Simplifying Web Services with REST web service protocol

The REST (Representational State Transfer) web service protocol is the latest way that services can be delivered over the web and it’s expected to be widely adopted in the web services domain.

Until now, the majority of web service providers have used SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) to deliver their service or product. However, this is all set to change with the introduction of REST.

REST offers unique advantages over the existing web service standard, SOAP. It is very easy to use, completely platform independent and always available - it doesn’t require any additional software to get it working. The protocol is easier to develop at the server side and easier to use at the client or customer side than SOAP is.

The shared feedback from software developers is around the simplicity of REST and many have been surprised at how simple and straightforward it is to use. For customers, REST means that they can be up and running in a matter of minutes, which is why it’s likely to become the standard that most web service providers operate by.

SOAP can, in instances, pose interoperability problems for some businesses and thus prove difficult for them. This is because SOAP data messages can be complex and software tools need to be used to decipher the messages. SOAP is an XML based message layer which sits on top of the HTTP layer, that’s used for internet communication.

In his PhD thesis in 2000, Dr Roy Fielding suggested that there was no need for this extra layer - web services could operate more efficiently using the HTTP layer and its simple 'built in' commands.

Recently, the advantages of this approach have become increasingly clear to web services developers. Instead of wrestling with an extra layer of complexity, why not simply stick to basics? Virtually all programming languages can retrieve content from a web page using standard functionality. Instead of creating a whole new layer of communication over the web as SOAP does, REST uses the core functions that are built into the web already, meaning any software that is web accessible is also REST accessible.

At Unified Software, we are always looking for ways in which the latest technologies can be used to provide better solutions to 'real world' business problems. In keeping with this strategy, we now provide our BankVal web services via the REST protocol, in addition to SOAP. Initial feedback from customers who are using BankVal via the new REST protocol has been positive and, by providing BankVal via SOAP and REST, our customers are getting choice, flexibility and increased efficiency, so that we can meet their needs as best we can.

In all, as the REST protocol doesn’t require the software tools that SOAP does, and sticks to the globally adopted core internet messaging standards, it is definitely a fundamental development in the web services realm and looks set to play a key role in the Software as a Service revolution.