The Joys of Webhooks

Published on 26 Apr 2022

Automation technologies have made sending and receiving data files a snap. 

Time lapse of lights on road at night.

Implement Workflow Automations

With automations, you can cut down on the manual work of a person logging into the system to download and process submitted files. There are several ways to implement your workflow automations. 

One common option is for a customer or client to upload files to an SFTP server so you can retrieve those for further processing in your system software, such as an order management system. But how do you know when those files are available and ready for processing? What’s the easiest way to get those files over to your systems?

Person organizing paper files in a physical file folder.

Emails and Manual Access

One tried-and-true option is to set up email reminders to notify particular users when files are uploaded. While this takes the least setup, it does have several disadvantages:

  • Requires Vigilance from Users: The user has to monitor their email to look for those messages about files. A missed email can lead to delays in file processing and unhappy customers.
  • Requires Manually Accessing Files: The user then has to go in and manually retrieve those files as well as initiate processing of those files. Again, this takes extra time and can lead to errors in file handling.

Polling

Another option is to set up a batch script that logs into your file sharing server via SFTP on a regular basis (anywhere from every five minutes to daily). The polling script looks to see if there are new files to download and then downloads those files. While easy to set up, polling also has some downsides:

  • Timeliness: Files will be waiting on your server until the next scheduled polling job occurs. This leads to delays in processing the files on your end.
  • Extra Transaction Activity: If you use a hosted SFTP service, you likely have limits on how many activities can happen on your account in a day. Polling is extra overhead and activity usage, especially when most of the polling doesn’t find any files to process.

What would be better is having a way to automatically know when new files are available for processing.

A Better Option: Webhooks

Webhooks get set up on your file server. Webhooks use triggering events, such as a file uploaded to the server, to automatically send a message from the file server to a waiting application on your end. The message includes information about the file. This information allows the application to know the uploaded file's who, what, when, and where details.

Sample webhooks messaging and data.

In addition to choosing the webhooks on your files server, you’ll need an application to receive those webhooks messages and process them. You’ll need an endpoint URL, so the webhook has a destination. Your application will need to parse the webhook message to identify the file information and have procedures created for what to do with that information. But the headaches of configuring webhooks and the receiving application can lead to a number of benefits.

Webhooks + API: Automate Workflows Start to Finish

Once your application receives the webhook, it needs to do something with that information to make it useful.

With API development on your end, your application can take the webhook message and use it to initiate the next steps in your workflow. For example, a graphic printing business may allow customers to order custom prints with their own artwork. Use your file system to collect that artwork from customers. Once uploaded, a webhook message is delivered to your order processing system, which retrieves the artwork and matches it up with the rest of the order details for completion. All of this happens “behind the scenes” without needing to use your staff resources.

{
  "resources": [
    "/testone.jpg",
    "/folder"
  ],
  "parentResource": "/copyhere"
}

Webhooks Offer Enhanced Reporting Opportunities

Webhooks can provide the necessary data for reports related to files in the file sharing server. 

Need to know summaries of what files have been uploaded? Use webhook triggers on upload events to retrieve and collect information on what files were uploaded and when and by whom. 

Need to know when order processing was completed? Set up a webhook trigger to report when files are moved to a “processed” folder.

Webhooks Provide Controlled Data Sharing

When doing business-to-business file sharing, the business with access to the file server is often the only one to know what’s happening on the file server. Improve that by setting up webhooks tied to a particular customer’s folder. These webhooks trigger and send your customer webhook messages when there is information they need to know. If a report has been uploaded for a customer, use an upload trigger to send the customer’s application a notification so they know there’s new information to retrieve.

Improve Your Workflows with Webhooks

Webhooks, automated messages from your online file server, help make your business workflows more efficient by: 

  • Reducing time to receive and process data files, thus eliminating the need for a person to manually check and see if a file is available.
  • Enabling full-cycle automations in conjunction with APIs allows your applications to automatically retrieve files and process them.
  • Shining light on the “black box” of your shared file server, so you and your customers know what’s happening in real-time.

To learn more about webhooks on the ExaVault platform, take a look at our webhooks guide.

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