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Business Process Execution Language for Web Services 1.0

By Anand Narayan on March 11, 2004
Web Services use a loosely coupled integration model to allow flexible integration of heterogeneous systems in a variety of domains including business-to-consumer, business-to-business and enterprise application integration.
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Introduction

The goal of the Web Services effort is to achieve universal interoperability between applications by using Web standards. Web Services use a loosely coupled integration model to allow flexible integration of heterogeneous systems in a variety of domains including business-to-consumer, business-to-business and enterprise application integration. The following basic specifications originally defined the Web Services space: SOAP, Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). SOAP defines an XML messaging protocol for basic service interoperability. WSDL introduces a common grammar for describing services. UDDI provides the infrastructure required to publish and discover services in a systematic way. Together, these specifications allow applications to find each other and interact following a loosely coupled, platform-independent model.

Systems integration requires more than the ability to conduct simple interactions by using standard protocols. The full potential of Web Services as an integration platform will be achieved only when applications and business processes are able to integrate their complex interactions by using a standard process integration model. The interaction model that is directly supported by WSDL is essentially a stateless model of synchronous or uncorrelated asynchronous interactions. Models for business interactions typically assume sequences of peer-to-peer message exchanges, both synchronous and asynchronous, within stateful, long-running interactions involving two or more parties. To define such business interactions, a formal description of the message exchange protocols used by business processes in their interactions is needed. The definition of such business protocols involves precisely specifying the mutually visible message exchange behavior of each of the parties involved in the protocol, without revealing their internal implementation. There are two good reasons to separate the public aspects of business process behavior from internal or private aspects. One is that businesses obviously do not want to reveal all their internal decision making and data management to their business partners. The other is that, even where this is not the case, separating public from private process provides the freedom to change private aspects of the process implementation without affecting the public business protocol.

Business protocols must clearly be described in a platform-independent manner and must capture all behavioral aspects that have cross-enterprise business significance. Each participant can then understand and plan for conformance to the business protocol without engaging in the process of human agreement that adds so much to the difficulty of establishing cross-enterprise automated business processes today.

What are the concepts required to describe business protocols? And what is the relationship of these concepts to those required to describe executable processes? To answer these questions, consider the following:

  • Business protocols invariably include data-dependent behavior. For example, a supply-chain protocol depends on data such as the number of line items in an order, the total value of an order, or a deliver-by deadline. Defining business intent in these cases requires the use of conditional and time-out constructs.

  • The ability to specify exceptional conditions and their consequences, including recovery sequences, is at least as important for business protocols as the ability to define the behavior in the "all goes well" case.
    Long-running interactions include multiple, often nested units of work, each with its own data requirements. Business protocols frequently require cross-partner coordination of the outcome (success or failure) of units of work at various levels of granularity.

  • If we wish to provide precise predictable descriptions of service behavior for cross-enterprise business protocols, we need a rich process description notation with many features reminiscent of an executable language. The key distinction between public message exchange protocols and executable internal processes is that internal processes handle data in rich private ways that need not be described in public protocols.

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