Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SOA for the REST of Us

There has been a lot of discussions comparing REST with SOAP and presenting various points of view on how these technologies affect SOA. The opinions expressed are widely varied. Some believe that REST is the best thing since sliced bread because it reduces load on the network and eliminates the unnecessary complexity of the WS-* standards. Others argue that REST cannot yet be effectively used with SOA due to the protocol’s relative immaturity. More and more, however, we are hearing voices of moderation that consider both approaches complementary.

I believe there is place for both REST and SOAP in an SOA program. You cannot necessarily prohibit the use of one technology over the other with one notable exception – you cannot yet standardize solely on REST. SOAP should still be considered the preferred protocol with REST being utilized in very specific situations. There is a number of reasons why.

  1. Enterprise applications require enterprise capabilities
    REST was designed for simple Web-based interactions, not for complex enterprise applications. A plethora of WS-* standards exist specifically to address the complexity of enterprise integration and interaction needs. Capabilities such as transactions, security, policy, guaranteed delivery, and many others are a must in any enterprise caliber system. REST does not yet support this level of standards and, most likely, never will due to its focus on simplicity and performance.

  2. Security
    REST does not support any specific security standards. In fact, it relies on the infrastructure and middleware to secure end-to-end communications. If service consumers have more robust and complex security requirements than can be met with the underlying infrastructure alone, REST becomes insufficient.

  3. Strong contracts
    Strong adherence to service contracts is the cornerstone of any SOA implementation. It ensures that services expose well-defined contracts and provide adequate information on how to access them. SOAP-based web services have built-in capability to validate their contracts. REST does not inherently support this type of verification. In fact, all the interactions between the consumers and RESTful services contain nothing more than a command and a list of parameters. It becomes the responsibility of the service to ensure the validity of the contract.


As a general rule, REST should be used when performance and simplicity are paramount, no special security requirements exist, and no complex interactions between the consumer and the service are necessary. The best uses for RESTful services should be considered simple extracts of small data sets, inquiries against open public data sources, calls to external vendors supporting the protocol, etc.

A number of SOA and middleware vendors are feverishly working on creating solutions that support both SOAP-based and RESTful services. Very soon, REST and SOAP will simply become some of the many communication protocol choices existing in the rich SOA toolbox. Most of the differences will be eliminated by a combination of server-side technologies and client-side frameworks. However, until this happens, strict standards should be established guiding the use and adoption of RESTful services.

1 comment:

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