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Technical Research

April 17, 2012

Web based technology is constantly expanding to try to accommodate the unfathomable amount of traffic fighting for a place on everyone’s computer screen.  Of primary importance is speed and storage.  With the advent and popularity of “cloud” based computing, software that can manage live, dynamic data content is increasingly important.  The first two technologies that are the subjects of this paper, SOAP and REST are instrumental to Web Services, or programs that provide access to data over a network.  They are Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) tools that consist of Distributed Systems, or the systems that basically link computers together.  There is a growing school of thought that Web “Sites” are being replaced by, or evolving into Web “Services”.

Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is a standardized (W3C) language that provides access to remote procedure calls located in server side web services.  It relies on XML (Extensible Markup Language) which makes it easy to parse (loose coupling).  The code only needs a service description file written in WSDL (Web Service Description language) in order to create programming objects whose methods can then be used in a local development environment.  All major software providers have agreed to adopt the specifications.

SOAP is used primarily for detailed B2B (business to business) interaction.  It is object oriented and uses interpretive coding language, such as Java.  It provides a universal method for machines, or servers to “talk” to one another by transmitting and receiving (exchanging) data, and performing data operations, such as updating, deleting and editing.  It’s an older (relatively speaking) technology that is designed to enable operations that implement, or represent logic.  It’s secure, transactional, object oriented, and standards based.   It is not end user friendly, and is intended for distributed computing of extensive data, and is therefore “heavy” and slower than its counterpart, REST.

Representational State Transfer (REST) is similar to SOAP in its function, but with fewer restrictions as it’s more loosely defined.  It uses HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) as its language framework which is the way all websites currently communicate.  This makes it more end user friendly.  It’s the technology most often used for B2C (business to consumer) interactions.  It’s newer and considered to be more “hip” than SOAP, used by Twitter, Google and Flickr. 

REST is designed to use resources that represent data, and it is lighter and faster than SOAP.  It’s relatively easy to use by end users and very safe through the use of GET commands (read only).  It can be understood by virtually any client, or web browser that reads AJAX and JavaScript.  It is not standards based, and therefore faster.  It’s stateless, as it remembers users via client side servers with cookies, and there are no new tools needed.  Overall, it’s lightweight, readable (by humans), and being used by consumer applications, such as Smart phones.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has been around since World War II.    It’s been regaining popularity and use lately as a means to transmit data via radio frequencies to server databases, and track users’ usage of products, travel, communication, and just about anything else that can be aided by tracking.  

RFID employs “tags” and “readers”.  The tag consists of an integrated circuit that is powered up by the reader to transmit electromagnetic energy (waves or induction) that transmits and receives data.  There are two types of tags, active and passive.  Active tags are amplified ad have a longer range, while passive tags are not powered and have a very short transmission range.  Some examples of current usage are the Washington State “Good to Go” system, the NY Marathon, and Toyota Prius technology.    The costs have become very affordable and the use of this technology is expected to boom in the near future.   For example, it’s anticipated that it will replace scan readers in grocery stores and customers will be able to merely place items in a shopping cart and the costs will be transmitted directly to their bank.  No more waiting in lines!

Near Field Communication (NFC) is basically the same as RFID, but it has a very small range, typically 2 to 20 cm max.  The major difference is that the reader is actually stored in a mobile device, such as a cell phone.  It’s used to quickly and easily scan items to buy, tickets from posters, and exchange data between phones.  Some of the applications include payments, coupons, marketing, data exchange, keyless access, bus and subway fares, and ticketing.

I haven’t found much in the way of competition, as these are not products, but languages and operating technologies.  I guess you could say that REST is a competitor to SOAP, and each has their camps of supporters.  I think that REST will gain the overall edge in the future for obvious reasons (stated earlier).    The investments made in RFID and NFC by major companies already all but guarantee that they will become dominant in our lives, but this, like any other type of major change is hard for large groups of people to embrace, causing its implementation to take longer than it should.

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Touch to Communicate Using NGN Open Interfaces, by Klemen Peternel, Matevž Pogacnik, Janez Bešter, Luka Zebec, Matevž Pustišek, Andrej Kos

A RESTful Web service, an example, by Paul James

What’s the difference between RFID and NFC?,  by Nathan Chandler

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