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Spec aims to boost Web services interoperability

The promise of integrating multiple Web services was boosted today with the unveiling of a new specification that its backers say can help IT organizations to overcome obstacles preventing such current joint use.

The new spec, dubbed the Composite Application Framework (WS-CAF), was written jointly by engineers from Sun Microsystems, Oracle Corp., Iona Technologies, Fujitsu Software Corp. and Arjuna Technologies.

Officials said the WS-CAF spec defines a multilevel framework for the standard structure, coordination and interoperability of long-running business processes that rely on various transaction processing models and architectures. In other words, the framework is designed to solve problems that arise when multiple Web services are used in combination ("composite applications") to support information sharing and transaction processing across organizations.

"The specification addresses the runtime interoperability of the pieces of a composite application," Doug Bunting, XML standards architect at Sun, told eADT. "The specific layered stack that is in this composite application framework can be used at any level to address specific interoperability problems."

Rob Cheng, principle product marketing manager in charge of emerging standards at Oracle, described the framework as a combination of three specifications the grew out of the companies' initial interest in developing a specification for Web services context.

"In the process of collaborating on the context spec, we discovered that there were additional areas that were very closely related," Cheng said, "so we worked on related specifications that add greater functionality and provide practical examples of using WS-Context."

The WS-CAF comprises three specifications:

* Web Service Context (WS-CTX), a lightweight framework for simple context management that aims to ensure that all Web services participating in an activity share a common context and can exchange information about a common outcome.

* Web Service Coordination Framework (WS-CF), a sharable mechanism that manages context augmentation and life cycle, and that aims to guarantee the notification of outcome messages to Web services participating in a particular transaction.

* Web Services Transaction Management (WS-TXM), which comprises three distinct, interoperable transaction protocols designed to be used across multiple transaction managers.

Iona CTO Eric Newcomer declared that the transaction management spec is particularly first-rate. "It's an innovative solution that no one else has come up with yet," he said. "It addresses the need to federate different transaction models, such as the ones you would get from asynchronous message queuing with MQSeries if that's beneath your Web service, or a J2EE app server if you have EJBs hosting your Web service. They're very different transaction models, and there isn't currently a way to bridge them easily. [The transaction management spec] provides a way to bridge disparate transaction models in those long-running process flows."

Newcomer said that the companies have been working on the specifications "off and on" for about a year. "The collaboration arose from our common interests in the field, and all of us talking and understanding as a group that there are these missing pieces in Web services," he said. "Given our backgrounds, we decided that we could find a way to resolve what the industry needed."

Oracle's Cheng said that the group plans to "immediately submit this [spec] to an open, recognized standards organization." They've even written a clause into the collaboration agreement that requires them to do so, he added.

"All of the companies involved strongly believe that standards are most likely to be successful and useful to customers when they are developed in an open and level playing field in a royalty-free environment," Cheng said. "We think it's the right way to go forward with standardization in this space. [The contract] codifies the philosophy behind our approach to solving this problem."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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