Are developers plumbers? We ask SOAP author Don Box

[PROGRAMMERS REPORT -Sept 10, 2002] - Building out middle-tier infrastructure has been the main task lately for many enterprise developers. For some, the shorthand description for such work is 'plumbing.' But the continued emphasis on such plumbing is not good for the careers of developers, nor for the companies that employ them. So says Don Box, architect, Microsoft Corp.

'If plumbing remains the focus of developers ... our funding will be cut,' said longtime developer evangelist Box, speaking at the recent XML Web Services One Conference & Expo in Boston.

'We can't focus on XML Web services technology as an end in itself,' said Box, who co-authored one of the principal forms of Web services plumbing, that being XML-based SOAP (the Simple Object Access Protocol). Box instead urges developers to put their imaginations to work on useful application-level software plans. Of course, much of Box's work these days at Microsoft revolves around application architectures layered atop SOAP 'pipes.'

'The innovative thing in SOAP was that XML was used not just for static documents. You could now use a bunch of protocols -- not just HTTP -- to represent XML in a transient way rather than in a persistent way,' said Box.

He indicated that Microsoft's recently released Web services SDK fills some holes for would-be former plumbers. 'This is a tactical release,' he explained. 'It is meant to augment .NET Studio [released earlier this year]. Eventually, this technology will role into the core platform, but we also need some tactical vehicles.'

A key shift in Microsoft-centric development, suggests Box, will be a new tendency to use the .NET framework first and DLLs only as a second choice in development. Loosely coupled transaction styles will also tend to win out. 'You can't see it in the first [tools], but as the SDKs flow out, you will see a trend that is unmistakable,' he said.

In a conversation with Programmers Report at XML Web Services One, Microsoft reps said the all-important .NET server, which will enable easier .NET implementation, will be available commercially by year's end. With this server, added Box, the CLR (Common Language Runtime) is built into the OS. 'It's one less thing you have to worry about deploying,' he said. The .NET server will also ship with a UDDI directory.

'We've had a couple of years of interesting plumbing work, but I pray we move on to interesting application stuff,' said Box.

Related Links:
'IBM, Microsoft demo links Web services apps,'
'Microsoft's Don Box on SOAP, XML & VB,'
'UDDI gets a committee,'

For other Programmer Report articles, please go to

About the Author

Scott Adams is a senior software engineer for TeamQuest.


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