What are Webhooks and How Do They Work?

What are Webhooks? Webhooks are a simple yet powerful tool that allows different software systems to communicate with each other. In a nutshell, webhooks provide a way for an app or service to notify other apps or services when certain events happen.

For example, a webhook could notify an accounting system when a sale is made on an e-commerce site. Or a webhook could notify a CRM when a contact form is submitted on a marketing website. When properly set up, webhooks enable different systems to work together seamlessly and efficiently.

How Do Webhooks Work?

Webhooks allow different software systems to communicate with each other by sending real-time notifications when certain events happen.

Let’s imagine a website that wants to notify an email system whenever a new user signs up for the site.

First, the website would be configured to make HTTP request to a special URL on the email system whenever a new user registration event occurs. This is called setting up a “webhook”.

Now, the website system keeps operating normally. But in the background, it is waiting to detect registration events.

When a new user registers on the site, the website system automatically sends HTTP request to the URL specified in the webhook that was set up earlier. This request contains data about the registration event.

On the other end, the email system is listening to that URL for these webhook requests coming from the website.

When the request comes in, the email system uses the data to immediately send a welcome email to the new user who just registered.

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work

So in summary:

  • The website is configured with a webhook that hits a URL on the email system when a “user registered” event occurs
  • A user registers on the website, which triggers the “user registered” event
  • The website sends HTTP request containing user data to the URL configured in the webhook
  • The email system receives the webhook request at that URL
  • The email system uses the user data to send a welcome email

This is the basic mechanism that allows these two systems to communicate in real time when events happen. The email system doesn’t need to keep asking the website over and over if anything changed. Instead, the website just sends a message whenever a registration event occurs.

Some key advantages of webhooks include:

  • Real-time communication – Events are sent immediately rather than in batches or on a schedule.
  • Bi-directional – The destination can send data back to the source if needed.
  • Flexible – Webhooks can be configured for many types of events and data formats.
  • Efficient – No repeated polling required; just requests when needed.
  • Scalable – Webhooks scale well since the flow of requests is distributed.

Next, let’s look at some common examples of how webhooks are used.

Webhook Use Cases and Examples

Webhooks can support an extremely wide variety of use cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work? 1

Notification of Events or Data Changes

One of the most popular uses of webhooks is to notify other systems when events happen or data changes occur:

  • A CRM system could send a webhook request to notify an email marketing platform whenever a new lead is added. This would allow the email platform to automatically start an email nurturing campaign for the new lead.
  • An e-commerce site could send purchase information to an accounting package via webhook whenever an order is placed. This would allow order data to flow seamlessly into the accounting system.
  • A CMS could send a webhook notification to a cache management service whenever content is published. The cache manager can then clear its cache to ensure visitors get the updated content.

Triggering Actions and Workflows

Webhooks are extremely useful for kicking off actions and workflows in other systems based on events:

  • An online form submission could trigger a webhook request which then invokes a defined workflow for processing that submitted data into a database, sending emails, etc.
  • A payment being captured on an e-commerce site could trigger a webhook that tells the warehouse system to start fulfillment processes for packing and shipping the paid order.
  • A finished rendering job in a media production suite could trigger a webhook request to an asset management system telling it to import the new video file.

Two-Way Data Exchange

Webhooks facilitate two-way data flows and syncing between systems:

  • Product catalogs can be automatically synced between e-commerce platforms and ERP/inventory management software using webhooks. When a product is added or changed in one system, a webhook triggers the change to be reflected in the other system.
  • User profile data can be synced across systems like CRM, marketing automation, support portals, etc. Profile updates in one system trigger webhook requests that sync the changes to the other systems.
  • Webhook requests can also be used for push notifications from APIs to client apps. When data changes in the API, webhook requests notify connected applications.

Monitoring Events and Data Pipelines

Webhooks are extremely valuable for monitoring use cases:

  • Webhooks can be configured to trigger alert notifications whenever certain error conditions occur, such as failures in data ETL pipelines or application downtime.
  • Performance metrics like response times, traffic spikes, error rates, etc. can be monitored in real-time by streaming the data to analysis tools via webhook requests.
  • Debugging data like log events can be streamed out to logging platforms and data lakes using webhooks for centralized analysis.

