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More devices than ever communicate effortlessly with each other. JSON, SOAP, and REST are the primary web service languages that tie all of these different machines together in a cohesive whole. When a programmer wants to “get answers” from a third-party service, she’ll tap into one of these three heavyweight acronyms to access their APIs.
It’s worth understanding the more intricate points of each protocol before deciding on which one to use for a project.
What does SOAP stand for?
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) allows different connected devices that run Windows or Linux to communicate using XML. The machines don’t need to use the same Operating System because they both understand the language of XML. SOAP spent years dominating the online landscape but has cooled off in favor of REST in recent years.
What does REST stand for?
REST (Representational State Transfer) is a very popular Web Communication Service that powers 70% of the web currently. Ultimately, REST is similar to SOAP in scope, but the way the two protocols approach the same solutions is very different. Deciding which to utilize for a specific project can be a controversial decision for any programmer.
What does JSON stand for?
What are the main differences between SOAP and REST?
The SOAP specifications are official web standards, maintained and developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). As opposed to SOAP, REST is not a protocol but an architectural style. The REST architecture lays down a set of guidelines you need to follow if you want to provide a RESTful web service, for example, stateless existence and the use of HTTP status codes.
– Per source
REST came after SOAP with the hope of solving some of its predecessor’s issues. The architecture for REST doesn’t require processing, so it’s a more flexible approach than SOAP by default.
SOAP has stricter rules, making it preferential for projects that need fast prototyping and strict rules. SOAP came first and went a long way towards solving the problems of prior communication services.
SOAP has three primary characteristics:
- Extensibility – The protocol allows for extensions that introduce more powerful features.
- Neutrality – SOAP is capable of operating over a wide range of protocols like UDP, JMS, SMTP, TCP, and HTTP.
- Independence – Just about any programming language can use SOAP.
SOAP has been a stalwart since its introduction in 1998 and continues to dominate the Enterprise space, although the masses of web developers are now opting for REST. For many projects, the decision to implement one protocol over the other will come down to preference, experience, and critical feature requirements.
Developers use JSON to access SOAP or RESTful APIs. Which brings up a question worth discussing.
Which is better REST or SOAP?
This seemingly simple question has a tinge of controversy. It’s not easy to pick one of these standard protocols over the other. Both of them are proven high-load solutions that power millions of essential websites and apps. Developers can’t go wrong using either, but the final decision will always come down to what the development team hopes to gain.
The team will need to determine whether speed, security, power, or flexibility is the most crucial requirement. Making that determination is much different for the developer of a financial app than it is for someone who’s creating a non-critical web API. Enterprises have been using SOAP for so long that they understand it and count on it for the type of stability they require.
REST is more accessible to implement and to learn. That’s one of the reasons the protocol has been growing in popularity in recent years. REST is also similar to many other web services, so the learning curve is not as steep. Massive amounts of free tools and tutorials help spur adoption, especially among self-learners.
Let’s look at the primary reasons REST may be better than SOAP for a project.:
- JSON and REST play together very nicely, which means formatting data has never been more accessible. SOAP only allows XML, which is not nearly as straightforward to create.
- Because it easily handles JSON, REST offers superb browser support, making the API accessible from all clients.
- The performance of REST is top-notch because caching non-dynamic information is a core principle.
- The web’s largest service providers like Yahoo, Amazon, eBay, and Google offer RESTful APIs for most of the most popular features. Programmers end up learning this protocol when they begin to implement and integrate third-party web services.
- REST means more profits because it’s faster than SOAP and chews up less bandwidth.
- Programmers also appreciate how easy it is to integrate into an existing website, with no requirement to do a complete refactoring of existing website infrastructure. Nobody wants to reinvent the wheel or build an entirely new site or service to add a feature. Using REST, they’ll be able to add just about any functionality with a minimum of hassle.
Most web developers are looking to limit their expenses, so the caching factor ends up being a deciding factor in choosing REST. Third party services won’t get much use unless the API responds fast. Caching also reduces the amount of overhead and bandwidth, improving performance while reducing costs.
Once the developer adds in the reduced complexity of using JSON instead of XML, many decide that REST is what they need.
When to use SOAP?
There are a few particular reasons some developers head in the opposite direction and rely on SOAP.
An essential motivation is to tap SOAP’s benefits for increased security.
SOAP’s powerful WS-Security extension allows for the use of security tokens and opens up the API for secure messaging.
For corporate entities or government organizations, security is critical, and SOAP wins out over REST in this area.
It’s crucial to understand the importance of securing web service.
Once an API is exposed for the world to see and use, numerous entities will target it for nefarious purposes.
The development team must decide on implementing the protocol and extensions that will lock down the system from dangerous elements.
Once the API is in production, it will be too late.
How to decide on SOAP or REST?
SOAP and REST each have their drawbacks and benefits.
Here are a few of the critical considerations to account for when selecting one for a project:
- Programming Language
- Application Requirements
- Operating Environment
- End User Requirements
Each of these factors will help you determine whether you go with SOAP or REST. It’s worth giving the topic sufficient thought before finalizing your choice. Fortunately, both of these protocols are proven winners, so they’re outstanding options for foundation building.
End users are the ones who rely on the API the most. It’s always worth considering their precise desires. For most, they’re looking to be able to add the functionality the API provides to their service in a straightforward, secure, and timely manner. The development team has a different set of needs which are equally important. Hopefully, SOAP or REST will fulfill those prerequisites.
Can you use JSON with SOAP?
Another consideration is whether the project will use JSON or not. JSON is widely popular because it makes getting the most out of data a simple process. XML is more complicated to worth with, so if the simplicity of using JSON is essential, you’ll need to know the answer to this question.
The short answer is that you may not use JSON with SOAP. The protocol is strict, and the only option for data is XML. It’s for this reason alone that just about everyone recommends REST instead of SOAP. JSON is easier to work with than XML, so REST becomes the preferred option.
The Final Tally
REST is the big dog in Web Service Communication Protocols these days because it does its job well. REST is sufficient for the largest companies on earth, making it suitable for lower volume applications as well. However, there may well come a time when SOAP is more appropriate, especially for developers who offer bespoke programming services for enterprises.
Many organizations still rely heavily on SOAP and will always demand it. The protocol is strict, which comes with its drawbacks and benefits. If the project requires strict typing and precise documentation, SOAP may still end up being the go-to solution.
SOAP has its proponents, especially at larger companies. REST is the current leader, but things change quickly with technology so new protocols might emerge. Right now, one of these two protocols will likely be right for just about any type of project. SOAP has a two-decade history at this stage of history, so there’s no question it’s a durable messaging protocol specification that stands the test of time.
Since 2000, programmers have come to understand the benefits of “representational state transfer” and the REST web service style. Just like SOAP, REST has stood up to the demands of hundreds of millions of daily users.
The time has never been better to launch a web service that gets significant use. With the proper infrastructure in place, maintaining the service is straightforward. As the amount of visitors and regular users soars, monitoring the API will become increasingly important. API performance monitoring is a subject all its own. A robust toolset will allow the team to refactor when necessary and to apply and maintenance patches when the situation arises. These chores will remain essential regardless of whether the web service is SOAP or REST. A well-maintained web service is a valuable asset that offers a significant return on investment. Choose wisely, and the potential upside is enormous.