The SOAP Opera Progresses - Helping XML to Rule the World

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The SOAP Opera Progresses - Helping XML to Rule the World
M. Reed - August 20, 2001

Event Summary

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has released the first public working drafts of SOAP Version 1.2 and the XML Protocol Abstract Model. By formally publishing these working drafts at an early stage of the design work, W3C hopes to ensure that the public can follow the development of these proposed standards, and contribute to a final result that is widely accepted and adopted.

According to the W3C, data transport is as central to modern computing as is data storage and display in the networked, decentralized, and distributed environment that is the Web (TEC agrees with this opinion strongly). "As XML emerges as the preferred format for data processing, the challenge is for both the sender and the receiver to agree on a transfer protocol at the application level or layer - whether the transfer is to occur between software programs, machines, or organizations".

The XML Protocol Working Group has the goal of developing technologies which allow two or more peers to communicate in a distributed environment, using XML as its encapsulation language. These solutions allow a layered architecture on top of an extensible and simple messaging format, which is expected to provide robustness, simplicity, reusability and interoperability.

SOAP Version 1.2 provides a specific framework for XML-based messaging systems, which includes specifying a message envelope format and a method for data serialization, and fulfills requirements spelled out in the charter, including the integration of core XML Technologies. It also provides a refined processing model, which reduces ambiguities created by various interpretations of the SOAP/1.1 Specification. SOAP Version 1.2 includes strong recommendations for explicit error messages for mandatory extensions, giving developers better information, and helping them to develop better applications.

Members of the Working Group include industry and technology leaders such as: Active Data Exchange; Akamai Technologies; Allaire; AOL/Netscape; AT&T; BEA Systems, Bowstreet Software, Canon; Commerce One, Compaq Computer Corporation; Daimler-Chrysler Research and Technology; DataChannel; Data Research Associates; DevelopMentor; Engenia Software; Epicentric; Ericsson; Fujitsu Limited; Group 8760; Hewlett-Packard Corporation; IBM; IDOOX s.r.o.; Informix Software; Intel Corporation; Interwoven; IONA Technologies; Jamcracker; Library of Congress; Lotus Development Corporation; Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.; Microsoft Corporation; MITRE Corporation; Oracle; Philips Research; Propel; Rogue Wave; SAP AG; Software AG; Sun Microsystems; TIBCO Software Inc., Unisys; Vitria Technology, Inc; webMethods; and Xerox.

Market Impact

SOAP was originally a proprietary Microsoft protocol, which was billed as "the replacement for DCOM" (another proprietary Microsoft protocol). After review, and impressed by its simplicity and support for XML, IBM and other vendors signed on, and it is rapidly becoming the new de-facto standard for data interchange using XML.

Vendors who don't add support for SOAP quickly (especially the 1.2 standard), may be left in the dust by staying with proprietary standards such as DCOM. It is likely that CORBA (Common Object Request Broker Architecture), from the Object Management Group (OMG), will continue to thrive, due to its high level of industry acceptance and use. It is also likely that groups like W3C and the OMG will build "bridges" to transfer information from one architecture to another, such as was done with COM and CORBA, but as we have often stated, "one standard is better than many".

User Recommendations

Customers are advised to keep a close eye on the development of the SOAP standard. It may be the best hope of a common integrated standard that all vendors adhere to (of course the dreaded "proprietary extensions" are inevitable). In this way, application integration can be greatly eased, and the cost of implementing new solutions reduced.

In addition, XML (which SOAP supports) is becoming the best way to transfer data streams over the web. If SOAP lives up to its promise and creates a way to eliminate the need for "DTD (Data Type Definition) dictionaries", which define how "my stuff turns into your stuff", it will eventually replace EDI, and conquer the Internet world.

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