Updated on by Hayley Brown
APIs and Webhooks are two essential elements for connecting and automating numerous SaaS services. Both are essential in achieving coherent and consistent communication between systems it is therefore important to understand their differences.
Why is it important to understand their differences? Well, depending on your use case or integration workflow you might prefer to use one instead of the other, or both.
What are APIs and Webhooks?
An API (application programming interface) is a software intermediary that allows applications to understand and communicate with each other. The API is a messenger that delivers a request to a provider which retrieves data and delivers a response back.
There are a number of structural styles of APIs, such as:
Luckily, embedded iPaaS platforms tend to pre-build API Connectors for their users. This means the API will contain the necessary requirements for integration building. These requirements include HTTP methods, data formats, authentication, multi-tenancy and rate limiting.
With an API it allows users to access and interact with external SaaS applications and integrate with third-party services. As a result, data is sent and received without building the entire process and code from scratch.
In comparison, a Webhook is a subset of an API and a type of event-driven API. Rather than sending data as a response to a request a trigger enables real-time data sharing from one application to another. This trigger or event could be a form submission or initiated conversation with a support chat.
The data submitted in either the form or chat window (data packet) is processed which means it is transformed, added and tracked in a CRM or marketing tool.
Key Differences between APIs and Webhooks
A key difference is the communication style of APIs and Webhooks. APIs are manual and they need to be asked to pull or modify data from a SaaS application. For instance, ‘retrieve customer ID’ from a CRM. Webhooks on the other hand, automatically send data in response to a specific event. One example could be a form submission this happens without any request from another application.
In other words, an API requires you to make a request for data, while a Webhook notifies you when a certain event occurs.
The way the data flows is also a key difference between the two. For instance, APIs require polling which means a client must request data from a server periodically to check for updates. This has the downside of being resource intensive which can lead to network traffic and latency. In contrast, Webhooks push data directly to the receiving system after a specific event. This, therefore, reduces the need for polling and results in improved efficiency.
Finally, flexibility is a key differentiator between APIs and Webhooks. As Webhooks are a subset of APIs they do present limitations. For instance, they are tied to predefined events. Unlike APIs where users can choose endpoints and methods to call.
APIs vs. Webhooks – When to use what
- Link a CRM to a marketing tool to automatically send communications when a new prospect has been added
- Notify customers when their order is out for delivery
- Connect to online payment gateways for digital payments
- Update customer information in your CRM
- Send automated reminders to customers
- Notifying users of a specific update in response to changes e.g. the stock market
Harnessing API and Webhook power with Cyclr
APIs and Webhooks are powerful and even more so when they are further harnessed with tools such as Cyclr.
Cyclr, an embedded iPaaS for SaaS applications pre-builds all its API connectors. There are over 400 in its library and growing. All have individual endpoints for their applications and there is minimal configuration when using in an integration build. This means they can fetch your required data, process it and return it to a different application quickly and efficiently.
The beauty of Cyclr is you can also request API Connectors and the team will get it built in their next sprint. Not only helping you but expanding their Connector library benefiting others.
As well as a library full of API Connectors, Cyclr has Webhook functionality that can trigger automation workflows after a specific event has taken place.
Cyclr can therefore be used to process the incoming data packet from the Webhook, pass and transform it into any application in the Connector library. Alternatively, it can trigger deeper integrations which can gather and place data from multiple sources. Cyclr has made it even simpler as they have automatically set Webhook URLs. So, there is minimal set-up required and they can be easily added into a workflow.
An advanced Webhook feature in the Cyclr application is Synchronous Webhooks. These are triggered by a webhook step in a running flow that is waiting for an external command/event (packet of data). Once this command has been executed the flow will act upon it, this could be as a result of the packet of data or simply start when told to. The webhook is the instruction for the flow to start.
The synchronous webhook step will send back the data to whoever sent the original request. For instance, the response could be to send an ID for the account, or the name and email address of an account.
Who is the winner, APIs or Webhooks?
Both APIs and Webhooks are widely used and are somewhat similar which can be confusing. But Webhooks enable lightweight data sharing between applications and do have limitations. Whereas an API requires a user’s input to request or modify data.
It is therefore important to understand your need or use case to determine which is best for your integration. For instance, ask yourself if you are sending notifications and updating information when certain criteria are met, don’t use an API, instead implement a Webhook.
On the other hand, if you are dealing with changing data, and needing to modify it then implementing an API would be more appropriate. Ultimately, you need to ask an important question, is the data you want to access constantly being updated?
If it is an API makes more sense, if not use a Webhook. Both are necessary for the apps we use to function it is therefore not who is better it is choosing which is more appropriate for your instance.