ifacethoughts

*OA – The Different Web Programming Paradigms

Update: A Spanish translation of this post is available, thanks to Adrián Moreno Peña.

Web has been the apex of networking, both from software and social perspective. The extreme software networking has turned Web into communication, social networking, collaboration, publishing platform as media and application programming platform. However, as mentioned earlier, Web was originally designed for documents as a way of information sharing. To be able to do what we wanted to do with Web, we had to make it programmable.

Programming The Web

The Web today is programmable. It can be programmed for various purposes, some of which we have mentioned in the beginning. This programmability is derived from the mature generic software programming principles. We need to have an architecture, a design and an implementation. The generic software programming has evolved through a lot of changes, some of which can qualify as improvements. From the programming styles like procedural programming the focus has moved on to architecture and design to produce techniques like OOP and the new Agile and Model Driven Architectures. On similar lines today the Web is full of upcoming architectures and approaches. Lets mull over some of them here.

Services

The concept of service was created to emphasize on loose coupling and a client-server relationship. The pre-Web software was usually tied to the hardware and the associated platforms. Web, being so open and ubiquitous, cannot afford to do that. Web was meant for sharing, irrespective of these restrictions. Hence came up the concept of service. A service is a function with a purpose, serves all the clients without any restriction on their implementation details.

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

Such collection of services were exposed that the clients could avail of and termed as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). These services communicated with each other, some collaborated and some were standalone.

To be able to do a handshake, the clients had to obey the protocols mentioned by the service. These most popular ones were XML-RPC, SOAP. They focused on abstracting Web for applications and domains. A different approach was taken with REST which focused on using the Web as it is, by following its basic principles.

The advantage of SOA was that now businesses could choose between services without being hindered by technology or organizational boundary. Neither the definition nor the specifications of SOA were limited or dependent on Web. SOA could allow interesting mashups and integrations. SaaS is completely based on this and has been able to bring analogical outsourcing concept in businesses.

However, there are some key disadvantages of this approach. The biggest being that in an effort to be platform agnostic and portable, SOA is buried under a load of specifications. Increasingly it is getting difficult and costly to be able to comply with the protocols and talk to a service. Another disadvantage, which need not be severe sometimes, is that the services are not discoverable. Knowledge of the services is required to be able to use the service which mandates a directory of services. Since Web is boundless by nature, it is impossible to keep such a directory. This makes SOA less reachable.

Web Oriented Architecture (WOA)

To make SOA lighter and more popular came WOA. It is essentially a subset of SOA which recommends using REST over heavier counterparts like SOAP. The philosophy of REST to differentiate between network programming and desktop programming makes it simpler to use for the former.

WOA is more customized for Web by including REST. And by specializing it can strip off the heavy abstractions that make you all-inclusive.

Resource Oriented Architecture (ROA)

Here comes a radical approach, well, radical from the SOA perspective. Alex Bunardzic introduced ROA. While WOA is conceptually still SOA, ROA is a rebel for a good reason. Alex points out that the concept of services might not apply to the Web. As mentioned earlier, services cannot be discovered and it is not possible to maintain a catalog. This is where it goes against the Web, ROA believes that Web is exploratory by nature.

Because of the uniqueness of the web as a medium, the only abstraction that does it true justice is resource. The web is a collection of resources. These resources are astronomically diverse, and it would be mathematically impossible to maintain any semblance of a reasonable inventory of web resources.

Each resource on the web, no matter how unique and complicated it may be, obeys only one protocol. This protocol has three major aspects to it. In no particular order, these aspect are:

  1. Each resource knows how to represent itself to the consumer
  2. Each resource knows how to make a transition from one state to another state
  3. Each resource knows how to self-destruction

ROA is more of a paradigm than an architectural approach thats considers resources to be the elements of Web. The key part however, is that they can be discovered, and once they are discovered they can represent themselves. There is no requirement of prior knowledge of the resource to start a conversation, as against knowing capabilities of a service in SOA. ROA is completely based on REST and basks in its advantages – simplicity, minimal technical requirements and URI for every resource. The use of the basic elements of the original WWW makes it easy for a resource to talk to another resource.

The only disadvantage I see of ROA is that it is well defined for Web. Although there can be analogical implementations in other areas, like SOA it is not conceptualized on non-Web platforms. There are new developments happening in this area, but it is still not as mature as SOA.

Epilogue

If analyzed, all these focus on having a standardized interface. ROA is simpler than SOA and uses the hyperlinks effectively to reach a wider base. But whether that is a requirement will be determined by the business need.

As a software developer what is in store for me in all this? Well, these paradigms are about to define the direction in which Web programming will head in the future. The one that dominates will survive. However to be dominant it will have to prove itself to be loyal to Web and loyal to businesses. If both co-exist, it will be critical to identify applicability of each of these. If not, then there will have to be preparations to handle its disadvantages. Either way, these will affect the businesses in which they are being used. And with Web playing a very important role today, this impact will not be ignorable!

More readings on this:

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Copyright Abhijit Nadgouda.

Discussion [Participate or Link]

  1. Alex Bunardzic said:

    Excellent comparative analysis. What we’re beginning to collectivelly discover now is that the web is THE computing platform. It is not just one among many competing computing platforms and architectures.

    Consequently, software development efforts are going to be converging toward the web. At first, there will be many misconceptions, but eventually things will start falling into place and eventually everyone will be on the same page. And that page is called resource-centric world.

    Alex

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    Thanks Alex.

    In my opinion there should be a collective effort in analyzing each of these and identifying values of these approaches.

    ROA seems very promising since it does not forcibly mould the Web into something else but uses it as it is. But that’s theory, its credibility should be proved, soon. We need some community effort here.

  3. The S Stands For Slippery on iface thoughts said:

    […] I side with REST, and with ROA. I think the basic idea behind SOAP of loose coupling and cross-platform communication was great, but it never got standardised and every wanna-be-pioneer created his own stack of implementation making it too heavy to use. […]

  4. Chrome Towel Radiator said:

    i use google when i want to do some spanish translation, it is good for general spanish translation –:

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Abhijit Nadgouda
iface Consulting
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