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Webhooks vs. Kafka

As APIs become more widespread, developers are now looking to receive real-time event data from their API providers. The most common solution for this is webhoks, though this can also be achieved using Kafka. Which one should you use? It depends.

What is a Webhook?

A webhook is a reverse API, or server to server push notification. They work by sending out an HTTP request to a specified endpoint when an event is triggered. This makes webhooks ideal for integrating two applications.

If you’re not familiar with webhooks, you can learn more about them in this article: What is a webhook?

What is Kafka?

Apache Kafka is an open-source distributed event streaming platform most commonly used for high-performance data pipelines, streaming analytics, and data integration.

Because of the above, Kafka is quite suitable for processing events between services, similar to webhooks.

Which one should you use?

It depends.

Kafka is great if you are sending a very large amount of messages on a consistent basis to a small amount of customers as Kafka consumes resources for every active customer. Though even in this case, you need to be aware that there are significant operational burdens both for you (sender) and your customers (consumers) when setting it up. Because of this, Kafka is not a great solution for "self-serve" messages. Your customers will just not want to use it.

Webhooks are more suitable for when sending variable amount of messages to any number of customers, large or small. They require no resources unless messages are actively being sent to a specific customer and don't require maintaining active connections when there's no activity. Because they are just HTTP, they are very easy to use and connect to the rest of the stack. They are however less efficient when sending high number of requests per second to a specific customer.

In summary, if your service requires sending very high amount of messages non-stop, and to a small number of consumers then Kafka may be for you. However if you are sending variable amounts of messages to more than a few customers, and you care about self-serve and low operational burdens, then webhooks are for you.

Looking to send webhooks at scale?