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Web Services Acronyms, Demystified
By Pavel Kulchenko
January 09, 2002

In many cultures, the end of the year is a time for review and contemplation. Most of my work is related to Web services, and it should come as no surprise that I would like to take a look at the latest developments in that field. More than twenty acronyms related to Web services came to light during 2001, and in this article I present a quick guide to the protocols and the specifications behind them, including a description of how they relate to each other and where each sits on the Web services landscape. Some of those acronyms are scrutinized in O'Reilly's recently published Programming Web Services with SOAP, which is a complete guide to using SOAP and other leading Web services standards, including WSDL and UDDI. This book is a good resource for more information on the concepts touched on in this article (shameless disclaimer: I'm one of the co-authors).

The Web services architecture is implemented through the layering of several types of technologies. These technologies can be organized into the following four layers that build upon one another:

Discovery
Description
Packaging/Extensions
Transport

Each layer of the Web services stack addresses a separate business problem, such as security, reliable messaging, transactions, routing, workflow and so on. Addressing the need for standardization in this field, several players have come up with a set of specifications that serve as the foundation for their own versions of a comprehensive Web services architecture: Microsoft with its "Global XML Web Services Architecture", IBM and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) with the "Web Services Component Model" (WSCM), Sun with its "Open Net Environment" (SUN ONE) and HP with its "Services Framework Specification".

Let's wade through a bit of the acronym soup first to get a sense of the breadth and scope of the proposals floating around right now, and then we'll map those protocols to the architecture stacks being pushed by some of the companies.

Transport

Packaging and Extensions

Description

Discovery

As you can see, the picture is quite complex! To make things even more confusing, some of these specifications define extensions for SOAP messages (WS-Routing, WS-Security, WS-License and SOAP-DSIG), some define packaging format (SWA, DIME), some define SOAP-based protocol (UDDI and WS-Referral) or XML-based protocol (USML), and others define an XML format for service description or orchestration (WSDL, WSEL, WSFL, WSUI and the rest).

Now for the most interesting part: how do all of these acronyms fit into the big picture? Let's look at a couple of the architecture stacks that are being promoted.

IBM

Discovery
  • USML (multiple queries for service discovery)
  • UDDI (service discovery from repository)
  • WS-Inspection (inspection for available services)
Description
  • WSCM (component model), plan to include WSXL, WSUI and other specs
  • WSFL (composition, usage and interaction of services)
  • WSEL (non-operational characteristics, like QoS)
  • WSDL (service description)
Packaging/Extensions
Transport

HTTPR brings reliability for HTTP transport, so any SOAP interaction built on top of it will benefit from transport reliability in a way that doesn't require any changes to the framework. The same result can be achieved using MQSeries or other reliable transports.

The combination of the WSDL, WSEL and WSFL specifications implements three levels of functionality, required to support business processes and workflow: description of services (WSDL), non-operational characteristics (WSEL), and interaction and composition of services (WSFL).

WSCM and its sub-proposal WSXL address how Web services are componentized. "IBM is pleased to contribute WSXL to be considered as part of WSCM," says Bob Sutor, director of e-business standards strategy at IBM. "As an XML and Web services-centric component model for interactive Web applications, WSCM will enable businesses to more easily distribute those interactive Web applications through multiple channels. It will also help create new ones by leveraging existing resources across the Web. IBM is a longtime supporter of OASIS, and we're very happy to have the opportunity to chair the OASIS WSCM Technical Committee."

UDDI and WS-Inspection complete the stack, allowing the query of public or private repository for available services based on business or technical criteria (UDDI) or the query of a Web service provider for range and characteristics of available services (WS-Inspection). WS-Inspection, introduced by IBM and Microsoft, superseded two other standards from those companies: DISCO (Microsoft) and ADS (IBM).

Now, on to Microsoft's view of the Web services world:

Microsoft

Discovery
  • UDDI (service discovery from repository)
  • WS-Inspection (inspection for available services)
Description
  • XLANG (message exchange behavior)
  • WSML (mapping service to methods of COM object)
  • WSDL (service description)
Packaging/Extensions
Transport

Microsoft published several specifications that define packaging and extensions. For example, the DIME specification defines a binary packaging format, as an alternative for MIME-based SOAP with Attachments (SWA). A group of SOAP extensions (WS-Security, WS-License and WS-Routing) are integrated as part of Microsoft's Global XML Web Services Architecture. Keith Ballinger, program manager in Microsoft, pointed out to me that those are not really acronyms, however for the sake of completeness we will also cover them here. WS-Security (similar to SOAP-DSIG) defines how to use XML Signature and XML Encryption specifications in SOAP messages. WS-License works in combination with WS-Security and defines how digital credentials and their semantics can be associated with SOAP messages. WS-Routing (formerly SOAP-RP) describes how to enable SOAP messages to travel across multiple destinations along a message path. WS-Referral is a protocol that enables the routing between SOAP nodes to be dynamically configured.

The description layer consists largely of three specifications: WSDL, WSML and XLANG. WSDL defines service description, XLANG defines message exchange behavior from the business perspective and WSML defines the mapping between Web service functionality and the methods of a COM object behind it.

Other companies and groups are also backing their own specifications in addition to the widely supported ones like SOAP, SWA, WSDL, and UDDI. United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) and OASIS sponsor ebXML, a modular suite of specifications that uses SOAP and SWA for their Messaging Service, but has their own specifications for description and discovery layers: Collaboration Protocol Profile (CPP) for description and ebXML Registry Service for discovery. HP has WSCL as part of their Services Framework Specification that addresses problems in the same domain as XLANG and WSFL.

Several pieces like transaction support and management interfaces are still missing, so we may expect new specifications coming into existence during the next year. Expect to see even more acronyms. All these moving pieces sometimes make me nostalgic for XML-RPC.

Resources


O'Reilly & Associates recently released (December 2001) Programming Web Services with SOAP.

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