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Joel writes : "SOAP is inadequate for remoting"

In his Apr 25th article about SOAP, Joel advocates that inventing a new protocol simply to be able to pass through firewalls doesn't make much sense : It will be obsolete as soon as firewall developers adapt their products.

My 2 EUR cents to back him up : An article where Don Box himself (author of SOAP) explains that we need a new HTTP :,,t269-s2105076,00.html

BTW, I knew that Box left DevelopMentor a few months ago. I learned only a couple of days ago that he joined MS (as .NET evangelist).
[Well, I must be up around 2.5 cents by now :-)]

Serge Wautier
Thursday, April 25, 2002

I'm actually somewhat confused about what he wrote.  He seems to spend several paragraphs complaining about everyone complaining about SOAP, then he uses the last paragraph to rip it a new one.

Over the last month or so I have really questioned if Joel articles are worth reading anymore.

Anthony Rubin
Thursday, April 25, 2002

I thought the best part of having SOAP is it lets you know where excatly to look.....

SOAP is slow though over HTTP.

I guess it has to mature a bit more, and the hype with all the buzz words need to stop, SOAP wow, Web-Services WOW!!!!

Prakash S
Thursday, April 25, 2002

I for one, am really bothered by the whole SOAP concept, but not for Joel's reasons. The idea of xml-based marshaling is certainly the next stage to go in making RPC more reliable and recoverable. The ability to have a readable call stack wired over the network will definitely make debugging easier. But should we really be performing procedure calls over the internet?

It sounds like a nifty idea, but doing real "business-functions" over the net requires Transactional (ACID) semantics, and that's something that SOAP really wasn't built for (Can you really do a 2-phase commit over HTTP?).

I for one, don't feel there's anything wrong with either Batch loading or Message queueing as a way to inter-operate between enterprises. However, they are decidedly un-sexy in their form, and will probably not find very strong adoption since every developer seems to desire linguistic syntax/semantics over the simpler "parse and process file/message)" paradigm.

When you start introducing temporal complexity (ie. RPC sequences) into cross-business/machine/process communications, there's an increased potential for subtle bugs to sneak into the overall "system". This is worsened by the fact that SOAP-like services are essentially black box components that you have no access to. How is this any different from "that third party library" you were complaining about last week? We'll, this virtual DLL is located across the country and there's little chance in hell you'll be able to track down the subtle bugs without raising a lot of ruckus.

There are certainly unique and interesting services that can be performed with SOAP, and Google is definitely one of them. But for the majority of communications required in businesses (most of it is likely to be accounting/ reconciliation/ reports), if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

BTW, I do have to commend Microsoft for raising the bar of awareness of cross-business/real-enough-time communications to the bill paying (READ: Management) public. I just hope it doesn't mutate into something unwieldy I have to debug in 2038 :-)


James Wann
Thursday, April 25, 2002

<hearsay> SOAP originated when MS found out that big businesses prefer CORBA to DCOM because of the vendor lock-in associated with DCOM; They looked for something that would look "open" enough to decision makers, and would possibly work as a DCOM/CORBA bridge, and eventually SOAP came to be</hearsay>

Regardless of whether this is true, SOAP is, in general, bad news: It's inefficient in every possible respect (think 100:1 network and computation resources compared to a properly designed protocol, 10:1 to a less-than-properly-but-not-as-bad-as-SOAP one), taking XMLs inherent inefficiency to a new level, with almost <result><double>0</double></result> benefit. It's a management nightmare (as Joel hints when talking about Firewalls - but it goes way farther than that).

It has no provision for robustness (two phase commit mentioned earlier in this thread, reliability guarantees, load balancing), and it doesn't actually solve any real problem (except, perhaps, Microsoft's problem of the market reluctance to leave CORBA - which is weird, because almost no one is actually using it).

And to anyone who's going to respond that 100 times in efficiency doesn't matter because computers are fast enough - look at it this way: All of the distributed component architectures are complex as hell, cost lots in overhead, and aren't robust unless the app developer has an extremely good grasp of how they work (which is rarely the case). Distributing work among machines generally results in more opportunity for failure, and fault tolerance often costs 10 times as much to get the same performance.
For example, no matter how many front end ASP/JSP servers you have, unless your database is distributed you still have a single point of failure. The minimal installation of an Oracle Parallel Server, A capable fault-tolerant distributed database, costs more than $200,000 (I got a quote of half a mil last time I asked, but if you press hard enough you can probably get down to $200K or so). A single machine license is about 10 times less.
So, assuming you don't have a fault tolerant database, the best thing you can do (leaving, for the moment, security considerations aside) is to run your web server on the same machine that you run the database on, saving network bandwidth, network latencies, and overall cost, without increasing the point-of-failure beyond that of the database machine.

