automation strategies.

And is that webhooks are ideal tools to know what transactions occur within an application. For example, they are useful for:

  • Know the events that have occurred.
  • Automatically sync all data with all web applications you use.
  • Update certain functionalities of the applications depending on the need.
  • Connect and communicate different applications so that an event in one triggers an action in another.

To understand what a webhook is is to understand that they have a relevant role in the notification automation systems of any web project. Automation is a huge time saver. In addition, you can keep your CRM updated in real-time so that you do not miss any opportunity.

Best practices for working with webhooks

Now you know what a webhook is and why they are so useful. But what would it be like to launch them in real life? Doing so is relatively simple. The main reason is that webhooks are freed from the complexity that APIs usually handle.

Also, there are a host of tools that can help you save a lot of time during the process. There are a number of steps and good practices before diving headfirst into the pool.

1.- Consult the webhook documentation

It is best to always read the webhook documentation before getting to work. It may seem like a trifle, but if you end up getting fluent in this you may think that you never need to do this step. However, this can cost you a lot of time in the long run.

2.- Verify that the events are sent

Next, it’s best to verify that the events are actually being sent. There are many tools that can be very useful to do so. They are able to collect any requests sent to that route for inspection. It is a very simple way to confirm the correct operation of a route and make sure that you will receive the data of the events without a problem.

In addition, you can also take the opportunity to verify if the data contained in the body of the requests corresponds to the correct objects as shown in the documents.

3.- First try to configure them in Local

It’s usually a good idea to start locally first. In this way, you can use all the technology and do all kinds of tests in a controlled environment. Here you have to bear in mind that the logic they are using in your webhook will be hosted on your computer only.

Therefore, you will not be able to do tests communicating applications that are on the Internet. To solve this problem you have tools like ngrok, which is used to make your localhost public.

If you don’t want to open your localhost yet, you can always try rejecting the requests. There are tools like Postman or Insomnia that allow you to spoof HTTP requests manually.

4.- Host the created logic

When you have everything ready, it’s time to test with real-time data. As mentioned in the previous point, with ngrok you can open your localhost to the outside world. If the tests go well and everything works correctly it is time to host your logic. There are two ways to do it:

  1. Host it on a full server.
  2. Host it using serverless functions.

The biggest benefit of webhooks is, simply put, instant and real-time notifications. Which translates to additional efficiency, the power to scale applications, and easy access to external functionality.

With webhooks, it is not necessary to poll the data like in an API. While the event is occurring, the data is being transmitted to other applications. Thanks to webhooks you can have greater control over what happens with your emails. In addition, it allows you to have your CRM always updated.

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