Sharing information is an important part of personal and business relationships. Tools like smartphones and texting software let us quickly and easily communicate with one another. But it’s not just person-to-person communication that relies on technology.
Software applications use go-between tools called webhooks and APIs that enable apps like Uber, Google Maps and others to push and pull information—basically talking to each other.
What is a webhook?
Webhooks are small code snippets linked to a web application that are triggered by specific events. They’re one of the ways that web apps communicate with one another. They allow businesses to send real-time data from one app to another whenever a given event takes place.
For example, a webhook is used when someone signs up on a website. When the sign-up form is filled out, a webhook signals to the server to send a welcome message. The first event (signing up) signaled the webhook to trigger the second event (sending a message).
Webhooks are automated calls for information but they’re less resource-intensive than APIs because they save time by not constantly checking for new data. When a trigger event occurs on a web server, the webhook sees the event, collects the data, and sends it to a URL specified by the business in the form of an HTTP request. This HTTP request leads to the final action, such as triggering a welcome message.
What is an API?
API stands for Application Programming Interface. An API is a way for applications and web-based platforms to connect with other applications and platforms using a common communication method. Most large apps have multiple APIs to expand their services.
APIs tend to be the framework that a lot of existing software tools rely upon. For an API to work there’s a request for data, followed by a response to that request. The goal of the API is to provide the most recent version of the data available when the request comes in.
For example, if someone wants to know the weather forecast, they can check the weather app on their smartphone. The app uses an API that tells its server to get data from another server that supplies current and projected weather patterns in their area. The app then relays the real-time data to the weather app on the smartphone.
Webhooks vs API: what’s the difference?
Webhooks are event-based, meaning they will run when a specific event happens in the source app. As the earlier example explained, when a visitor signs up on a website they receive a welcome message in the form of an email or text, depending on the business sending it.
APIs are request-based, meaning they operate when requests come from third-party apps. APIs need to pull data from a server periodically to stay up to date, but with webhooks the server can push this data to the user the instant something happens.
Webhooks and APIs both synchronize and relay data between two different applications. However, each has a unique way of doing it. A webhook sends data on its own when certain criteria are met or a specific scenario takes place (filling out an online form). An API performs a task when you ask it to retrieve specific data such as the most recent weather forecast.
Here’s another way to look at the differences: an API is like a shoe shopper repeatedly calling an athletic store to ask if they have a certain style of Nike running shoes in stock. Whereas a webhook is like a shoe shopper asking the retailer only to call them whenever they have the running shoes in stock, which frees up time on both sides.
When to use a webhook or API
APIs are best suited when up-to-the-minute information is needed. If an investor checks an app on their smartphone that creates stock trend reports they expect the most accurate market information available. The app uses an API to get the most recent data from the source material, in this case, the data shared by the NYSE and Nasdaq.
Because the data provides investors with trading information, it needs to be as up to date as possible. The API allows the app to check the stock market sources at specified intervals and then immediately relays the data to the app so investors can make informed decisions.
For less urgent data, businesses use webhooks. Let’s go back to the running shoe scenario. The shopper wants to be notified when the shoes are in stock. They don’t need the store to constantly relay data that the shoes are not in stock. The shopper only needs to know when a specific situation occurs, which is where webhooks excel.
Business texting uses APIs and webhooks to reach customers
The versatility of APIs makes them powerful tools for developers to extend the capabilities of their applications. Business texting is no exception.
Most modern web services include APIs that allow their data and functionality to be incorporated into other tools. It would be rare to find an enterprise web service that does not leverage an API from at least one other application to some extent.
What is an SMS API?
An SMS API, also referred to as a texting API, allows organizations to add texting to their existing business phone numbers. Users can send and receive SMS and MMS messages on a text-enabled landline, toll-free or VoIP number. It also enables long-form texts, high volume and all character sets including emojis. The graphic below shows additional features of an SMS API.
What is a webhooks API?
A webhooks API allows users to receive real-time server-to-server push notifications of all incoming and outgoing text messages and their status. Zipwhip offers an SMS API and Webhooks API. Visit our developer center to learn more.
Learn more about Zipwhip’s APIs for A2P text messaging
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Recommended Reading > How businesses can use a texting API to reach customers
Additional Reading > What does an SMS API offer my company?