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Understanding the Web Services Architecture

Joe Casad examines the web services infrastructure and provides a quick look at how e-commerce websites process web transactions.
This chapter is from the book

What you'll learn in this hour:

  • Web services
  • XML
  • SOAP
  • WSDL
  • Web transactions

The technologies of the Web have led to a new revolution in software development. The web service architecture lets the programmer leverage the tools of the Web for complex tasks never envisioned by the creators of HTML. This hour examines the web services infrastructure. You'll also get a quick look at how e-commerce websites process web transactions.

At the completion of this hour, you will be able to

  • Discuss the web service architecture
  • Understand the role of XML, SOAP, and WSDL in the web service paradigm
  • Describe how e-commerce websites process monetary transactions

Understanding Web Services

Now that almost every computer has a web browser, and web servers are widely understood, visionaries and software developers have been hard at work devising new ways to use the tools of the Web. In the old days, a programmer who wanted to write a network application had to create a custom server program, a custom client program, and a custom syntax or format for the two applications to exchange information. The effort of writing all this software was a huge expense of time and brain space, but with the rising importance of computer networking, the goals of data integration and centralized management was driving the demand client server applications. Network program interfaces existed of course—otherwise many of the classic applications described in this book would have never evolved—but network programming typically required some significant, high-priced coding at the network interface.

An easier solution that emerged over time is to use the existing tools, technologies, and protocols of the Web as a basis for creating custom network applications. This approach, which is supported by big companies such as IBM and Microsoft, as well as open source advocates and development tool vendors around the world, is known as the web services architecture.

The idea behind the web services architecture is that the web browser, web server, and TCP/IP protocol stack handle the details of networking so the programmer can concentrate of the details of the application. In recent years, this technology has outgrown the original vision of the Web as a manifestation of the global Internet. This web services architecture is regarded now as an approach to building any sort of network application, whether that application is actually connected to the Internet. Large and powerful vendors such as Sun, Microsoft, and IBM have invested enormous resources in building component infrastructures to support this web services vision.

The HTTP delivery system is only part of what we know as web services. Also significant is the arrival of component architectures that provide ready-made classes, functions, and programming interfaces for working within a web-based environment.

Web service applications are often used in situations that require a simple client connection to a server that maintains inventory or processes orders. For instance, a manufacturing company might use a web services program to place orders, track deliveries, and maintain up-to-date information on the contents of the warehouse.

Almost any big company has a need for software that tracks appointments, orders, and inventory. A web service framework is good for gluing together disparate services and transactions into a single, unified environment.

Figure 20.1 shows a complete web services scenario. On the front end (the left side of Figure 20.1), the programmer can take advantage of the preexisting web infrastructure, which handles data transmission and also provides a user interface through the web browser application on the client computer. On the back end, the programmer relies on the preexisting data storage system provided by an SQL database. The programmer is left to concentrate on the center section of Figure 20.1, where the ready-made components of the web services platform further simplify the task of programming.

Figure 20.1

Figure 20.1 The web services programming model.

Data passes through the components of the web services system in XML format. XML is an efficient, universal means for assigning values to attributes. Experts quickly recognized that the system would work even better if they could use the XML format to actually invoke services or generate responses over the network. Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) offers a standard method for passing XML-based data between web service processes. SOAP also describes how to use the XML and HTTP to invoke remote procedures. As you learn later in this hour, SOAP messages pass to and from network services defined through the Web Services Description Language (WSDL).

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