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May 05, 2021 • Issue #51 by Aron Korenblit

Scripts, Webhooks, Airtable Sync, Nobull, Data Fetcher -- what to use when?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about escape valves in no-code which I felt was a little theoretical so I wanted to follow up with a more tactical piece contextualizing all of this new functionality.

If we zoom out, Airtable offers many escape valves. You've got the stand alone Airtable scripting app, scripts within automations, and now the incoming webhook trigger. Add to that tools like Data Fetcher which let you run any API call from Airtable once (or on a schedule), Nobull app which sync only Airtable & Webflow. Then layer on new primitives like native Airtable sync...

Answering the question "What should I use when?" becomes difficult.

Here's an example: Alex Wolfe (aka the Airtable wizard) wanted to keep track of updates to prices for items on his gaming wishlist so he setup an automation (at a scheduled time) that periodically pinged an API (run script action) to update the prices.

To get to Alex' level of sophistication takes quite a bit of work. You need to differentiate different Airtable triggers (learn about them here) and how to write scripts (learn about APIs in Airtable scripting here).

Otherwise, you can also just use Data Fetcher which is much simpler. Simple copy paste the cURL code, set the timer and be done with it.

So how do you wade through all of this?

There are essentially two types of syncing mechanisms. The first is syncing based on events: when something happens in Airtable (or in another tool), go ahead and reflect that change in another tool (or in Airtable). This is the principle, a trigger and then actions, on which Airtable automation, Zapier and IFTT are primarily based. Zapier has the advantage of integrating with thousands of tools which Airtable automation does not. So how do you go around that? Incoming Webhook (trigger) and scripting (scripting)! Here's the flow chart:

The second type of automation is time based, not event driven. This is commonly known as syncing (but can confusingly be accomplished with Airtable automations). Examples include checking whether prices have changed in the last 15 minutes, updating Webflow CMS items with the latest information from Airtable using the Nobull app or pulling in Jira tickets using the native Airtable integration. Three syncs using 3 different parts of Airtable's platform. Confusing, no?

Here's how I think about this:

Now, Airtable Sync and Airtable automations are still very new! They were both launched in September last year. Expect this decision to be much simpler to navigate with additional native triggers/actions being added, increased sync capabilities (multi source one way sync launched recently!) and additional sync partners.

Until then, we've got the escape valve and this decision tree to work with!

Now I know this was much more technical than my usual post here but working through it helped me understand the big picture, hopefully it's helped you too!

Keep building and until next week!

Aron

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