VB who knew?

I haven't written anything in my Blog for quit some time. Mostly because I have been preparing for presentations. We helped Microsoft with their Bigger Better Basic cross Canada tour last month. I spoke in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver. It was great. We met lots of wonderful people who were all very excited about Web Services and Client Applications. I'm sure you can tell by the name that the show was for VB developers. My colleagues will tell you it's pretty humorous to say the least that I would wind up speaking to VB developers about how great VB.NET is to develop in.

At one time I would have nothing to do with VB. It was not Object Oriented, that was enough right there. ADO was not great, ASP was not great. It was just too hard to do anything. Well I'm hear to tell you, “VB has come a long way baby“. I was speaking with someone at the show on this very subject. They said “If you told me 1 year ago VB would one day have Generics I wouldn't have believed it”

I still prefer the syntax of C#. In a paste life I was a C developer so I am used the the sparse syntax and I like curly brackets. However, although I still find VB a bit verbose for my taste. I have been developing an application with it and it's a good language, VB.NET has a lot going for it.


If this solution is familiar to experienced XSL users, forgive me.  I'm a casual XSL user, so the problem was difficult to identify and I didn't find much in the way of Google entries covering the answer.  So that (in my small, secluded little world) makes it blog-worthy.

The situation I found myself in was needing to convert the WSDL output from an ASP.NET page to a specific XML format.  The reason for the format is irrelevant.  Suffice it to say, that I needed to create a list of the valid SOAP operations for a particular web service.  I tool the WSDL that was generated by ASP.NET and started the trial and error process of identifying the correct XSL stylesheet to use.  This is where I ran into problems.

I do understand the basics of XPath enough to try simple queries.  My starting point was to list out the portTypes for the WSDL.  To do this, my initial XPath query was //definitions/portType.  This didn't actually return any nodes.  I thought this strange, so I dropped down to the more straightforward //definitions.  This too returned nothing.  Running out of drop-back room, I went with the wildcard //*.  Fortunately for what remains of my hair, this worked. So the question of why the other queries didn't work remained.

After more painful attempts (and a weekend to allow my brain some reset), I finally came across the solution.  XPath queries don't work with the empty namespace.  They require that the namespace be explicit within the query.  But the WSDL generated by ASP.NET does not assign a namespace to the WSDL elements, choosing to use the empty namespace.  So the XSL file needed to be modified to define a namespace for the URI associated with the WSDL elements.  When done, the xsl:stylesheet element looked like the following:

<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"
   xmlns:wsdl="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/wsdl/" >

The key here is the xmlns:wsdl attribute.  This defines a namespace called wsdl and associates it with the listed URI.  This URI needs to match exactly the URI associated with the empty namespace in the WSDL file.  And I do mean exactly.  Character for character.  Byte for byte. 

Once this has been added to the stylesheet tag, the XPath queries can be modified to be //wsdl:definitions/wsdl:portType and the results will be as expected.

The Structure of a SOAP Message

In order to gain a complete understanding of services-oriented architecture (SOA), one of the basic pieces of knowledge is the structure of a SOAP messages.  At a high level, SOAP is a lightweight protocol for exchange of information in a decentralized, distributed environment.  But that description gives short shrift to the true utility of SOAP, that being the transmission of a request for service between two heterogeneous and networked applications.  In this article, we look at the structure of a SOAP message in great detail, as well as put the SOAP message into the context of the HTTP request.  This second part has to potential to be a fleeting reference, as there is nothing in the SOAP specification that requires that HTTP be the conduit.  However the ubiquity of HTTP has made it the de facto standard for transmission and it will probably be a few years before it is displaced.


For the purposes of this document, SOAP is a Remote Procedure Calling protocol that works over HTTP.

The body of the request is in XML. A procedure executes on the server and the value it returns is also formatted in XML.

Procedure parameters and returned values can be scalars, numbers, strings, dates, etc.; and can also be complex record and list structures.

