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What's happened to the simplicity of Web services?

Web services have grown more and more complicated. The question is, why? Web services are in reality, really simple.

In the role of Chief Technology Officer at IONA, Eric is responsible for IONA's technology roadmap and the direction of IONA's Rapid Integration software as relates to standards adoption, architecture, and product design.

Market Commentary
Eric Newcomer, special to SearchWebServices.com

Web services are most simply defined as technology that allows computer programs to talk to each other using Internet standards. From their relatively simple beginnings, however, Web services have grown more and more complicated as more and more specifications are published, and more and more features and functions are added. The question is, why? Web services are in reality, really simple.

The first word in SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is "Simple," but the world of Web services has become very complicated. In early 2000 the SOAP specification was published, which was quickly followed by the SOAP with Attachments, Universal Description, Discovery, and Interoperability (UDDI), and Web Services Description Language (WSDL) specifications. These core technologies have been very widely adopted, implemented, and endorsed. Then came a plethora of proposals for additional functionality, positioned as extensions to the core technologies, such as WS-Security, WS-Transactions, WS-Routing, BPEL, WS-Coordination, HTTP-R, WS-Reliability, and more. The first word in SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is "Simple," but the world of Web services has become very complicated.

It's not yet clear exactly what applications Web services are really going to be used for, and therefore not really clear whether or not all these additional specifications and technologies are really necessary. Most business applications have fundamental requirements around security and reliability that represent a kind of minimum criteria for adoption. Many, if not all, of the proposed extensions fall into these two major categories. But these basic requirements can actually be met using a very simple approach in which a lot of these complicated extensions aren't necessary. There are several examples of where this is evident:

For the mobile traveler, and for the emerging world of wireless networks, always being connected may not be possible or practical. In the world of high-speed, wireless networking and mobile Internet-enabled devices such as laptops, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cellular telephones, and automobiles, to name a few, it is unlikely that a connection will always and constantly be available. A really simple solution works well in this environment, insulating users from worrying about connectivity loss. If a connection is present, the message is immediately transferred. If a connection is not present, the message is queued up for later transfer.

File based transfer mechanisms provide a really simple way to implement asynchronous Web services, resolving common concerns such as occasional connectivity, security, and reliable messaging without adding the complexity of extended standards. File-based transfer mechanisms are consistent with current and emerging Web services standards.

There are many implications for Web services in regards to RFC-oriented middleware. Considerable frustration with current Web services technologies arises when comparing them with RPC-oriented middleware since by definition Web services are not well suited to the RPC-oriented interaction style. Web services are much better suited for the message-oriented interaction style. Extending Web services toward message-oriented middleware architectures provides a better way to improve short-term value than proposing complex RPC-oriented extensions.

As evidenced above, in certain scenarios, the simplicity of Web services makes it the supreme integration choice. Despite all the confusion that often surrounds it, Web services can truly be, really simple.

Copyright 2003, Eric Newcomer and IONA. Printed with permission. IONA is a leading provider of Rapid Integration software with more than 4,500 customers worldwide.

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