API (Application Programming Interface):
An API is a set of rules and protocols that allows different software systems to communicate with each other. It defines the methods and data formats that applications can use to request and exchange information. There are various types of APIs, including REST, SOAP, and GraphQL, among others. APIs are typically used when you need to interact with another service programmatically, for example, to retrieve data from a database, create a new user in a system, or process a payment. APIs are typically designed to be called by clients (e.g., applications, scripts) whenever they need to perform a specific operation.
Here’s a simple analogy: think of an API as a restaurant’s menu. The menu provides a list of dishes you can order, along with a description of each dish. When you specify what menu items you want, the restaurant’s kitchen does the work and provides you with some finished dishes. You don’t know exactly how the restaurant prepares that food, and you don’t really need to.
A webhook is a way for an application to provide other applications with real-time information. It’s a way for apps to communicate with each other automatically. A webhook delivers data to other applications as it happens, meaning you get data immediately. Unlike typical APIs, where you would need to poll for data frequently in order to get it real-time, webhooks allow you to get the data as soon as it’s available.
In a webhook setup, an event in one application triggers the sending of information to a specific URL of another application. It’s like the application is saying, “Hey, I just did this, and I thought you might want to know.” For example, a payment processing system might use a webhook to notify an accounting application when a transaction has been processed.
Here’s an analogy: a webhook is like a phone call to your home phone that you receive when something specific happens. Instead of checking your mailbox every 5 minutes to see if your package has arrived, you get a phone call as soon as it’s delivered.
In summary, APIs are typically used for requesting data or performing actions, whereas webhooks are used to automatically deliver data as soon as something happens.
(featured image credit: Zapier, for more information visit https://zapier.com/blog/webhook-vs-api/)