Request example 

Here's an example of a SOAP request:

POST /examples HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: Radio UserLand/7.0 (WinNT)
Host: localhost:81
Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8
Content-length: 474
SOAPAction: "/examples"




Header requirements 

The format of the URI in the first line of the header is not specified. For example, it could be empty, a single slash, if the server is only handling SOAP calls. However, if the server is handling a mix of incoming HTTP requests, we allow the URI to help route the request to the code that handles SOAP requests. (In the example, the URI is /examples, telling the server to route the request to the "examples" responder.)

A User-Agent and Host must be specified.

The Content-Type is text/xml. The charset may be specified, if not, the default is US-ASCII. Other acceptable charsets are UTF-8 and UTF-16. UTF-8 is recommended for maximum interop. See the note on UTF character encodings, below.

The Content-Length may be specified, if it is, it must be correct.

As with the URI in the first line, SOAPAction is used to route the request to a handler on the server that will respond. It's entirely up to the application to determine how this header element is used. In many implementations the URI and the SOAPAction header will have the same value.

Payload format 

The payload is in XML, a single element.

All the attributes of the are required as shown in the example above.

The must contain a single element, which contains a single element which is the procedure call. The name of the procedure is the name of this element. Note that the procedure name must be a valid XML element name.

The elements contained within the procedure call are the parameters to the procedure. The names of the parameters is significant, the order of the parameters are not. Parameter type is indicated by the xsi:type attribute.

For example, the procedure name could be the name of a file containing a script that executes on an incoming request. It could be the name of a cell in a database table. Or it could be a path to a file contained within a hierarchy of folders and files.

A procedure call may take no parameters, if so, the procedure element must not contain sub-elements.

Scalar values 

The following scalar value types are supported by this subset of SOAP 1.1.

Type value Type Example
xsd:int 32-bit signed integer -12
xsd:boolean a boolean value, 1 or 0 1
xsd:string string of characters hello world
xsd:float or xsd:double signed floating point number -12.214
xsd:timeInstant date/time 2001-03-27T00:00:01-08:00
SOAP-ENC:base64 base64-encoded binary eW91IGNhbid0IHJlYWQgdGhpcyE=


A value can also be a struct, which is specified by an XML element that contains sub-elements. structs can be nested, and may contain any other type, including an array, described below.

Here's an example of a two-element struct:


The names of struct elements are significant, the order of the elements is not.


A value can also be an array, which is specified by an XML element with a SOAP-ENC:arrayType attribute whose value begins with ur-type[, followed by the number of array elements, followed by ].

Here's an example of a four-element array:


The order of array elements is significant, the names of the elements are not.

You can mix types as the example above illustrates.

If the array elements are of a single type, the value of the array element's SOAP-ENC:arrayType specifies the type of the array's sub-elements, for example, SOAP-ENC:arrayType="xsd:int[4]" means an array of four xsd:int elements.

For mixed-type arrays, the SOAP-ENC:arrayType attribute always specifies xsd:ur-type.

For single-type arrays, the xsi:type attribute is optional for array item sub-elements, but its inclusion is recommended.

Null values 

A value can also be a null, which is specified by an XML element with an attribute, xsi:null, whose value is 1 as follows: .

Response example 

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Connection: close
Content-Length: 499
Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 05:05:04 GMT
Server: UserLand Frontier/7.0-WinNT

         South Dakota



Response format 

Unless there's an error, return 200 OK.

The Content-Type is text/xml.

Content-Length may be specified, if it is, it must be correct.

The body of the response is in XML, a single element.

The must contain a single element, which contains a single element which is the returned value of the procedure.

The single element contained in the has an arbitrary name which must match the name of the procedure that was called, with the word "Response" tacked on to the end of its name. Let's call this element the wrapper for the response. Even this is not the actual value of the response, which is contained in the single optional sub-element of the wrapper and must be a valid parameter.

The namespace of the wrapper element should match the namespace in the request.

If the wrapper has no sub-elements then the procedure did not return a value

Fault example 

HTTP/1.1 500 Server Error
Connection: close
Content-Length: 511
Content-Type: text/xml; charset=utf-8
Date: Wed, 28 Mar 2001 05:06:32 GMT
Server: UserLand Frontier/7.0-WinNT

         Can't call getStateName because there are too many parameters.



