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W3C issues key Web services standard

The Web's leading standards group puts its stamp of approval on SOAP, an important part of the move toward Web services software.

The Web's leading standards group this week put its stamp of approval on a key Web services protocol.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) said it has published the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) version 1.2 as a formal standard. SOAP is one of a handful of standards behind the industry move toward building Web services software.

The protocol originated several years ago as an informational document within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), another standards group, as a way of executing so-called remote procedure calls. Microsoft then jump-started work on the protocol as a way of letting business software applications communicate over the Web, regardless of what programming language they're written in.

The W3C released SOAP 1.2 as a proposed recommendation last month.

With the release of the SOAP recommendation, both commercial software developers and information technology workers within businesses can now use the standard without fear of incompatibilities--as long as they adhere to the W3C's definition of SOAP.

The W3C stressed that, despite its numbering, SOAP 1.2 was in a sense the first of its kind.

"There were significant technical changes between 1.0 and 1.1, but SOAP 1.1 was never ratified by any independent organization," W3C representative Janet Daly wrote in an e-mail exchange. "SOAP version 1.2 is the first SOAP spec to go through any kind of independent development and review--one could say it's the first SOAP standard."

The W3C also took the opportunity to emphasize its role as an arbiter of Web services standards that will govern the infrastructure required to let commercial applications communicate and interact over the Web.

"Web services make good on the promise of interoperable applications only when the technical foundations are shared, robust, and achieve expected performance," Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C's director, said in a statement. "Today W3C members have endorsed...the first version of SOAP to have undergone rigorous testing and implementation and to support a full complement of Web standards."

The W3C has earned the enmity of some members because of its strict limitations on the use of patented, royalty-bearing intellectual property. The consortium's hard line on royalties has meant that some Web services standards have been proposed to the competing Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

The W3C also has labored for the past few years under the onus of criticisms that it was neglecting the needs of corporations trying to implement Web services.

Contributors to SOAP, based on the W3C's Extensible Markup Language (XML) recommendation, include AT&T, Canon, DaimlerChrysler Research and Technology, Ericsson, IBM, Macromedia, Matsushita, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Sun Microsystems.

The recommendation comes in four parts: the primer, a tutorial; the messaging framework, which establishes the rules for processing and sending SOAP messages; the adjuncts, with rules for encoding messages and describing various features; and the specification assertions and test collection, for testing whether or not SOAP applications will be compatible.