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Webhooks vs Long Polling

Webhooks and long polling are two different approaches for enabling real-time data transfer and communication between servers and clients or between different services. Understanding their differences is essential for selecting the right approach for specific use cases in web development and system integration.

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  • Webhooks are user-defined HTTP callbacks, which are triggered by specific events in a server or service.
  • When the event occurs, the server makes an HTTP request to the URL configured for the webhook.

Key Features

  • Event-Driven: Activated by specific events in the server/service.
  • Server-to-Server Communication: Direct communication from the source server to the receiving server.
  • Immediate Notification: Provides real-time updates as events occur.

Use Cases

  • Automated Tasks: Triggering automated workflows in response to events.
  • Integrations Between Services: Notifying external services of events (e.g., GitHub commits triggering CI/CD pipelines).
  • Alerts and Notifications: Sending real-time alerts based on specific triggers.

Long Polling


  • Long Polling is a technique where the client sends a request to the server, which holds the request open until new data is available.
  • Once data is available, or a timeout occurs, the server responds and the client immediately sends a new request.

Key Features

  • Client-Initiated Requests: The client initiates and maintains the request cycle.
  • Reduced Latency for Client Updates: Delivers updates to the client with minimal delay.
  • HTTP-Based: Uses standard HTTP protocols for communication.

Use Cases

  • Chat Applications: Useful for real-time messaging applications with less frequent updates.
  • Live Event Updates: For events with less frequent but real-time updates.
  • Notification Systems: In systems where external event triggers are not feasible.

Key Differences

  1. Initiation of Communication: Webhooks are server-initiated, while long polling is initiated by the client.
  2. Real-Time Updates: Both provide real-time updates, but webhooks do so as a response to specific events, and long polling does it based on client requests.
  3. Architecture: Webhooks are ideal for server-to-server communication, whereas long polling is used for client-server communication.
  4. Use Case Applicability: Webhooks are suited for event-driven applications, while long polling is used when the client requires regular updates.
  5. Implementation Complexity: Webhooks require event handling and configuration on the server, while long polling requires keeping HTTP connections open and managing them efficiently.

In conclusion, the choice between webhooks and long polling depends on the specific requirements of the application, particularly the direction of data flow (server-to-server vs client-server) and the nature of the data transfer (event-driven vs continuous).