Fault format 

If there's an error return 500 Server Error.

The may contain a which must contain two elements, and .

is intended for use by software to provide an algorithmic mechanism for identifying the fault. is intended to provide a human-readable explanation of the fault.

A may not contain both a and a wrapper (returned value).

When to fault 

If you can't process a request, for any reason, you must generate a fault.

Examples of fault conditions include:

1. An element or attribute in a request that is in an XML namespace which has not been declared.

2. A header in the request with a mustUnderstand="1" attribute that you don't understand.

3. A parameter is of a type that you don't support.

re: Gotta Love Misinformed Authors Spreading FUD

I have no problem with the opinion that Steve Gillmor shares both in his original eWeek article or in his subsequent comments in Drew's blog on the topic.  Specifically, I appreciate his willingness to stand behind his views.  To quote Mr. Gillmor,

“As for Robert Scoble, he is certainly capable of standing behind his own views when he wants to. I certainly stand behind mine.”

I take issue, however, with exactly what he is standing behind.  Is it the view that XAML stands for the Transaction Authority Markup Language?  Is it the opinion that Longhorn “veers-away” from some unstated (and, to the best of my knowledge, non-existant) standard that separates the layout and logic portions of an application?  Could it be that he stands behind the idea that developers create applications using the XSD 'language'?  Or that programmers will have to 'unlearn' XSD once Longhorn arrives. If so, it might be better to find a more stable platform on which to make your stand.

The idea that I'm going to have to wait until 2006 before getting access to some of the functionality that will be available in Longhorn is frustrating to me as a developer.  Sometimes ignorance can be bliss.  But I balance my frustration with the ability to better plan my current application architectures.  Do I expect to include XSD/XML functionality in my current code?  Certainly, assuming that I want my applications to be able to exchange data with not only other Microsoft products but the rest of the computing world.  Do I expect that arrival of Longhorn to change my use of XSD/XML?  Only in the integration that my apps have with the file system on which they are running.  The rest of the world speaks XML and I don't think that Longhorn will change that significantly.  Nor is the release of Longhorn likely to make my life as a developer more difficult, as Mr. Gillmor suggests.  If I take advantage of the information that is being made available by Redmond now, I should be ready for it, whenever it gets here.

Defining the Longhorn Battleground

Along with Sam Gentile and Drew Marsh (and others, I'm sure), I had a chance to read the eWeek opinion piece Can Microsoft's 'Longhorn' Pull it Off?.  Is this article an accurate representation of the facts that surround Longhorn?  Not even close.  Does the article display a lack of understanding by the author of the basic technologies used in Longhorn?  Yes.  But even if you completely eliminate the chaff, there is still an interesting element that can be gleaned from the approach taken by Mr. Gillmor.  What you are seeing is the initial 'shot across the bow' - the angle that Microsoft bashers will take as they attempt to capture mind- and developer-share.

The problem is that, without knowledge that can only be gained by playing with XAML and WinFS or reading articles and documentation on the topic, there is no way for the casual developer to tell the different between eFact and real facts.  I guess that means it's time to fire up the old Remington and produce some content more directed to the general masses.

CTT .Net User's Group - Instrument Your Application using Enterprise Instrumentation Framework - Nov 26, 2003 - Toronto - -12

Regardless of whether you are creating the next killer application or reworking your external facing interface using web services, your application is expected to play nicely with others. When it comes to administrators, ‘playing nicely’ means providing the appropriate amount of tracing and logging information. And for this, your code must be instrumented.

Once you have identified this need, the question is how to do it as easily as possible. The answer to this might very well be the Enterprise Instrumentation Framework (EIF). In this presentation, we take a look at the capabilities offered by the EIF, a free framework provided by Microsoft. In particular, we examine the basic structure of the framework, the possible outputs (SQL Server, WMI, MSMQ, and text-based log files to name a few) and the runtime flexibility that is offered. If you need to include trace and logging information in your code, then you will most definitely benefit from this talk.