The reason I don't like SOAP (and similarly inefficient systems) is that they don't let me deploy this kind of model - due to the inherent inefficiency, I'll probably be forced to (eventually) go to a distributed model that's extremely harder to do robustly.

Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Mainframes with computational capacity of a Pentium-200Mhz and having 50MB of physical memory were able to handle real application software for hundreds of users simultaneously with good response times using something equivalent to HTML, and the latest-and-greatest technology can't come close with 5 times more processing power and 10 times more memory? (all in the name of making things "simpler", and without any regard for robustness).

Ori Berger
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Forget what Paul Prescod has to say about soap, that Middle Earth analogy at the end should never have been allowed!

Ged Byrne
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Joel is right, but I think there's an underlying issue.  The reason SOAP implementations (in most cases) are no better than the XML/HTTP/URI implementations is that they're largely one-way, untrusted, call-response setups.  Let's say you're using SOAP to make calls to a service found using UDDI through a firewall not configured to allow for real RPC endpoints.  Chances are this is an untrusted service - or you are an untrusted user.

If you're going to allow events to be fired by a remote service, you better trust that it's not going to exploit that power.  If you trust the remote service that much, and plan to have a rich discussion with it, why aren't you using real RPC?  We know how to use tunnels.  We know how to set up static RPC endpoints.  If we're building a real mission critical app, surely we can bring the network guys in to help.  The problem is not one of technology or protocols - it's a problem of trust and logistics.

As for object references - I'm not sure I any distributed environment either you marshal the object or you don't.  You can simulate reference behaviour with callbacks or some such but it ends up getting implemented by value anyway.  The remote machine does not have access to your RAM.

Brent Rockwood
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Paul Brendon --------------------------------------------------------

When Google exposes its service through SOAP, it is behind the Web because the object with the web URI is the SOAP component ("endpoint"), not the actual query results. I need to go through the component to get to the data, like making a phone call through an operator instead of dialing direct. But in the XML/HTTP/URI way of thinking, every possible query result has its own URI and thus is a first-class web data object.


Paul seems to have it all the wrong way round here, from a commercial point of view at least.

Google don't want people linking into their search results whenever they like, but with http its hard to avoid. 

Taking the direct dial metaphor - most IT Departments discourage direct dial into their it departments.  First line contact is always through the Service Desk, to prevent their programmers being constantly intterupted.  Direct dial isn't always the most attractive option.

Ged Byrne
Thursday, April 25, 2002

SOAP isn't required to use HTTP as its transport. While many of the other objections are valid, you need to separate out complaints about SOAP from complaints about SOAP-over-HTTP.

Mike Gunderloy
Thursday, April 25, 2002

"Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Mainframes with computational capacity of a Pentium-200Mhz and having 50MB of physical memory were able to handle real application software for hundreds of users simultaneously with good response times using something equivalent to HTML, and the latest-and-greatest technology can't come close with 5 times more processing power and 10 times more memory? (all in the name of making things "simpler", and without any regard for robustness)."

I wholeheartedly agree.  It seems like cpu cycles on our machines today go into some black hole.  Newer and shinier doesn't translate to performance. 


RYan Ware
Thursday, April 25, 2002

"Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Mainframes with computational capacity of a Pentium-200Mhz and having 50MB of physical memory were able to handle real application software for hundreds of users simultaneously with good response times using something equivalent to HTML, and the latest-and-greatest technology can't come close with 5 times more processing power and 10 times more memory? "

No, you're not. 

I used to work on mainframe sytems in the late 80's/eraly 90's.  We had a large system (we were running a nationwide financial institution) but we supported hundreds of applications and thousands of users simultaneously on a 24x7 basis, without so much as a hiccup.  Can't say the same thing for the situation today.

It seems to me that all of these new ways of doing things are designed to make our lives more complex, not easier.

For transferring of data, is XML REALLY any better than transmitting an EDI-like file?  XML takes magnitudes more disk/network space required to accomplish the same thing.

All of these new ways to do the same thing has me wondering if I really want to continue in the IT world....I've been doing this for 14 years now, and it gets less enjoyable all the time.

Brad Clarke
Thursday, April 25, 2002

I don't know how we totally skipped an RPC interface that made calls in POST/GET with results in something like a query string. Sure this can be done but it's not "standard" and many environments aren't set up real well to do it. SOAP (and even XML-RPC) seems over-kill for most of the stuff I envision. I don't quite understand the comparisons to DCOM/CORBA. I'd compare SOAP more to screen-scraping.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

I think some of the angst over SOAP here is because people are expecting a simple technology to be able to handle everything under the sun.

