OpenAPI Callbacks and Webhooks

OpenAPI Callbacks and Webhooks

OpenAPI is thoroughly mainstream now with most
modern API providers producing a description of their API for both internal and
external use. There are a few features that are still without widespread
traction, and the
callbacks feature is
one of those. It's a feature with wide appeal that hasn't seen much support from
tooling yet - but that is starting to change.

With more tools implementing the callbacks keyword, a wider selection of API
providers are looking to adopt OpenAPI. One common roadblock is for APIs that
are truly two-way - they include incoming HTTP requests that aren't callbacks
but instead result of an external event. Luckily there's already support for
this at proposal stage so these APIs should be able to put OpenAPI adoption on
their roadmaps! Let's take a look at the two features and the use cases they

Existing Feature: Callbacks for Async Responses

The callbacks field can be added to any path object, at the same level as
parameters, responses, etc. Here, you can describe any number of HTTP
requests that may arrive in response to an earlier HTTP request. This is super
useful if an API response will include something slow or expensive or simply not
time-critical! Examples could include:

  • Reporting APIs where the user can make an API request to generate a report and
    include a URL to send the report data to once it has been generated.
  • Status updates for a request that won't complete instantly (such as a payment
    transaction or message delivery receipt).

If your API has features like this, then the OpenAPI callbacks feature enables
you to describe them along with the rest of your API.

Proposed Feature: Webhooks for Event-Driven HTTP

The proposed webhooks field is a top-level element (warning: naming is very
much under discussion and is probably the most important part thing to get right
in this proposal!) that behaves exactly like a callbacks element within a path
entry does. This is very cool because it means that most tools that support
callbacks will be able to support webhooks without a lot of work from the
maintainers. The main difference is that instead of being the result of an
earlier HTTP call, these incoming requests are the result of an event happening
elsewhere. This makes it ideal for APIs that offer features like:

  • Notifications of events, my favourite example is the GitHub push event.
  • Delivery of data that would otherwise be obtained by polling, such as warehouse
    stock level updates after a purchase - or even a lorryload of stock delivery!

Increasingly our machines talk to one another in ways that are more
sophisticated that the overnight batch import. Being able to describe HTTP
requests in either direction will be a huge boost for OpenAPI. With the
implementation agreed (although still at proposal stage), APIs and tools can
move together to adopt this feature.

Callbacks, Webhooks ... or Both?

There are a few situations where callbacks is a valid way to specify an
incoming HTTP request but webhooks may be preferable. For example, an API that
allows subscribing to events under a configuration-related endpoint: it may make
more logical sense (for outputs such as documentation) to put the description of
the event-driven HTTP requests independently under webhooks than nested under
an admin endpoint.

If you want to know more about the webhooks feature, then you can find the
proposal in the OAS

and general discussion (all voices welcome, even if you only drop by to share a
+1) is on the github
. OpenAPI is an
open standard and it benefits from community participation so do please all
share your thoughts!