Identifying New Records

While the use of AutoNumber and Identity fields in tables is greatly applauded by database designers the world over, they can be annoying for developers to use. The problem being that, when we add records to the database, there are many cases where we need to know the key of the record that has just been added. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques that are available to assist us in our task. In this article we look at the methods for both SQL Server and Access, with an eye to the pros and cons of each approach. As always, our goal is to give you enough information to make up your own mind

SQL Server

SQL Server 2000 offers three, count 'em, three options for retrieving the Id of a recently added record. The 'best' method depends on what you're doing and what else might be going on in your database. In all cases, the Id is a field marked as the primary key of a table and that has the Identity property set to True.

@@IDENTITY This is an intrinsic variable in SQL Server that contains the Id of the record that was last created on this connection, regardless of the table.
IDENT_CURRENT('table') This function returns the ID of the record that was last created in the specified table.
SCOPE_IDENTITY This variable contains the Id of the last record that was created within the current scope, regardless of the table.

So what are the ramifications of using each of these options? With @@IDENTITY, you get the most recent identity on the current connection. That means that if, as part of the INSERT statement, triggers get executed that in turn INSERT records into other tables, @@IDENTITY contains the last Id that was generated. Regardless of the table into which the record was inserted. Now if you created all of the stored procedures, triggers and INSERT statements yourself, that is fine. You can control when the @@IDENTITY value is being checked. But what happens if, sometime in the future, another developer, who is unaware that @@IDENTITY is being used, adds a trigger that creates an Audit log record. All of a sudden, @@IDENTITY returns a different id.  And not the one for the just added record.  As a result, your application breaks even though 'nothing' has changed. And that is the kind of bug that we all just love to track down.

The IDENT_CURRENT function is best used when you can control who has access to the database and when. By specifying the table as part of the function, you can eliminate the issues associated with @@IDENTITY. At least as far as the addition of records in triggers goes,   However IDENT_CURRENT works at the table level, not the connection level.  It returns the most recently created id, regardless of who created it. Unfortunately, in a busy environment, developers can't be sure between the execution of the INSERT command and the retrieval of IDENT_CURRENT, a different record isn't inserted by another user.

The SCOPE_IDENTITY instrinsic variable addresses some of the issues raised with the other two methods. Its value is the last Id created within the current scope. Athough technically the scope is the current connection, practically, the scope is more typically the currently executing stored procedure. Now you don't have to worry about the possibility of future enhancements 'breaking' your code, nor do you have to deal with other activity impacting the Id that is returned. If you perform more that one INSERT in a stored procedure, you do need to use the SCOPE_IDENTITY between each statement in order to retreive all of the created Id's. But again, that is within your sphere of control.

Unfortunately, if you are using SQL Server 7.0 or earlier, then the @@IDENTITY method is the only choice available to you. Both IDENT_CURRENT and SCOPE_IDENTITY were introduced with SQL Server 2000.

Microsoft Access

With Access, you are limited to basically a single technique. On a positive note, the same technique works all the way back to Access 97

First of all, I assume that we are inserting a record into a table where the primary key has an AutoNumber type. The addition of the record must be accomplished by using the AddNew and Update methods of the ADO Recordset object. Then, once the record has been added, store the absolute position of the new record and perform a Requery. Finally, set the cursor back to the bookmarked record and read the Id. Seem like a lot of work? And inflexible to boot? Such is the joy of Access

Set cn = CreateObject("ADODB.Connection")
Set rs = CreateObject("ADODB.Recordset")

cn.Open "DSN=MyDSN;"

rs.CursorLocation = adUseClient
rs.Open "SELECT CustNo, CustomerName, Contact", cn, adOpenStatic, adLockOptimistic


' CustNo is the AutoNumber field
rs.Fields("CustomerName").Value = "ObjectSharp"
rs.Fields("Contact").Value = "Bruce Johnson"

' The record has been inserted, but rs.Fields("CustNo").Value is zero
bookmark = rs.absolutePosition
rs.absolutePosition = bookmark

' Voila
MsgBox rs.Fields("CustNo").Value

PDC Stream Audio/Slides now available.

