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Webhooks: When Apps Communicate

Written by Nick Simard on 03.27.19

App settings often have mysterious sounding options in them. And webhooks is probably one of them.


If you’re not familiar with this term, then it’s time you learn about it. Webhooks can make it easier for you to manage the various apps for business or personal use.


Sounds pretty neat, huh? Let’s take a closer look.



What are Webhooks? 

Webhooks are custom callbacks – a type of executable code – sent from one app to another over the web. Also called reverse APIs, they send automated data or messages to designated apps when a specific “something” happens on your app.


The concept of webhooks first came about in 2007, when Jeff Lindsay and other developers were thinking about a better way to retrieve information. The term is an amalgamation of hook, which in programming language is a function triggered by an event, and web, because it works over HTTP.


Webhooks may be in JSON, form-encoded serialization, or XML form, depending on the particular app.


In case you’re wondering why the “over the web” thing seems like a big deal, it’s because it is. Executable files usually run only in a computer, and not in web-based applications. Most browsers don’t allow this for security reasons.


Webhooks are different because users get a random, unique URL to send data to, so it’s hard to intercept. Also, most webhooks require a client “secret” (something like a password or token) when you set them up for your app to verify requests and messages.



How does it work?


Webhooks are simple connections between two applications. When a specified event happens in one application, i.e., a new, registered user on your website, it will send a message to another application (identified by a webhook URL).


That message is called a payload, and it would include some pertinent data about the event, i.e., the name of a new user. The recipient will then send back an acknowledgment of the message to the sender using an HTTP status code.



Why use webhooks?


The best way to describe the benefit of webhooks is convenience. Before there were webhooks, the only way you could know if something new happened in one of your apps is to check it manually.


The term for this is polling, and it took up time and money since you had to keep the app active at all times or launch it to check for changes in it.


With webhooks, this is no longer necessary. Webhooks automatically send messages or data to different apps for events you specify. Most web development platforms such as HubSpot provide assistance in creating webhooks for apps you integrate into your site.


Another reason for using webhooks is customer recall. You’ve probably received similar messages on your mobile device or computer from Facebook or LinkedIn about new posts or messages on your profile.


Social network platforms are very good at using webhooks, which is why people spend so much time on them. The reminders keep them at the top of their audience's mind.



Webhooks You've Probably Seen


An excellent example of this type of communication is push notifications for new mail. You can configure your email account to send push notifications whenever you get a new email, even if your email app isn’t open.


This way, you know in real time (unless you’re offline) when you get new messages without having to check your app.


Another example is setting up your invoice or accounting app to record whenever you get a payment from PayPal. The platform has IPN settings (Instant Payment Notifications) where you can put in the webhook URL of your app, which you can configure to send you a message when it receives a payload from PayPal.



The Takeaway


Webhooks are a great way to make your apps “talk” to each other and keep you updated at all times. This is especially important if you’re running a business.


So it’s a good idea to set them up for your apps ASAP.


Unfortunately, it’s not at all easy for the tech novice to configure webhooks with any degree of confidence. It might be a good idea to have a professional web developer set this up for you.



Are you excited about webhooks yet? Let us know in the comments how you plan to use them for your business!

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Topics: Digital Marketing, Martech, Website Development