Other Creative Use Cases

With some creativity, webhooks can support many unique use cases like:

  • Triggering deployments and CI/CD pipelines when code changes
  • Webpage change monitoring
  • Data warehouse updating
  • Enterprise service bus architectures
  • IoT device integrations
  • Automating business workflows
  • Chatbot integrations
  • Embedded application integrations
  • Much more!

As you can see, the applications are endless! Next let’s look at how to set up and configure webhooks.

How to Set Up and Configure Webhooks

How to Set Up and Configure Webhooks

Setting up a webhook involves just a few steps:

1. Choose the Source App and Events

First, determine which app will be the source – this is where events happen that should trigger the webhook. For example, this could be a CRM, e-commerce platform, database, API, etc.

Then decide which specific events in that source app should trigger the webhook. Common event examples include:

  • Data additions (new record added)
  • Data updates
  • Data deletions
  • Actions happening (order placed, item shipped)
  • Errors occurring
  • Metrics exceeding thresholds

2. Set Up the Destination App to Receive Webhooks

Figure out which app will receive the webhook data. This destination app needs to have a way to receive and process the HTTP requests sent by the webhook.

For example, the destination app could have:

  • A REST API endpoint specifically for webhooks
  • A script, module, or handler for processing webhook data
  • Workflows or business logic triggered by the webhook requests

3. Configure the Webhook in the Source System

Once the source and destination are decided, the webhook just needs to be configured in the source system, with a few key details:

  • URL – The full URL endpoint on the destination app that will receive the HTTP requests.
  • Events – Specify which events should trigger the webhook.
  • Data format – The format of the data that will be sent (JSON, XML, etc).
  • Security – Webhook URLs often use secret tokens to authenticate requests.
  • Behavior – Settings like retries, timeouts, endpoints, etc.

And that’s the basic foundation for setting up and configuring a webhook! There are also additional best practices around security, reliability, and debugging that are important for production webhook implementations.

Webhook Security Best Practices

Since webhook requests can contain sensitive data and trigger critical workflows, it’s important to follow security best practices. Here are some top tips:

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work? 2

Use Secret Tokens

One of the most basic webhook security measures is to include a secret token or API key in the webhook URL so only authorized sources can trigger it. The source system will then include this token with every webhook request it sends.

On the receiving end, the destination system should check for the presence of a valid token before accepting the request. This ensures random outside parties can’t spoof requests to the webhook URL. The token acts like an API key to authenticate valid requests.

Secrets can be created and exchanged manually when setting up the integration. For more advanced needs, tokenized links can also be generated dynamically programmatically. Taking care to properly manage and rotate secret tokens is important.

Require HTTPS

Webhook requests should always be sent over secure HTTPS connections rather than unencrypted HTTP. This encrypts the webhook requests in transit so they can’t be intercepted and read by third parties.

HTTPS relies on SSL certificates on the requesting server to provide transport layer security. Self-signed certificates can be used for internal webhooks while commercial certificates are preferred for external traffic.

Setting up HTTPS should be enforced by webhook platforms. If building a custom integration, take care to explicitly require and validate HTTPS in any request handling logic. Never assume webhook requests will be secure by default.

Implement Input Validation

Carefully validating the structure, data formats, authentication values, etc. of incoming webhook requests is important to prevent security issues.

For example, you may expect JSON payloads with specific properties and schemas. The receiving logic should validate the requests match that schema rather than blindly accepting anything sent to the endpoint.

Other examples include validating API keys, requesting origin IP addresses, the existence of standard headers, and more. Failing fast on malformed requests prevents later abuse.

Robust validation requires clear webhook documentation and tight integration agreements between parties. Automated testing of the webhook interface also helps catch issues early.

Use Webhook Signatures

Some webhook implementations employ signature headers that are calculated from the request payload content. This allows the receiver to verify the requested content has not been tampered with in transit.

Signatures rely on a shared secret to hash the payload data into a string sent in the signature header. The receiving system recalculates the signature of the received payload and compares it to the one received. Matching values mean no tampering occurred.

