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'Web service' has come a long way


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POSTED: Monday, March 23, 2009

The term “;Web service”; has been in vogue for a few years. Like many technical phrases, folks may be intimidated when hearing it. The concept of a Web service, however, is quite simple to understand.

In its most basic form, a Web service facilitates exchange of information over the Internet between disparate computer programs or systems.

Web services are based on a set of open standards that allow anyone to develop or use them.

A Web service can be thought of as a hidden Web page. It is accessed over the Internet just like a Web page. Typically, however, a Web service is not meant to be viewed by humans.

Theoretically, “;consumers,”; or people who use Web services need to know very little about the source system.

The Web service itself provides the information necessary for its use. It tells you what kind of functions and data it can perform, and how it expects you to interact with it.

For example, a supplier may want to provide information to its customers with respect to inventory.

A Web service can be made available that allows all of its authorized customers to get up-to-the minute information as to availability.

Not impressed?

Well consider how something like this would have worked in the old days.

The supplier would have to write a program that queried its database.

This program would probably be proprietary.

Usually this program would poll the database and then make information available at set intervals—hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. Real-time was out of the question.

At the same time, any customer who wanted this information would have to write its own proprietary program to retrieve the data and insert it into its own database.

If the supplier and vendor had different types of computers, like an IBM mainframe and a Unix server for example, an additional level of complexity was added.

Finally there would need to be a means of communication. Prior to the advent of the Internet, this would have to be done via dial-up phone lines, or costly dedicated networks.

Even as flaky as you think your Internet connection may be, it is nothing compared to the instability of dial-up modems.

There are many types of Web services available today. Common uses include credit card verification and payment, as well as address verification and correction for both physical and e-mail addresses.

Industry-specific Web services provide functionality such as insurance ratings and real estate valuations.

It is usually very simple for an organization with a browser-based system to implement Web services.

For organizations with older computer systems, it is still possible to enable Web services to legacy applications, but it takes a little more work and perhaps some additional infrastructure.