Don Box’s WS-Why Talk and the WS Kernel

At Chris Sells' XML DevCon conference Don Box gave a talk called WS-Why which is described below

"Why? This talk will make sense of why various WS-* specs came to life and which ones every developer should ignore. Naturally, the size of this set is non-zero, however, it is not the entire universe. Hopefully, the audience will be left with a mental model for what to ignore going forward as the WS-* machine continues to move forward."

I got to hang out with Don before the conference as well as read the slides for his talk and although I liked the direction of the talk I wished it could have been more prescriptive. Before continuing to read it's a good idea to read a summary of Don's talk such as the one  at Jeff Barr's blog post AXDC - Don Box and WS-Why?.

In his talk Don breaks XML Web Services specs into

  • WS-DesertIsland - specs that are a must have that form the core XML Web Service specs. These include XML, SOAP, WS-Addressing, WS-MetadataExchange &  XSD+WSDL
  • WS-IslandResort - the next layer of important specs after the core. These include WS-Security, WS-Trust, WS-ReliableMessaging & WS-Policy
  • WS-NewZealand - specs you'd probably need once in a lifetime. These include WS-Eventing, WS-Enumeration & WS-AtomicTransaction
  • WS-IslandOfDoctorMoreau - the ugly step children of the WS-* spec family. These include UDDI, WS-Transfer, WS-BusinessActivity, MTOM and BPEL4WS
  • WS-FantasyIsland - specs Don would love to see. These include WS-Data (XPath/SQL-like query for web services), SOAP over TCP, XSD with better support for versioning, binary XML & WSDL based on RELAX NG.

As can be expected there have been folks who've done a deeper analysis of Don's talk than what I've done above. The most significant so far has been Steve Maine's post The Web Services Kernel which gives an overview of the 5 specs in Don's WS-FantasyIsland.

In general I agree with the direction Don took with the talk. However although it was an appropriate talk for the audience of the XML Devcon, a bunch of implementers and industry experts, I don't see it as significant guidance to developers trying to make sense of the mess of WS-* specs. Don's talk is best seen through the lens of "If I was an implementer which specs should I implement in my XML Web Services toolkit", not "If I was a developer which specs should I use from my XML Web Services toolkit". This is an important distinction. This is why specs like WS-Addressing are in Don's WS kernel even though it is only important if you aren't using HTTP as your transport which most developers would be. 

The talk I'd most love to see next from Don or whoever else in Indigo is going to be doing the conference route next is WS-Which: How to decide what XML Web Services specs are right for your application. As someone who now has the responsibility of designing XML Web Service end points within an intranet (aren't job switches grand?) and perhaps beyond I'm interested in guidance that explains when I should use WS-Security versus SOAP + HTTPS or whether there are any scenarios where using MTOM or WS-Transfer actually make sense.

Don's talk was a good start by the Indigo team for providing guidance for future users of the XML Web Services family of specs but there's still a lot of guidance that is currently missing from them to the industry. More importantly, just because some spec is or isn't in Don's WS kernel doesn't indicate how significant or not it will be to a particular class of application developers. Perhaps I can get Doug to give this talk next year.

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