Signatures provide integrity in addition to the confidentiality of HTTPS encryption. However, they require tighter coupling between systems to coordinate signature schemes.

Limit Access

Access to webhook endpoints should be limited only to trusted source IP addresses or networks to reduce the attack surface.

For example, whitelist the cloud subnet or office IPs of the source system. Do not expose webhook endpoints on public Internet networks or domain frontends unless necessary.

Limiting public access prevents random scanning and attack attempts. Webhook platforms provide allowlisting capabilities, while custom integrations will need custom IP filtering logic at endpoints or firewall layers.

Access restrictions should align with general API security best practices, with an assume-breach security mindset. Limit exposure to the minimum required for functional needs.

Use Unique Endpoints

Rather than funneling all webhooks through a single endpoint URL, using unique URLs for each source system is a best practice.

For example, you may have one URL for webhooks from your e-commerce system, and a separate URL for webhooks from your CRM.

That way, if one of the endpoints is compromised or abused, it does not impact other integrations funneling through a shared endpoint. This segmentation limits potential blast radius.

Webhook platforms make managing unique endpoints easy. For custom integrations, take care to segment webhook handling by source rather than mixing multiple flows.

Monitor and Alert on Anomalies

Actively monitoring webhook activity patterns, failures, and volumes provides visibility into potentially malicious activity. Alerting on anomalies provides rapid awareness.

Look for unusual spikes in daily traffic that could indicate scanning or brute force attacks. Watch for elevated failure rates or errors that could suggest compromise or abuse.

Tools like API gateways and webhook platforms provide built-in monitoring capabilities to track metrics, logs, access patterns, and alert on issues. Robust monitoring is essential for securing production webhook flows.

Webhook Reliability Tips

In addition to security, you also want to optimize webhook reliability since they often trigger critical workflows. Here are some best practices for avoiding problems:

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work? 3

Handle Errors Gracefully

Robust error handling on both the sending and receiving ends of a webhook integration is important to maintain reliability.

The source system should have error handling when webhook requests fail, such as retries and exponential backoff. The destination system should also handle unexpected errors in processing requests to avoid downstream impacts.

Gracefully handling errors allows the overall workflow to continue smoothly, containing failures. Without proper error handling, small hiccups can cascade into larger outages.

Set Request Timeouts

Setting appropriate timeouts on webhook requests prevents issues where a hung request blocks execution indefinitely. Typically 1-5 seconds is a reasonable timeout range.

If a request hangs past the timeout, fails fast so the calling logic can handle the error rather than waiting indefinitely. The optimal timeout depends on the expected request latency.

Timeouts require coordination between the source and destination. If timeouts are too aggressive, requests may fail unnecessarily. Defining timeouts upfront ensures reliable performance.

Implement Exponential Backoff for Retries

When retrying failed webhook requests, use an exponential backoff strategy that increases the delay between retries, up to a max delay cap.

Starting with no delay, the backoff doubles on each retry attempt (1 sec, 2 sec, 4 sec, etc). This prevents hammering the destination with retries during outages.

Backoff delay caps prevent excessive waiting. The backoff policy should align between source and destination. Intelligent retries maintain reliability without overloading systems.

Queue Requests If Needed

For high-volume webhook events, queueing requests before dispatch can help smooth traffic spikes and prevent overwhelming the destination.

A queue also provides a buffer in case of destination outages. Queues can be implemented on the source or an intermediary service using platforms like Kafka, RabbitMQ, or real-time databases.

Queuing works best for one-way communication flows rather than bi-directional needs. The capacity of queues should align with expected traffic peaks.

Make Requests Idempotent

Idempotent requests prevent duplicate or out-of-order processing from corrupting application state or triggering duplicative actions.

For example, each request should have a unique ID the destination can check before reprocessing. Systems should also be designed to handle the same request multiple times without adverse impacts.

Webhook delivery is not guaranteed, so idempotency provides reliability if requests are repeated or delayed. This may require tighter integration and testing between systems.

Monitor Health and Usage

Actively monitoring the health and usage patterns of a webhook integration provides valuable visibility into reliability. Watch for trends like elevated errors, latency changes, and traffic surges.