For those that couldn't attend or need to refresh.... http://microsoft.sitestream.com/PDC2003/Default.htm sorry, no skittles included with this.

A Spoonful of SOA's Alphabet Soup

Last year, American corporations spent over $4 billion integrating heterogeneous applications (otherwise known as Enterprise Application Integration or EAI). Why? Because one of the best ways to squeeze more profits out of a company is to reduce the costs of doing business. Among the many other possibilities of boosting the bottom line(some of which have now been identified as illegal) is finding ways to streamline the flow of information through the corporation.

But what does that salute to business motherhood and apple pie have to do with web services? Because the pressure to lower costs is the reason that almost every developer should pay attention to the innovations and standards that are at play in the web services arena. Even with all of the hype surrounding the technology, it seems likely that web services will play a large role in EAI for the next few years at least. It is for this reason that I'm creating this series of articles. My goal is to walk developers through the process of designing and implementing a commercial-grade web service and supporting architecture.

To make sure that we're starting on the same page, the rest of this article will focus on some definitions. If you're already familiar with XML, SOAP, WSDL, UDDI and other various web service acronyms, feel free to skip to the next article. Otherwise, read on to learn about the alphabet soup that surrounds web services

What is a Web Service

To get our discussion started, let's define a web service. One of the more formal definitions that I've seen is "loosely coupled, reusable software components that semantically encapsulate descrete functionality and are distributed and programmatically accessible over standard Internet protocols". If you break apart each of the terms in this complicated rambling, you'll find the kernal of what most people expect a web service to be. That is a set of functions that can be accessed remotely using TCP/IP as the transportation medium. This broad definition covers almost all of the instances for which web services are suited, allowing us to explore the most common deployment options.

Ignoring the technical for a few seconds, let's consider the problem that web services are intended to address. That would be the need to access functionality provided by a remote server through the Internet. One of the most common examples is a stock quote function. If you're developing a corporate site, you don't want to focus on the details of retrieving quote information about your company. It's not worth it to dig into stock market streaming for such non-critical information. So instead you search the Internet until you find a company that specializes in providing stock market information. Fortunately for you they have implemented a technique that allows you to retrieve the needed data by making a call to their web site, leaving the formatting of the result up to you. And you have just experienced the power of a web service.

But the utility of a web service does not require that a third party be brought into the equation at all. Many companies are starting to deploy pieces of functionality as a web service within their own walls. This allows companies to experiment with web services without becoming dependent on an outside service. Not to mention avoiding connectivity, speed and security issues.

All web services start with a request being created. The source can be a browser or an application. Regardless, the request is formatted into an XML document and transmitted across the Internet to the web server. The server has a process that listens on a given port (usually, port 80, the HTTP port). When a request arrives, the XML document is parsed to determine what components needs to be instantiated and what methods are called. Finally, the result is bundled back up into an XML document and sent back to the calling application.

Now we have glossed over many of the issues that make developing web services challenging. This includes user authentication, transactions (grouping multiple SOAP requests into a single unit) and security. We will be dealing with these areas later in our series.


Since SOAP is one of the focal points of the hype associated with Web Services, it makes sense to start there. And as much as SOAP might appear to a complicated entity, its basic purpose is quite simple. The Simple Object Access Protocol defines the XML format for messages that are sent between two processes. That's it, that's all. Nothing magical at work here.

But as with most technical subjects, the devil is in the details. Just sending an XML message using SOAP is by no means sufficient to have two applications communicate with one another. Each application needs to understand the context of the messages in order for SOAP to be effective. And that leads to the requirement to define data types (Section 5 of the SOAP specification) or RPC function call formats (Section 7 of the specification). Not to mention the techniques that utilize the HTTP port to send messages, something that, while not in the required portion of the SOAP specification, is supported by almost every SOAP implementation.

