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No REST in Web services protocol debate

An ongoing technical debate over the value of advanced Web services protocols sparked up again this week with several engineers taking sides on blogs.

The nub of the long-running debate is whether a litany of Web services protocols, often referred to as WS-* (pronounced "WS star"), introduce unnecessary complexity in the name of technical robustness and reliability.

About six years ago, Microsoft and IBM took the lead in defining the requirements for Web services protocols, which have been developed over the years with the involvement of several other vendors.

Several people who believe that learning advanced Web services specifications can be avoided altogether by using a technique called REST, which relies primarily on the HTTP protocol and XML.

Microsoft architect Don Box, showing signs of weariness over the debate, published a pithy blog entitled "Pragmatics" last Friday that summarizes his view on when to use the full WS-* "stack" or when to use REST. Microsoft has implemented a full complement of Web services protocols in the Windows Communications Foundation, formerly known as Indigo, and will ship that software in Windows Vista.

Much discussion ensued with arguments covering various technical angles on the debate.

Perhaps the most outspoken and high-profile critic of about the WS-* approach is Tim Bray, director of Web technologies at Sun Microsystems. He ends his post, WS-Angst, this way: "Me, I think the WS-stench of something WS-rotting from the WS-head down is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore."

In short, no side has yet declared full victory and the market, it seems, has yet to fully decide.