Questioned under a slowly swinging light, Web services wouldnt confess to being anything special or even anything we havent seen before.
Bruce Nelson and Andrew Birrell, two researchers at Xerox Corp. subsidiary Palo Alto Research Center Inc., formalized the idea of the remote procedure call in a series of publications in the early 1980s. Sun Microsystems Inc. popularized the idea with its Sun Remote Procedure Call implementation, and, since then, weve seen a parade of other implementations, many of which are still in use.
Its not that Web services are particularly efficient or fast, either. Just the opposite: The text-based protocols used by Web services typically require 10 times the bytes of a binary protocol to send the same information and have to be transformed at both ends into binary form, a relatively slow and CPU-intensive process. Moreover, a glaring lack of security infrastructure has been obvious to Web services observers ever since the technology was first discussed.
However, what is more important than all these issues—important though they are—is that never before has such a large portion of the technology industry agreed on a single way to call functions on a remote system.
With one leg on the shoulder of the HTTP giant and the other on the XML giant, Web services has emerged as the leading vendor-neutral interoperability technology. The diversity in real-world Web services implementations is already amazing:
The Colorado Department of Agriculture uses Web services to publish deer and elk tracking data, JetBlue Airways Corp. uses them to process credit card transactions, and the state of New Mexico uses them for content management.
Its the potential size of this interconnected network that makes all the difference. For the first time, a phone, handheld, PC, minicomputer and mainframe can all exchange information using the same protocol and the same semantics.
Moreover, they can do it today, using available production software and tools that developers already know, running over networks that are already deployed.
In this report, eWeek Labs examines how Web services have affected and will affect a number of areas in the IT industry: the application development process, database access, content management and portals, user directories, and mobile devices. We also provide the latest on security mechanisms for Web service deployments. Also, check out our Web services resource guide.
In the end, Web services are one more tool for an old job. Theyre a good tool, though—flexible, easy to use and well-supported. And they keep getting better with age.