If SOAP allows VB Joe to write a non scalable app that synchronizes CRM or order data from one database to another, it's succeeded.

I'd go so far as to say that MOST distributed computing can be satisfied by the simple Call/Response format.  Stateful objects, ACID transactions, etc. can be emulated, but making them part of the protocol?  You'd have, gasp, DCOM+/CORBA and VB Joe then couldn't do his job.

Easy stuff should be easy.  Let's keep it that way.

Bill Carlson
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Easy is XML-RPC.  Same concept (XML wrapping of an RPC call over HTTP) but infinitely simpler design.

I love XML-RPC.  I use it to transfer data between a web application and a VB client (which then dumps the data into the clients back-end system).  SOAP is scary by comparison; of course, it's designed for so much more (and the "so much more" is what everyone is complaining about!)

Wayne Venables
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Soap's highest and best use may not be in 'real "business-functions"' if "real" means an event that lands on the books at some point.  I find it's application to collaboration much more interesting and less problematic. That said, Soap is just another tool that works, not the only tool that works.

Dan Sickles
Thursday, April 25, 2002

I would find it amazing how many people really do not understand SOAP if it were not for the fact that the SOAP specification is extremely hard to read, SOAP has changed its stripes significantly over the years and Microsoft's tools so abstract over SOAP that people have no idea what SOAP is and isn't doing. Nevertheless -- if you haven't read through the SOAP specification yourself, and thought through the details, then I think you should. Consider that stark dichotomy between part 1 and part 2. What does that mean for interoperability? Why is there a type system in there if Don Box agrees that most people will not and should not use it? If RPC over HTTP is "just one way" to use SOAP, then where are the specifications for the "other ways"? Are non-HTTP uses interoperable? Will they ever be? Based on what specifications?

Paul Prescod
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Hi Paul,

As I mentioned in a response to your other post, the reason a type system was invented was because XML Schema didn't exist.  There was only DTD which didn't express type only structure.

I have read the 1.1 spec (many many times) and I still get a headache reading it :-).  Too many SHOULDs and not enough MUSTs.

I have also read the 1.2 spec (ok...recommendation) and it is a much easier read.  Plus they have a pretty good primer section so far (much like the XML Schema 0: Primer).

As for SOAP over other transports being interoparable (sp?), I say yes because I've built one.  My routing server is based around the SOAP Envelope, Header, and Body structure using XSD defined payloads.  I've sent messages over HTTP that got turned into SMTP payloads and then eventually made their way back to the original sender.  I did all this without the WS-Routing specification.  Now that it is out, it should help things significantly.  Of course, it is a MS and IBM sponsored spec so maybe you don't put a lot of faith in it till the W3C stamps it.  If so, that is your purogative.  But I've got work to do and those specs (WS-Routing, WS-Security, etc.) are speeding my job up right now.  If (or when) the W3C gets off their a$$ and writes specs (and I need more than just XMLDSIG and XMLENC) that accomplish the same thing, I'll move to them.

SOAP-RPC is getting too much hype as you rightly point out.  But SOAP (envelope, extensible header section, and body) is very useful.  Just strip out the encoding stuff, your life will be more pleasent :-)

Also someone somewhere in this thread mentioned, just use good ol' RPC and open up some ports.  Bring the network guys in and have a go at it.  So what happens if I'm using C++ on Windows and someone else is using Objective C on Mac OS X?  Does the RPC framework take care of that?  Does Objective C even have access to an RPC framework on Mac OS X?  Also, having fired up a packet sniffer and looked at DCOM packets and DCE-RPC packets, I much prefer debugging SOAP on the wire :-)

Justin Rudd

Justin Rudd
Friday, April 26, 2002

An alternative to both SOAP and XML-RPC is MIME-RPC. MIME-RPC is even simpler than XML-RPC and avoids some ambiguity in the XML-RPC spec. MIME is not as "sexy" as XML, but it is time-tested and seems like an interesting approach.

Banana Fred
Friday, April 26, 2002

Could someone please explain the problem with:

Request --

Response --

Saturday, April 27, 2002

Er...that it's running as a cgi-bin in 2002?


- m

Matthew Christensen
Saturday, April 27, 2002

Patrick, there's nothing wrong with the URL you posted.

But if you want to pass a complicated structure or array or array of structures, you'll need some way to encode them.

In other words, if your needs are simple, then keep it simple. If Paypal interfaces some useful functionality that way I'm sure people will use it.

Dave Winer
Saturday, April 27, 2002

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Friday, June 25, 2004

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