Chapter 11. Endpoint Design and Architecture

Given a scenario, design Web service applications using information models that are either procedure-style or document-style.

Choosing Between an RPC-Style (remote procedure call) and a Message-Style (document-style) Web Service.

RPC-style Web services are interface driven, which means that the business methods of the underlying stateless session EJB determine how the Web service works. When clients invoke the Web service, they send parameter values to the Web service, which executes the corresponding methods and sends back the return values. The relationship is synchronous, which means that the client waits for a response from the Web service before it continues with the remainder of its application. Create an RPC-style Web service if your application has the following characteristics:

  • The client invoking the Web service needs an immediate response.

  • The client and Web service work in a back-and-forth, conversational way.

  • The behavior of the Web service can be expressed as an interface.

  • The Web service is process-oriented rather than data-oriented.

Examples of RPC-style Web services include providing the current weather conditions in a particular location; returning the current price for a given stock; or checking the credit rating of a potential trading partner prior to the completion of a business transaction. In each case the information is returned immediately, implying a synchronous relationship between the client and the Web service.

RPC is essentially a Remote Procedure Call in which the client sends a SOAP request to execute an operation on the Web Service. The SOAP request contains the name of method to be executed and the parameter it takes. The server running the Web Service converts this request to appropriate objects (java method call, EJB method call etc with parameters of defined type), executes the operation and sends the response as SOAP message to client. At the client side, this response is used to form appropriate objects and return the required information (output) to the client. RPC-style Web Services are tightly coupled because the sending parameters and return values are as described in WSDL (Web Service Description Language ) file and are wrapped in the SOAP body. Following is an example SOAP Body of RPC-style Web Service, which invokes GetStockQuote method with input parameter "ORCL":


<SOAP-ENV:Envelope...>    
  <SOAP-ENV:Body> 
    <m:GetStockQuote xmlns:m="http://hello"> 
      <m:Symbol>ORCL</m:Symbol> 
    </m:GetStockQuote> 
  </SOAP-ENV:Body> 
</SOAP-ENV:Envelope> 
									
					
RPC-style Web Services follow call/response semantics, and hence they are synchronous, which means that the client sends the request and waits for the response till the request is processed completely.

You should create a message-style (document-style) Web service if your application has the following characteristics:

  • The client has an asynchronous relationship with the Web service, or in other words, the client does not expect an immediate response.

  • The Web service is data-oriented rather than process-oriented.

Examples of message-style Web services include processing a purchase order; accepting a request for new DSL home service; or responding to a request for quote order from a customer. In each case, the client sends an entire document, such as purchase order, to the Web service and assumes that the Web service is processing it in some way, but the client does not require an answer right away or even at all. If your Web service will work in this asynchronous, document-driven manner, then you should consider designing it as a message-style Web service. NOTE: Document-Style web servives can use both one-way (non-blocking) calls and two-way (request-response) calls, but preferrable choice will be one-way calls.

Document-Style Web Service are loosely coupled and the request/response are in the form of XML documents. The client sends the parameter to the Web Service as XML document, instead of discrete set of parameter values. The Web Service processes the document, executes the operation and constructs & sends the response to the client as an XML document. There is no direct mapping between the server objects (parameters, method calls etc) and the values in XML documents. The application has to take care of mapping the XML data values. The SOAP Body of a Document-Style carries one or more XML documents, within its body. The protocol places no constraint on how that document needs to be structured, which is totally handled at the application level. Document-Style Web Service follows asynchronous processing. Following is an example SOAP body for Document-Style Web Service:


<SOAP-ENV:Envelope ...>    
  <SOAP-ENV:Body> 
    <StockQuoteRequest symbol="IBA-USA"/> 
  </SOAP-ENV:Body> 
</SOAP-ENV:Envelope> 
									
					
The parameters of the methods which are to be exposed by the document style Web Service should be of type XML element only. The return type of the method can be either an XML element or void.

The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) offers two messaging styles: RPC (Remote Procedure Call) and document style. One is for creating tightly coupled, inter-object style interfaces for Web services components; the other is for developing loosely coupled, application-to-application and system-to-system interfaces.

RPC-Style

An RPC is a way for an application running in one execution thread on a system to call a procedure belonging to another application running in a different execution thread on the same or a different system. RPC interfaces are based on a request-response model where one program calls, or requests a service of, another across a tightly coupled interface. In Web services applications, one service acts as a client, requesting a service; the other as a server, responding to that request. RPC interfaces have two parts: the call-level interface seen by the two applications, and the underlying protocol for moving data from one application to the other. NOTE, it may be not only request-response (two-way) RPC call, but also one-way RPC call (but more often it is used with two-way calls).

The call-level interface to an RPC procedure looks just like any other method call in the programming language being used. It consists of a method name and a parameter list. The parameter list is made up of the variables passed to the called procedure and those returned as part of its response.

