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Understanding Coupling in the Context of an SOA

Promoting protocol-based integration

As we bring our SOAs online using Web Services, we all know that SOAP is the standards message transfer protocol. But the interface description language for Web Services (WSDL) isn't specifically for SOAP. It's more generic. A SOAP-centric contract description language for Web Services is needed. Enter the SOAP Service Description Language or SSDL. This framework was just released in mid-February, and is now available for review. Let's take a look.

SSDL lets developers publish and share descriptions of the messages and message exchange patterns supported by Web Services. It also addresses contract and protocol description. In other words, it provides a framework for managing common abstractions such as protocols, messages, and even endpoints. An SSDL contract also acts as a placeholder that encapsulates protocol descriptions, as well as a mechanism for those protocol descriptions to reference the declared messages using a common facility. The frameworks are built very much like the WS-Policy specifications, using a base SSDL framework that offers a fundamental protocol for building and describing messages.

Under Contract

The SSDL provides four protocol description frameworks, but others are possible down the road because it's extensible. The initial release includes: Message Exchange Patterns (MEP) Framework, Communicating Sequential Processes (CSP), Rules-based SSDL Protocol framework (Rules), and the Sequencing Constraints (SC) Protocol Framework.

MEP defines a collection of XML infoset elements information representing commonly used exchange patterns. CSP defines a collection of XML infoset element information items for defining a multi-message exchange, leveraging sequential process semantics. Rules defines a collection of XML infoset elements information used to describe a multi-message exchange protocol using conditions. SC defines a collection of XML infoset element information for multi-party, multi-message exchange protocol using pi-calculus notions.

The goal here is to support various types of end users, letting them pick and choose protocol frameworks that match their applications best. Or, as an option, they can implement their own protocol framework (see below).

SSDL assumes that SOAP is the transport mechanism. So, you can consider SSDL bound to SOAP. SSDL also assumes that WS-Addressing is the standard mechanism for embedding addressing information inside of SOAP envelopes. SSDL focuses on messages and protocols, and as a result there's no need for articles such as 'interface,' 'inheritance,' and 'operation.' An XML infoset is assumed to be the SSDL component model, and the modularization of the contract is handled using XInclude.

As mentioned above, SSDL promotes protocol framework extensibility, allowing a different protocol description model to be integrated into the base SSDL framework, promoting protocol-based integration and letting you expose the message behavior of a service. It is key to the success of the standard, letting flexibility support protocol integration, something that's been difficult in the past.

What's the Value Prop?

So, what do we get here?

SSDL is really providing the mechanisms for service architects to describe the structure of SOAP messages. Once a message has been described, one of the currently available protocol frameworks can be leveraged to combine the messages into protocols that expose the message behavior of the service. As such, architects and developers can create systems that participate in conversations, all adhering to a contract.

The SSDL contract lets those that design and build services focus on the structure of the messages, as well as the message exchange patterns, again by using a common contract for designing, building, and deploying a service. In the SSDL world there are no abstract interfaces, inheritance, or operations. The building services using SSDL define protocols by correlating messages together. That's a powerful concept, and an approach that has obvious advantages. So, how do you play with this thing now?

A tool called SSDL.EXE exists created using the .NET 2.0 platform and Web Service Enhancement 2.0 to consume SSDL contract. SSDL.EXE generates C# and VB.NET code that can be leveraged to implement Web Services for producing and consuming messages. It's extensible through plug-ins, and is only Win32-based so far.

I think we need something like SSDL as SOAs become the rule rather than the exception, providing better control and definition of information moving from point to point. This standard seems to work and play well with other standards, but I think it's a bit complex for many architects to understand. Its extensibility is very powerful, and I suspect will be leveraged in many SOA development projects. Keep an eye on this one.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at david@bluemountainlabs.com. Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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