When to Use Webhooks by Zapier in Your Automations (For Nocoders)
Sending information across apps is a key part of automation. When one step is completed, how does the next step know to begin? How do apps even know when to carry out the task you’ve assigned it to do?
The answer: webhooks.
If you’re familiar with basic backend engineering concepts, you probably have a good understanding of how webhooks work and where they would be used in automations. If you’re a non-technical user using platforms like Zapier to automate tasks, however, you might not know when they need to be used.
In this article, we’ll discuss the basic concepts of webhooks, how to use Zapier webhooks, and when you should use this feature in your automations.
What are Webhooks?
Webhooks are automated messages triggered by a specific event. When they are activated, a payload (message containing data) is sent to a unique URL. It can then be redirected to the next event using a tool like Zapier.
Because a webhook is an executable command sent from one application to another, it does not manipulate (add, edit, or retrieve) data. It’s simply a connection that automatically activates when conditions are met.
The Difference Between Webhooks, Polling, and APIs
Webhooks, polling, and APIs are easily confused with one another because they accomplish the same end goal: communication between apps. However, the process and extent of communication differs between each one.
If a webhook automatically sends a payload when an event occurs, polling is when calls are made to check for that event at regular intervals. This means the two applications are constantly communicating with each other, which can be inefficient and resource-heavy.
APIs are somewhat similar to polling in that they need calls to send a payload. However, they are entire systems that can add, edit, and manipulate data as needed.
Webhooks are much simpler than APIs, and they are built to accomplish one, very specific task without any intervention.
When Should You Use Webhooks in Zapier?
Zapier is essentially a giant system of apps communicating with each other. When something happens in one application, it triggers a response in another. That said, many of the events occur via API, where data is requested and manipulated before it is sent. When should you use a webhook instead?
You should use a webhook in a Zapier automation when:
- The API is poor or unavailable. If there is no built-in API for the app you’re looking to connect, a webhook can give you a workaround solution that sends the next app the data it needs.
- The action is unavailable. Zapier’s connected apps come with a variety of pre-programmed events, but a webhook could be a solution if the specific action you need is unavailable.
- There are specific parameters to your use case. Sometimes Zapier has the API and the action, but you need to set more specific requirements. A webhook allows you to use code to gain more control over the output.
If you’re a nocoder, you might think webhooks are difficult because they require a technical understanding of communication between apps. However, you can use Zapier to catch hooks and send data with little-to-no code.
How to Use Zapier Webhooks
Webhooks by Zapier is a feature created to give you control beyond pre-programmed app integrations. It allows you to:
- Receive GET, POST, and PUT requests from any data source
- Use raw data or parse the payload into digestible pieces
- Filter for only the webhooks you need
- Capture data without a pre-built integration
Since webhooks can be used in so many versatile ways, there is no one way to use them. Generally, you set up a webhook trigger with an external tool, which can be anything from Mailchimp to Simplescraper. You can also use a serverless function hosted on Netlify, Twilio, or any other compatible app to launch events.
Start setting up a webhook in Zapier by deciding whether you want it to be a trigger or an action. For triggers, you have options to Retrieve Poll, Catch Raw Hook, or Catch Hook.
Zapier’s servers will be waiting to interpret the payload and do something with it. That’s why for webhook triggers, you will be provided a custom URL, which can then be configured with the application sending the payload.
When using a webhook to perform an action, the opposite occurs: you provide Zapier a URL and a payload is pushed to it. You can select from GET, POST, PUT, and Custom requests.
You have options to set up payload types, key-value pairs, file objects, and even HTTP authentication.
After publishing your zap, your webhook is ready to go. Whenever something occurs in your trigger app, the payload will be pushed to the URL.
Example Use Cases
Webhooks can complete a variety of small data requests and are crucial to the effectiveness of many apps and tools. Here are some examples of webhooks being used in Zapier:
#1 - Generate invoices from Paypal successful sales data captured by a webhook. When a payment is successfully processed, a webhook sends the sales data to Zapier, triggering the generation of an invoice.
#2 - Post new leads to a webhook. When a new lead clicks on an ad, their details are posted to a webhook, which can then be added to your CRM software.
#3 - Get Slack notifications for new events from a webhook. When a certain event occurs, the details are posted to a webhook, then sent to the relevant parties on Slack.
#4 - Log webhooks in Airtable. Every time a hook is caught, the data is saved as a new row to make it easier to track.
#5 - Save Calendly scheduled events by posting to a webhook. When a new event is scheduled, the meeting information is posted to a webhook URL.
The use cases are endless! For more integration ideas, check out Zapier's recommended webhook workflows.
Send Data in a New Way with Webhooks
Zapier and other workflow automation platforms are built to make communication between apps easy. But when they don't have the exact capabilities you need, webhooks can provide you with a solution.
Recognizing when and how to use webhooks alongside APIs allows you to create Zapier workflows that communicate the right messages at the right times.