For Web services, SOAP defines the wiring between the calling and called procedures. At the SOAP level, the RPC interface appears as a series of highly structured XML messages moving between the client and the server where the Body of each SOAP message contains an XML representation of the call or return stack:


<env:Envelope xmlns:env="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/soap/envelope/">
	<env:Body>
		<sm:someMethod xmlns:sm="http://www.xyz.com/sm">
			<someParams>
				<item>100</item>
				<item>200</item>
			</someParams>
		</sm:someMethod>
	</env:Body>
</env:Envelope> 
					
					

The transformation from call-level interface to XML and back occurs through the magic of two processes: marshaling and serialization.

  1. The process begins with the client calling a method implemented as a remote procedure. The client actually calls a proxy stub that acts as a surrogate for the real procedure. The proxy stub presents the same external interface to the caller as would the real procedure, but instead of implementing the procedure's functionality, implements the processes necessary for preparing and transporting data across the interface.

  2. The proxy stub gathers the parameters it receives through its parameter list into a standard form, in this case, into a SOAP message, through a process called marshaling.

  3. The proxy stub encodes the parameters as appropriate during the marshaling process to ensure the recipient can correctly interpret their values. Encoding may be as simple as identifying the correct structure and data type as attributes on the XML tag enclosing the parameter's value or as complex as converting the content to a standard format such as Base64. The final product of the marshaling process is a SOAP message representation of the call stack.

  4. The proxy stub serializes the SOAP message across the transport layer to the server. Serialization involves converting the SOAP message into a TCP/IP buffer stream and transporting that buffer stream between the client and the server.

The server goes through the reverse process to extract the information it needs. A listener service on the server deserializes the transport stream and calls a proxy stub on the server that unmarshals the parameters, decodes and binds them to internal variables and data structures, and invokes the called procedure. The listener process may be, for example, a J2EE servlet, JSP (JavaServer Page), or Microsoft ASP (Active Server Page). The client and server reverse roles and the inverse process occurs to return the server's response to the client.

Document-Style

The difference between RPC-Style and Document-Style is primarily in the control you have over the marshaling process. With RPC-style messaging, standards govern that process. With document-style messaging, you make the decisions: you convert data from internal variables into XML; you place the XML into the Body element of the encapsulating SOAP document; you determine the schema(s), if any, for validating the document's structure; and you determine the encoding scheme, if any, for interpreting data item values. The SOAP document simply becomes a wrapper containing whatever content you decide. For example, the SOAP document shown in following example contains an XML namespace reference, http://www.xyz.com/genealogy, that presumably includes all the information a receiving program needs for validating the message's structure and content, and for correctly interpreting data values:


<env:Envelope xmlns:env="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/soap/envelope/">
	<env:Body>
		<xyz:family xmlns:xyz="http://www.xyz.com/genealogy">
			<parents>
				<father age="29">Mikalai</father>
				<mother age="29">Volha</mother>
			</parents>
			<children>
				...
			</children>			
		</xyz:family>
	</env:Body>
</env:Envelope> 
					
					

If you compare the steps involved in typical document-style message exchange process with those involved in processing an RPC-style message, you will notice they are essentially parallel processes:

  1. The SOAP client uses an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) and the DOM parser, or some other means, to create an XML document.

  2. The SOAP client places this XML document into the Body of a SOAP message.

  3. The SOAP client optionally includes a namespace reference in the message that other applications can use for validating the encapsulated document's format and content. The namespace reference may be included as an attribute either on one of the SOAP elements or on the XML document's root element. If the document does not include a namespace reference, the client and server must agree on some other scheme for validating and interpreting the document's contents.

  4. The SOAP client serializes the message to the SOAP server across either an HTTP or SMTP bound interface.

The SOAP server reverses the process, potentially using a different XSLT, to validate, extract, and bind the information it needs from the XML document to its own internal variables. The roles reverse and the two follow inverse processes for returning and accessing any response values. The rules guiding the marshaling process are the primary difference between this process and that for RPC-style messages. With document-style, you as the SOAP client's author create those rules.

RPC-style messaging maps to the object-oriented, component-technology space. It is an alternative to other component technologies such as DCOM and CORBA where component models are built around programmable interfaces and languages such as Java and C#. RPC-style messaging's strength in this space lies in its platform independence. It offers a standards-based, platform-independent component technology, implemented over standard Internet protocols. One of the benefits of this style's XML layer is that clients and servers can use different programming languages, or technologies, to implement their respective side of the interface, which means one side can choose one set of technologies, such as J2EE's JAX-RPC, while the other chooses a completely different set, such as .NET's C#. RPC-style messaging's standards heritage can be an important consideration in hybrid environments (one using multiple technologies such as J2EE and .NET) and can provide a transition path between different technologies.

RPC-Style messaging's weaknesses

  • Strong coupling

    If you change the number, order, or data types of the parameters to the call-level interface, you must make the change on both sides of the interface.

