Sun technologist: SOAP stack a 'failure'

Tim Bray, co-inventor of XML, prefers REST mechanism over SOAP

The SOAP stack for Web services was branded a failure this week by Tim Bray, a Sun Microsystems technologist and co-inventor of XML, who hailed the REST (Representational State Transfer) mechanism as a SOAP alternative.

"The SOAP stack is generally regarded as an embarrassing failure these days," said Bray, who is Sun director of Web technologies, in an interview Wednesday afternoon at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore. "REST does what [the SOAP stack] was trying to do in a much more viable, elegant, cheap, affordable way except that we've got no tooling around it yet."

REST can be used for integration, enabling, for example, PHP Web front ends to talk to a Java manufacturing system, said Bray.

Tools to help developers work with REST are coming from companies such as Sun, Microsoft and Oracle, said Bray. These tools would make it easier to create REST services and test them, he said.

SOAP and the attendant set of WS-*  (ws star) specifications for security, messaging, and other capabilities certainly have had their detractors. Some, including Ruby on Rails founder David Heinemeier Hansson, have called these specifications "ws death star" -- a takeoff on the enemy home base in the "Star Wars" movies.

Analysts at ZapThink, who have specialized in technologies such as Web services and SOA, sharply disagreed with Bray.

"Tim Bray is a REST proponent and he'll say what he needs to, to bash SOAP and promote REST. SOAP is alive and well. There's no widespread movement away from SOAP. If you can find evidence of that [apart from Tim Bray], let me know," said Ronald Schmelzer, ZapThink senior analyst.

"It's ironic as well that he's incorrect about the lack of REST tooling. JackBe, Corizon, and others support REST," said Jason Bloomberg, a managing partner at ZapThink.

Bray also cited a need for more and better testing frameworks for REST-oriented protocols and frameworks.

During a keynote presentation at OSCON on Friday, Bray will talk about the "language inflection point," in which various languages such as Perl, Python, and Ruby have been gathering momentum at the expense of the established Java and .Net platforms.

"Up until two years ago, if you were a serious programmer you wrote code in either Java or .Net," Bray said. "[Now], there are all these options that people are looking at and it's really an inflection point."

The Sun-driven Java platform is accommodating scripting languages such as Ruby and Python on the Java platform, Bray noted. Sun has been enabling these to work on the Java Virtual Machine.

"The Java language is not what the cool kids are choosing to use these days," said Bray.

Still, Java will stay around, he said. "The Java language isn't going away. It's the world's most popular programming language," Bray said.

"I think that like it or not, we're stuck with a multilanguage future," he stressed.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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