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Backers of ebXML say SOAP is a good fit

The recent announcement that the backers of ebXML will use the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in the proposed standard came as a surprise to some. But for those involved in the formation of ebXML, the use of SOAP is a natural progression.

The recent announcement that the backers of ebXML will use the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in the proposed standard came as a surprise to some. But for those involved in the formation of ebXML, the use of SOAP is a natural progression.

SOAP allows programs running on different operating systems to communicate using XML. By contrast, ebXML is being developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and the United Nations, as a way for businesses in different industries to exchange information using XML.

Last week, OASIS, the XML interoperability consortium, announced it was scrapping plans to develop its own messaging protocol in favor of SOAP. Essentially, SOAP will act as the "envelope" for messages sent in ebXML.

Differing timetables may be the only problem with ebXML's use of SOAP, said Uttam Narsu, a Giga analyst. Currently, the elements of SOAP are being considered as part of a larger project at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). That project, the XML Protocol, is being developed to allow two or more peers to communicate in a distributed environment encapsulated in XML.

EbXML would be layered to depend on the XML Protocol much like FTP (File Transfer Protocol) depends on TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), Narsu said. The ebXML working group is expected to make its final recommendations in May but the W3C's XML Protocol probably won't be ready until the end of this year or early next year.

Such a scenario could jeopardize interoperability if the final XML Protocol specification includes a radically different version of SOAP than what ebXML is embracing, Narsu said. Yet that is not likely since a lot of the work on that element has been done, he said.

A tight union between SOAP and ebXML will be a real boon to software vendors, especially smaller ones that would find it difficult to stock products supporting numerous protocols, said Norbert Mikula, the chief technical strategist for DataChannel, an enterprise information portal company.

"It really shows a shift of thinking when you have companies like IBM, Sun, Microsoft, Oracle and smaller vendors like DataChannel taking a more convergent approach," Mikula said. Products would be judged on issues of performance, scalability and service rather than by their secret, proprietary approaches.

Developers should applaud combining the two technologies because they won't have to learn different protocols, Norbert said. Moreover, the higher profile of SOAP should make educational resources more plentiful.

Echoing those sentiments, software engineer and author Benoit Marchal of Pineapple Soft said he is glad ebXML is embracing SOAP because "the best number of standards is one, only one."

"I can think of at least one project where we had planned extra development time to support both SOAP and the ebXML connectivity," Marchal said. "Now we can cut that development time."

Mikula's DataChannel colleague, Brian Eisenberg, who is working on ebXML, said there are still some convergence issues that need to be figured out between ebXML and SOAP. "For example, ebXML allows for one big payload (in the message) while SOAP allows for multiple payloads. We are looking at how to take advantage of this," said Eisenberg, DataChannel's program director of e-business technologies.

"There are a few technical issues to resolve but none are show-stoppers," said Klaus-Dieter Naujok of Netfish Technologies, chairman of ebXML effort and member of the UN/CEFACT Steering Group. "Time is the only possible show-stopper."

The ebXML specification is set to be presented in May, which leaves only a few weeks to get all the work done, Naujok said, who added that everything is on schedule. Officials with ebXML said they are keeping tabs on the development of SOAP during review process for XML Protocol so that corresponding changes are made to ebXML, he said.

Yet ebXML's embrace of SOAP is not a one-way street. While ebXML is being aligned with SOAP, Naujok hopes to eventually see SOAP aligned to ebXML to form the tightest fit possible. Microsoft, which had an early interest in the development of ebXML and later became involved in the development of SOAP, will be a key player in the future of the two, said Naujok.


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