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Web services group issues guidelines

The Web Services Interoperability organization finalizes guidelines to make sure that Web services products interoperate as advertised.

A vendor-backed standards group on Tuesday released guidelines designed to help developers build software that complies with early Web services specifications.

The Web services Interoperability organization (WS-I) was created last year at the behest of Microsoft and IBM to ensure that a series of Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based standards, called Web services, will allow software from different providers to work together as advertised. The WS-I has about 150 members, including information technology (IT) companies and their corporate customers.

Web services standards are designed to allow disparate systems share information. But differences in how IT providers write products from specifications--which are the software equivalent of building blueprints--can create conflicts and incompatible software.

With that in mind, the WS-I has finalized its first guidelines for how software providers should create products from Web services specifications to ensure interoperability.

The goal of the guidelines is to drive adoption of Web services with corporations and to simplify the lives of software developers who write Web services applications, said Rob Cheng, WS-I spokesman and product marketing manager for Web services and emerging technology at Oracle.

"We're trying to reduce risk," Cheng said. "One of the things that's slowing adoption of Web services is that end users and companies are worried about jumping on a beta format that doesn't get picked up in the industry."

From a software provider's perspective, the interoperability tests will allow companies to focus on building marketable products rather than sort out technical glitches, he said.

The initial "Basic Profile" from the WS-I addresses the first Web services standards to take hold in the marketplace. These include the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) 1.1, Web Services Description Language (WSDL) 1.1, Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) 2.0, and XML document formats, or schema.

Several IT companies on Tuesday voiced support for the WS-I guidelines. WebMethods, which joined the WS-I board this year, said its integration software supports the Basic Profile while IBM said its WebSphere Studio development tool would adhere to the specifications later this month.

Also, DataPower said it will comply with the Basic Profile in its specialized hardware products for accelerating and securing the transmission of SOAP messages. And Mindreef released a diagnostics tool that will let developers verify that their Web services comply with the WS-I's guidelines for the WSDL 1.1 specification.

In about two months, the WS-I will make available testing software and sample applications that will certify compliance. At around the same time, it will introduce a logo program that will allow companies to claim they have passed the certification tests done by the WS-I.

The logo program and the certification process are self-enforcing, which means that the WS-I will not independently verify or police whether companies' products adequately adhere to guidelines.

The WS-I's first interoperability tests address the base-level Web services specifications that cover basic data exchange and formatting issues. But IT providers are busy proposing a second wave of industry specifications that will make Web services applications more reliable and secure, and generally more attractive to corporate customers.

The WS-I has established a working group to build interoperability guidelines for several security standards that are being worked on under the auspices of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). The working group expects to have a draft security interoperability guideline by the end of the year, Cheng said.

However, the WS-I is staying clear for the moment of the most recently proposed Web services specifications for reliable messaging, management or business process automation. Standards proposals for these more complicated functions are still being developed in standards bodies and, in some cases, beset by political wrangling.

These latest standards, which have seen overlapping proposals from rival companies, indicate that the specifications are not mature enough to form a working group in the WS-I to sort out incompatibilities, Cheng said. However, he said he was encouraged that the WS-I could act an effective forum to sort out providers' differences.

"It's nice to have a forum where vendors sit across the table and have a lot of pressure to work out some solution, particularly when their customers are involved because they don't care about the politics," he said.