Set alerts for key metrics like request volumes, queue depth, latency, 5xx errors, etc. Monitoring allows rapid detection and addressing of issues before they cascade.

Many webhook platforms provide built-in monitoring capabilities out of the box. For custom integrations, ensure adequate logging and metrics collection.

Document Everything

Thoroughly documenting webhook specifications, schemas, endpoints, authentication parameters, etc. simplifies troubleshooting. Documentation prevents issues caused by outdated information or tribal knowledge.

Self-documenting API specifications like OpenAPI provide built-in documentation. Postman collections are also useful reference artifacts. Documentation improves long-term reliability.

Tips for Debugging Webhooks

When something isn’t working right, here are some tips for debugging webhook issues:

What are Webhooks and How Do They Work? 4

Check the Basics First

Often webhook issues are caused by something basic like an invalid URL, expired security credentials, misconfigured IP whitelisting, etc.

Verify the endpoint URLs are reachable, API secrets are valid, IPs are properly allowed, SSL certificates are active, required headers are set, etc. Reviewing the fundamental configuration can quickly uncover simple issues.

Log Everything

Extensive logging of webhook requests, responses, failures, timestamps, identifiers, etc. provides invaluable data for debugging unpredictable issues.

Ensure unique request IDs flow end-to-end for correlating logs across systems. Verbose logging may impact performance, so it should be enabled judiciously for debugging sessions.

Test with Dummy Requests

Manually testing the webhook interface with a variety of dummy requests is extremely useful for finding edge cases.

Send invalid requests, malformed payloads, missing headers, etc. to see how the system reacts. Repeatedly testing against unusual inputs can uncover bugs not found via happy path testing.

Inspect the Raw Requests

Often it helps to inspect the raw HTTP requests and responses being sent using a tool like Postman.

This allows analyzing the request formatting, headers, payloads, and response handling outside of the application code. Viewing the raw traffic simplifies isolating where things are breaking down.

Enable Tracing

Many applications provide detailed tracing or debug logs specifically for diagnosing webhook issues. Enable tracing to see step-by-step handling of requests within the application code itself.

Traces pinpoint where requests are failing or behaving unexpectedly within the integration stack. This helps identify whether issues are coming from the source or destination side.

Simulate Events

Triggering test events in your source system is useful to verify that the expected webhook requests are sent as designed.

Simulating or replaying production events in a test environment checks whether the integration is wired up correctly. If test events don’t produce webhook calls, that points to a configuration issue.

Isolate the Issue

When issues arise, systematically isolate each piece of the integration to narrow down root causes.

Test the source system independently to confirm events are triggering webhook requests properly. Then test just the destination system by sending requests directly. This isolates whether issues are coming from the source or destination side.

Know Your Limits

Be aware of rate limits, payload size limits, traffic thresholds, or other constraints that could cause requests to fail or be truncated when exceeded. These limits should be clearly documented.

Testing load scenarios and limits helps identify when configurations need adjustment to accommodate spikes. Performance testing also reveals limits.

Following good debugging practices helps you efficiently track down webhook problems.

Popular Tools and Services for Webhooks

There are also various helper tools and services for working with webhooks:

  • Webhook platforms – Services like Webhook Relay, Hookdeck, or webhook.site handle webhook flows and add features.
  • Webhook testing – Tools like Postman, RequestBin, or webhooks.top help test and debug.
  • Webhook monitoring – Services like Runscope or UptimeRobot can monitor webhook activity and uptime.
  • Webhook proxies – API gateways like Kong or Tyk can add features like security, traffic control, and logging.
  • SDKs and libraries – Helper SDKs for sending and receiving webhooks from languages like Node, Python, C#, Ruby, etc.

Integrating one of these tools into your webhook implementation can save a lot of time and headaches compared to handling everything manually.


In summary, webhooks provide a simple yet flexible method for different applications to communicate in real time based on events. By following best practices around security, reliability, and debugging, webhooks can enable efficient and scalable integration between diverse systems and workflows. Webhooks have become an essential tool for connecting modern cloud-based and on-premise technologies together.

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