REST vs SOAP Web Services
I am seeing a lot of new web services are implemented using a REST style architecture these days rather than a SOAP one. Lets step back a second and explain what REST is.
What is a REST Web Service
The acronym REST stands for Representational State Transfer, this basically means that each unique URL is a representation of some object. You can get the contents of that object using an HTTP GET, to delete it, you then might use a POST, PUT, or DELETE to modify the object (in practice most of the services use a POST for this).
Who's using REST?
All of Yahoo's web services use REST, including Flickr, del.icio.us API uses it, pubsub, bloglines, technorati, and both eBay, and Amazon have web services for both REST and SOAP.
Who's using SOAP?
Google seams to be consistent in implementing their web services to use SOAP, with the exception of Blogger, which uses XML-RPC. You will find SOAP web services in lots of enterprise software as well.
REST vs SOAP
As you may have noticed the companies I mentioned that are using REST api's haven't been around for very long, and their apis came out this year mostly. So REST is definitely the trendy way to create a web service, if creating web services could ever be trendy (lets face it you use soap to wash, and you rest when your tired). The main advantages of REST web services are:
- Lightweight - not a lot of extra xml markup
- Human Readable Results
- Easy to build - no toolkits required
SOAP also has some advantages:
- Easy to consume - sometimes
- Rigid - type checking, adheres to a contract
- Development tools
For consuming web services, its sometimes a toss up between which is easier. For instance Google's AdWords web service is really hard to consume (in CF anyways), it uses SOAP headers, and a number of other things that make it kind of difficult. On the converse, Amazon's REST web service can sometimes be tricky to parse because it can be highly nested, and the result schema can vary quite a bit based on what you search for.
Which ever architecture you choose make sure its easy for developers to access it, and well documented.
An Update in 2020: When this article was written fifteen years ago, SOAP still had a strong base of support, though it was quickly loosing ground to REST. Things like the popularity of things like Ruby on Rails put a fire under REST (by making it really easy to create REST api's). In the end I think SOAP was just too verbose and slow, REST was something that developers didn't need a library to consume and parse, while if you used SOAP you would not attempt to write a raw implementation from scratch. This developer agility I think led to REST being the winner here over time.
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REST vs SOAP Web Services was first published on August 03, 2005.
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