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JCP Watch
Froth and Compatibility
A Conversation with Rob Gingell, Part II
by Frank Sommers
January 20, 2002

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Web Services Interoperation

Frank Sommers: A JVM must ensure that it interprets byte codes according to JVM specifications. Those specs, in turn, go a long way to ensure that a piece of byte code produces similar results across JVMs. In the world of XML-based Web services and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), no such specifications exist. Indeed, SOAP interoperability is already an intense discussion topic on mailing lists. Do you believe that differences in data-encoding mechanisms and, consequently, on-the- wire incompatibility could lead to the fragmentation of the XML-Web services world similar to how Unix fragmented--for example, "Apache SOAP Web service," ".Net Web service," or "SunONE Web service," -- similar to HP-UX, SunOS, or Linux?

Rob Gingell: Such differences would damage the premise of Web-based services architectures using those protocols, because you wouldn't get interoperability between products. Since the whole point was to construct functionality from possibly unrelated services, that lack of interoperability would represent either a fatal flaw or limit to the application of the protocols.

However, that doesn't need to happen. To a large extent, network protocols enjoy some of the characteristics of binary standards in that they're presented with firm "yes" or "no" constraints and standards with respect to interoperability. I think we won't really see problems at the SOAP level. Instead, we might see Web services interoperation problems at the application layer of the stack that uses SOAP as a session layer protocol. That application layer might embed some non-specified information such that you get interoperability only by sharing implementation. A hopeful sign here are activities like those of the SOAP Builders group, an organization of industry-wide developers doing interoperability testing.

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