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Over the past couple of years, the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) has taken off at rocket speed. A solid understanding of SOAP concepts has become essential for any strong software professional, especially software architects. The reason is quite simple. SOAP provides the foundation for one of the most exciting developments in the software industry today: Web services. Web services are exciting because they take application integration and interoperability to a new level never possible before, even with Java and J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition).
To summarize, SOAP offers the following:
Before diving into this article, you might want to review my previous JavaWorld series, "Clean Up Your Wire Protocol with SOAP," where I explain the basics of SOAP and why it proves so critical to the future of distributed computing:
In those articles, I focused on how developers could use Apache SOAP to build SOAP-based projects. Since then, Apache has completely rebuilt its SOAP implementation, creating a new project called Axis. In this article, I provide a high-level overview of the improvements Axis targets. I also show how to create and deploy a simple Web service with Axis.
All software developers understand the importance of software toolkits; they prove essential to ensuring high developer productivity in this era of rapid application development. Coding with SOAP is no different. Although you could handcraft all your XML-based SOAP messages, you would probably want to use a SOAP toolkit to speed your development. After all, you don't handcode all your RPC (remote procedure call) messages in bits and bytes; why should SOAP messages be any different?
One such toolkit is available for SOAP. Apache SOAP's first generation was based on SOAP4J, IBM's donated codebase. I covered this excellent implementation in Parts 2 through 4 of my earlier series. As good as it was, Apache SOAP is now better. Axis is not just a rewrite of Apache SOAP, but a complete re-architecture. For Axis, Apache plans two alpha releases with partial functionality, a beta release with complete functionality, and a final release, Axis 3.0, which will supersede Apache SOAP 2.2. Alpha 1 was released in August 2001 and alpha 2 was released in September 2001. Though alpha 3 was issued in December 2001, this article focuses on the alpha 2 release (which features the same functionality as alpha 3).
When complete, Axis will:
mustUnderstandheaders. Axis's final release will have a few SOAP 1.2 features as well as partial support for pluggable XML protocols.
Although I use the future tense in the bullet points above, the alpha 2 release already includes many of these features.