  • Synchronicity

    Most programming languages assume synchronous method calls: the calling program normally waits for the called program to execute and return any results before continuing. Web services are asynchronous by nature and, in comparison to technologies such as DCOM and CORBA, long running. You may want to take advantage of Web services' asynchronous nature to avoid the user having to wait for calls to complete by developing asynchronous RPC calls, but that adds another level of complexity to your application. Some tools hide this complexity using callbacks, or other techniques, to enable processing overlap between the request and the response. Check to see if the tools you' re using let you choose between synchronous and asynchronous RPC calls.

  • Marshaling and serialization overhead

    Marshaling and serializing XML is more expensive than marshaling and serializing a binary data stream. With XML, at least one side of the interface, and possibly both, involves some parsing in order to move data between internal variables and the XML document. There is also the cost of moving encoded text, which can be larger in size than its binary equivalent, across the interface.

The coupling and synchronicity issues are common to RPC-based component technologies. So they are really not discriminators when making comparisons between these technologies. The marshaling and serialization overhead is greater for RPC-style messaging and places this messaging style at a relative disadvantage. However, with today's high-speed processors and networks, performance is generally not an issue.

Document-style messaging is clearly an option in any situation where an XML document is one of the interface parameters. It is ideal for passing complex business documents, such as invoices, receipts, customer orders, or shipping manifests. Document-style messaging uses an XML document and a stylesheet to specify the content and structure of the information exchanged across the interface, making it an obvious choice in situations where a document's workflow involves a series of services where each service processes a subset of the information within the document. Each service can use an XSLT to validate, extract, and transform only the elements it needs from the larger XML document; with the exception of those elements, the service is insensitive to changes in other parts of the document. The XSLT insulates the service from changes in the number, order, or type of data elements being exchanged. As long as the service creating the document maintains backwards compatibility, it can add or rearrange the elements it places into a document without affecting other services. Those services can simply ignore any additional data. Document-style messaging is also agnostic on the synchronicity of the interface; it works equally well for both synchronous and asynchronous interfaces.

Document-style messaging's weaknesses

  • No standard service identification mechanism

    With document-style messaging, the client and server must agree on a service identification mechanism: a way for a document's recipient to determine which service(s) need to process that document. SOAP header entries offer one option; you can include information in the document's header that helps identify the service(s) needed. WS-Routing makes just such a proposal. Another option is to name elements in the Body of the message for the services that need to process the payload the elements contain. You might ask how that differs from schema-based RPC-style messaging. You would be right in assuming there is little or no difference except possibly in terms of the number of "calls" that can be made per message. A third option is to perform either structure or content analysis as part of a service selection process in order to identify the services needed to process the document.

  • Marshaling and serialization overhead

    Document-style messaging suffers from the same drawbacks as RPC-style messaging in this area. However, the problem may be more severe with document-style messaging. Document-style messaging incurs overhead in three areas: in using DOM, or another technique, to build XML documents; in using DOM, or SAX, to parse those documents in order to extract data values; and in mapping between extracted data values and internal program variables. Tools generating equivalent RPC-style interfaces optimize these transformations. You may have trouble achieving the same level of efficiency in your applications using standard tools.

There are two compelling reasons to use document-style messaging. One is to gain the independence it provides. Its strength lies in decoupling interfaces between services to the point that they can change completely independently of one another. The other is that document-style messaging puts the full power of XML for structuring and encoding information at your disposal. The latter is one reason many consider document-style superior to RPC-style messaging.

RPC-style messaging's strength is as a bridging component technology. It is a good option for creating new components and for creating interfaces between Web services and existing components - you simply wrap existing components with RPC-style Web services interfaces. RPC-style messaging is also an excellent component standard in situations where you are using multiple technologies, such as J2EE and .NET, and want to develop sharable components.

Document-style messaging's strengths are in situations where an XML document is part of the data being passed across the interface, where you want to leverage the full power of XML and XSL, and in instances where you want to minimize coupling between services forming an interface, such as in application-to-application and system-to-system interfaces.

WSDL Example for RPC-Style:


...
<message name="myMethodRequest">
    <part name="x" type="xsd:int"/>
</message>

<portType name="PT">
    <operation name="myMethod">
        <input message="myMethodRequest"/>
    </operation>
</portType>
...
					
					
NOTE: part element has attribute type.

RPC-Literal SOAP message for this request:


<soap:Envelope>
    <soap:Body>
        <myMethod>
            <x>5</x>
        </myMethod>
    </soap:Body>
</soap:Envelope>
					
					

WSDL Example for Document-Style:


<types>
    <schema>
        <element name="xElement" type="xsd:int"/>
    </schema>
</types>

<message name="myMethodRequest">
    <part name="x" element="xElement"/>
</message>

<portType name="PT">
    <operation name="myMethod">
        <input message="myMethodRequest"/>
    </operation>
</portType>
					
					
NOTE: part element has attribute element with value of globally declared element.

Document-Literal SOAP message:


<soap:Envelope>
    <soap:Body>
        <xElement>5</xElement>
    </soap:Body>
</soap:Envelope>
					
					

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