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OASIS tackles Web services transactions

Three new Web services specifications concerning transactions have become formal projects inside the OASIS standards body with the hope that all three become full-fledged standards within a year.

OASIS has formed a committee to ratify a family of Web services transactions standards, paving the way for service-oriented...

architectures to do more actual business in the future.

The proposed standards are WS-Coordination, which creates the framework for a transaction, and WS-AtomicTransaction (WS-AT) and WS-BusinessActivity (WS-BA), which enable short- and long-duration transactions. The standards come to OASIS in fairly solid shape, with interoperability tests already having been run on them.

Though the first meeting of the standards committee isn't until mid-November, proposed co-chair Ian Robinson, a transaction architect for IBM's WebSphere Application Server, believes WS-Coordination can be ratified within six months with the other two to follow six months later.

I think everybody saw where it was going early on in the dot-com days, but it's taken a while to get there.
Eric Newcomer
Chief Technology OfficerIona Technologies Inc.

"It is quite aggressive, but I think it's realistic," he said. "Based on our experience with testing, we know these specifications can work. Our expectation is that this will mostly involve refinement."

Fellow proposed co-chair, Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer at Iona Technologies Inc., added that while the work may progress quickly, Web services transactions are a tricky business.

"People do transactions over the Web all the time, but those tend to be single database transactions," he said.

These standards will attempt to create the mechanism through which a more detailed and complex business relationship can be executed. Newcomer envisions everything from multi-phase supply chain transactions to distributed online shopping carts.

"I think everybody saw where it was going early on in the dot-com days, but it's taken a while to get there," he said.

Though WS-Coordination is the first spec in line for approval, Robinson called it "perhaps the hardest to understand."

"It deals with the context of the transactions," he said.

It defines how a service gets activated and registered, after that the WS-AT and WS-BA will take care of how the transaction gets processed.

WS-AT will handle short-duration transactions.

"It's designed to recognize the common denominators in two different transaction models and provide you a context for extensibility," Robinson said. "It will allow proprietary systems to interoperate with each other."

While breaking out of the proprietary transaction model may be a powerful idea, Robinson touted WS-BA as the specification with the greatest long-term potential.

"It's designed to allow these new types of transactions we're trying to build with Web services," he said. "You could take two different BPEL [Business Process Execution Language] processes and come to a joint consensual agreement between them."

Literally, it could facilitate SOA-to-SOA communication.

For more information

Learn more about Web services standards

Check out our BPEL learning guide

As with all other Web services standards, the transaction family will be designed to interoperate with other specifications, such as those concerning security, addressing and reliable messaging.

Chris Kurt, director of Web services standards for Microsoft, said layering and dependencies are part and parcel of how businesses will customize the standards to fit their individual needs.

"Folks that are adopting Web services will be able to combine them in pretty much any reasonable way," he said.

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