What are Web Services? Which is Better, REST vs SOAP?
The term “web services” is probably something you’ve heard mentioned from big technology companies and their products, like Amazon Web Services or Google’s Web Service and Cloud. But, what are web services exactly?
Even if you’ve heard of these services, it can be difficult to understand them since they have involved workflows. It’s helpful to know how these services function because they can increase efficiency and make user experience more enjoyable.
So, how can you understand web services and how do they function? Keep reading to understand how they are the silent but critical backbone of our modern device-driven world!
What are Web Services and How Can You Understand Them?
They can be defined a few ways, but one simple explanation is that web services are the means by which devices communicate over the internet or the World Wide Web. They include any application, cloud technology, or software that provides standardized web protocols.
Web protocols are HTTP or HTTPS which communicate and exchange data messaging throughout the internet, usually using XML, or Extensible Markup Language. So whether you’re using a mobile app or a search engine, the interface is on your device, but the data is live on a server. Your interface or device communicates with the server through web services.
In practice, a web service usually provides an object-oriented interface to a database server. This can then be utilized by another web server or mobile app. This is what creates the user interface for the end client. Many businesses or organizations will provide data in HTML, but will also provide data on their server as XML or JSON.
An important part of understanding web services is the languages used to communicate. Applications can be written in various languages, but they’re able to still communicate by exchanging data with each other through a web service between people and servers.
What are the Essential Functions and Benefits?
Understanding the essential functions of web services will help paint a full picture and help you to better understand the definition.
Some of the essential functions of web services include being available over internet and intranet networks and using standardized XML messaging systems. Also, it is independent of a single operating system or programming language.
So, web services are self-describing with XML language, but it supports communication among many applications with XML, SOAP, WSDL, HTML, and other open standards. A web service functions between two sets of apps, they could be java, .NET or PHP, and provides a way for those apps to communicate across a network.
These web services have different offerings and benefits depending on the business operations. Web services technology has greatly improved efficiency for IT pros and web architects. These services help to minimize development time and make connectivity faster and more efficient.
When two businesses use web services, and both understand the process, these services can provide efficient technology distribution for a whole network. This means higher ROI for executives!
Different Types of Web Services
As mentioned above, there are a few types of web services, like SOAP, XML-RPC, REST, and UDDI. Below, we’ll review a few of them so you can better understand what these services really mean.
SOAP is an XML-based web service protocol. This protocol uses HTTP to send and receive data. It also uses XML to enable independent processes operating on separate systems to communicate.
The most basic XML protocol is XML-RPC or Remote Procedure Call. This is used to send and receive data from different devices, all on the same network. Data is easily transferred from person to server by using HTTP.
REST connects devices and the internet for API-based tasks. These services also mostly use HTTP as the protocol.
Finally, UDDI means Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration. This is an XML-based standard for publishing web services, and the goal is to simplify digital transactions and e-commerce for businesses. It’s essentially an internet registry for companies around the world.
Comparing Web Services
There’s a common debate among IT professionals and web developers about which service is better: SOAP or RESTful. In general, it depends on what you’re looking for in a web service since they offer different things.
When it comes to speed and efficiency, a REST web service is usually the go-to choice. But if you’re looking to build a service with multiple methods, SOAP is a much better option. This is all to say that your business’s requirements will determine which type of web service you should choose.
Some organizations use both options, like Amazon and eBay. These two huge e-commerce businesses use both REST and SOAP for their web services. More companies are beginning to follow their lead and will support both types. This expands their functionality as businesses become more focused on delivering high-quality service.
But it’s important to understand the difference between REST and SOAP so you can have a better grasp on their pros and cons.
What are RESTful Web Services?
The acronym REST means Representational State Transfer. These web services are lightweight and particularly well configured for APIs. This is helpful for users who are spread out across the internet.
REST is an architectural style of application that transfers representations of resources. This is done through requests and responses.
In this style, it’s important to understand that data and functionality are considered resources. These resources are accessed using URIs, or Uniform Resource Identifiers, which means links on the internet.
The resources are then represented by documents and can be acted upon by using operations that are simple and well-defined.
The pros of a RESTful web service is that it’s readable by humans, easier to build than other web services and is lightweight. But the cons include having a lack of standards, along with point-to-point communication.
What are SOAP Web Services?
This web service acronym means Simple Object Access Protocol. SOAP web services were developed by Microsoft as an intermediate language allowing apps built on different programming languages to easily communicate.
This web service protocol sends and receives data using XML and typically uses HTTP and SMTP for transmitting data. WSDL (Web Services Description Language) documents are how SOAP distributes a web service description model. Basically, this is how SOAP requests (from a user) and responses (from a server) will appear.
The pros of SOAP are that it’s usually easier to understand and uses more standards, like WSDL. It’s also distributed computing. But in terms of cons, SOAP is more difficult to set up due to complicated coding, and it’s harder to develop.
How Do They Compare to APIs?
They are often mistaken with APIs, and there is a lot of common ground. An API means Application Programming Interface. This is essentially the messenger that delivers your request to a provider that you’re requesting it from, and it will then deliver the response back.
Often they will provide an API, and it’s important to understand that all web services can be APIs, but the reverse is not true. Not all APIs can be web services because there are clear differences between the two.
APIs are lightweight and used for mobile devices, and can use any form of communication. But a web service only uses SOAP, REST and XML-RPC, so it’s not as lightweight. Also, they support HTTP. This is why it’s so well-utilized on the internet. However, APIs support URL, caching, content formats, request/response headers, and versioning.
They are similar in that both are accessed through HTTP to allow for communication between providers and users. They also both process data and receive responses from calling a function.
Understanding Web Services and How They Function
What are web services? This technical guide above should help you to understand everything you need to know.
They have truly changed our modern technological world and how the internet functions. Before these advancements, limited integrations prevented faster data exchange between devices, businesses, technologies, and format. They are now vital for modern functionality.
Having an understanding of the different types, the REST vs. SOAP debate, and how APIs play into the larger picture are all important for painting a clear picture of web services.
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