Researchers at Sun Microsystems are working on an initiative called Fast Web Services, intended to identify and solve performance problems in existing web services standards implementations.
Key to Sun's approach is boosting performance through use of binary encodings as an alternative to textual XML representations.
"Our technology improves both transmission speed, [with] less data transmitted, and processing performance on sender and receivers. The format requires less processor time than XML," said Marc Hadley, Sun's senior staff engineer for web technologies, products and standards.
Sun plans to have a prototype of Fast Web Services in its Java Web Services Developer Pack early next year.
Sun distinguished engineer Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart gave a presentation on Fast Web Services at the SunNetwork conference in San Francisco last week.
Sun believes web services is going to become the paradigm for distributed systems in the future, he said, but added that web services needed to be tuned for performance while enabling interoperability.
"We're trying to provide better performance. We don't want a solution that is specific to our implementation," he said.
In Sun's view, the XML-based messaging that lies at the heart of existing web services technology carries with it a performance price.
XML-based messages require more processing than protocols such as RMI (Remote Method Invocation), RMI/IIOP (RMI Over Internet Inter-ORB Protocol), or Corba/IIOP; data is represented inefficiently and binding requires computation, according to Sun.
"The main point here is there is almost an order of magnitude between straightforward web services using XML encoding and an implementation that takes care of binary encoding," Pelegri-Llopart said.
Fast Web Services attempts to solve bandwidth problems, including on wireless networks, by defining binary-based messages, albeit while losing the self-descriptive nature of XML. Although not an attempt to replace XML messaging, Fast Web Services is intended for use when performance is an issue.
Fast Web Services is geared to work in both Java and non-Java platforms. Small devices also are included, such as minimising impact on developers also is a part of the Fast Web Services effort.
Existing WSDL concepts such as Soap binding and XML Schema are maintained. Fast Web Services features network standards and technologies requiring no changes to WSDL.
Featured in Sun's Fast Web Services proposal is Abstract Syntax Notation One (ASN.1), a telecommunications standard that is the binary equivalent of XML schema. XML schema descriptions are converted into equivalent ASN.1 descriptions, which are then used to describe the binary wire format of messages.
In Sun's plan, ASN.1 provides a standards-based framework for describing a binary encoding of web services messages.
Sun and ASN.1 tools supplier OSS Nokalva have initiated a standards proposal at ITU-T/ISO to provide ASN.1 support for Soap, web services and the XML information set. The standard is referred to as X.695.
Security based on the Oasis WS-Security specification is one area impacted by the loss of description. Fast Web Services can only sign or encrypt Soap envelope components such as the body, headers and fault details.
A Java prototype for end-to-end Fast Web Services has been implemented for JAX-RPC 1.1 (Java API for XML-Based Remote Procedure Calls), JSR-101 (Java Specification Request), and JSR-31. There also is an implementation for J2ME Web Services.
Another component of Sun's Fast Web Services approach is known as Fast Infoset, an alternative binary serialisation for XML that replaces the textual serialisation with a more efficient binary format.
Also in Sun's plan is Fast Schema, a schema-optimised format for transmitting data described by an XML schema. It relies on schema knowledge at sender and receiver to eliminate redundant information from exchanged messages.
Paul Krill writes for InfoWorld