How to Implement Webhook Idempotency

Most webhook providers operate on an "at least once" delivery guarantee. The key phrase here is "at least" — you will eventually get the same webhook multiple times. Your application needs to be built to handle those scenarios.

What is idempotency?

In computing, when repeating the same action results in the same outcome, we call it idempotent. One common example you have probably encountered is the HTTP PUT vs the HTTP POST methods.

The distinction between the two is that PUT denotes that the action is idempotent. Updating an inventory count, a profile first name, or assigning an order to a customer can be done multiple times in a row without the use of new or extra resources.

A POST, however, implies side effects. If you create a new order for entry, every time you call the endpoint, a new entry will be created, even if it contains the same properties.

Because webhooks are standardized around HTTP POST calls, it's up to you to figure out what is idempotent by nature, versus what needs to be built to be idempotent. In most cases, the burden will fall on you.

What Are Webhooks And How They Work

In this article, you will learn what is a webhook, how does a webhook work, and when to use webhooks.

Fri Jun 11 2021

When to build for idempotency

Generally, events that either create a new resource or cause side-effects in other systems are the trickiest to handle. You wouldn't want to create the same order multiple times because you got the same webhook from Shopify twice. You could also be causing side effects, like sending an email when a product runs out of stock, which no one wants to do multiple times.

Those are cases where you would need to carefully audit your code to look for any areas where idempotency issues could arise, and then build strategies to make those webhook events idempotent.

Idempotency strategies

Enforcing a unique constraint inherited from the event data

In many cases, you'll have some unique ID that you can leverage to know if you've already performed the action for any given webhook request. For example, if you are indexing orders from a Shopify store on the orders/created webhook topic, you can use the order_id from Shopify as a unique property in your database.

In SQL, you might do something like:

 CREATE TABLE orders (
    id text PRIMARY KEY,
    shopify_order_id text UNIQUE NOT NULL,
		[...]
);

That is the simplest solution if your database supports unique constraints. If, say, you also want to send an email to the customer, you would perform the INSERT before you send the email. Since you are using that unique constraint to check for idempotency, you will want to perform side effects afterwards. Lastly, make sure to handle the error and return a 2XX status code that corresponds to the unique constraint violation.

Tracking webhook history and handling status

In some cases the first strategy won't be available to you, which could be because you aren't storing any of the data. Nonetheless, every provider will include some identifier for the webhook itself. In Shopify, the request contains X-Shopify-Webhook-Id in the headers. You can leverage that ID to track the status of the webhooks you are receiving.

Repeated requests for the same webhook will have the same webhook identifier.

To handle those scenarios, you will want to create a processed_webhooks table with a unique constraint on the ID.

CREATE TABLE processed_webhooks (
    id text PRIMARY KEY,
		[...]
);

The first thing to do when you receive the request is to store it in the table using the webhook unique ID. Once you have successfully completed your method, you can then update the row to a status of COMPLETED. In the event that you fail to successfully handle it, just remove the row, and allow next attempts.

You can wrap your webhook calls with a generic method to verify for idempotency. Here's an example using Postgres, Express and NodeJS:

const processWebhook = async (req, handler) => {
  // Extract the unique ID, using Shopify for this example
  const unique_id = req.headers["X-Shopify-Webhook-Id"];
  // Create a new entry for that webhook id
  await client
    .query("INSERT INTO processed_webhooks (id) VALUES $1", [unique_id])
    .catch((e) => {
      // PostgreSQL code for unique violation
      if (e.code == "23505") {
        // We are already processing or processed this webhook, return silently
        return true;
      }
      throw e;
    });
  try {
    // Call you method
    await handler(req.body);
    return true;
  } catch {
  // Delete the entry on error to make sure the next one isn't ignored
    await client.query("DELETE FROM processed_webhooks WHERE id = $1", [
      unique_id,
    ]);
  }
};

app.post("/webhooks/order-created", (req, res) => {
  // Wrap your doSomething method to handle your webhook
  return processWebhook(req, doSomething).catch(() => res.sendStatus(500));
});