Figure 1 - SOAP Message Structure

The format of a SOAP message is quite straightforward. The message is delivered in an envelope. The envelope contains two parts. The Header contains information that describes how the recipient should process the message. The Body contains the payload of the message (in other words, the contents) and an optional section called SOAP Fault. This optional section contains error or status information.


As we all know, building a better mousetrap is not sufficient to get the world to beat a path to your web site. As with any idea, you need to publicize the functionality that your web service makes available. Fortunately, there is a 'yellow pages' for web services and a set of functions that can be used to create, manipulate and search the entries. So when someone needs to find that stock market web service, they could browse this repository, searching for the functionality that they require.

The format used to add entries to these yellow pages is called the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration standard or UDDI. There are currently two main repositories for this information, one at http://uddi.microsoft.com/inquire and the other at http://www-3.ibm.com/services/uddi/inquiry.api. Ultimately, the goal of this evolving standard (and, when you get right down to it, web services in general) is to eliminate the human part of business transactions. The ultimate vision is that when a customer places an order with your company through the web service whose interface you have exposed through UDDI, the service will be able to search the directory to see that client has a web service that allows an invoice to be submitted electronically. Utopian vision? Currently, yes. Pipe dream? I don't think so. Give the IT community enough time, and this functionality will make its way into enough of the mainstream to be considered a requirement for 'serious' business.


Next up in our alphabet soup is Web Services Description Language or WSDL. For those of you like to pronounce your acronyms, that would be "whiz-dull". As you might guess, the purpose of WSDL is to describe the web service that is being exposed. More specifically, it provides the details about the functionality that is implemented, what messages are used to request the service and the sequence in which the messages are exchanged. In other words, everything that an intrepid developer needs to know in order to use our service in their application.

Now defining the WSDL file for a web service is not a requirement for it to be used. However, not having one is like selling an ActiveX component without providing documentation, on-line or otherwise. And even though the format of a WSDL document is convoluted (it is an XML-based standard, after all), most development environments (including Visual Studio) provide tools that will automatically generate WSDL for you. So there is no reason (other than laziness) for not creating a WSDL document for any web service that you develop.


The idea that I can describe XML adequately in a couple of paragraphs is ludicrous. The subject is complex enough that books are devoted so just the basic structure and usage. In my opinion, the reason for this difficulty it that XML is both flexible and extensible. So it can be used in almost any situation where data needs to be stored or transferred. Still, I'm brave (or stupid) enough to give a brief definition a try.

My two second description of XML has always been 'comma-delimited files on steroids'. My reason? The purpose of a CSV file is to store information so that another application can read/import it. This works fine, so long as the receiving application is aware of the structure of the incoming file. The best that CSV files can offer in this area is to place field names at the top of each column. So the possibility for problems of interpretation (or at least situations that require programmer-to-programmer discussions) exists. XML improves on this by applying a more rigorously enforced structure to the data. The order in which the data is physically laid out in the document is irrelevant, but each data field is named, so that it is easier to find. And when you combine XML data with DTDs or Schemas, the type and range of data are now subject to validation. Certainly a superior mechanism than CSV files.

For the most part, our use of XML will be to package up the data that needs to be send to the web service for processing and to receive back the results. As such, our XML documents will be relatively straightforward. But your complexity may vary, depending on the solution that you're trying to provide.

So much for the common protocols/acronyms.  These standards are enough to get you started in the web services world.  But anything more than a cursory look at the technology reveals many more TLAs or FLAs (three- and four-letter acronyms).  For completeness (actually, there is no hope for completenesss: the number of acronyms increases too quickly), here are some additional standards that are commonly used.


One of the main roadblocks to more universal acceptance of web services in production applications is the concerns raised about the security of messages as they fly across the Internet.  The WS-Security standard is a set of SOAP headers which are intended (and actually succeed, when used correctly) to define the authentication, encryption and signing that are used within a particular message.

While extensible enough to allow for custom security to be implemented, WS-Security natively supports a wide variety of security models, including Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and Kerberos tokens.  And when combined with the Web Services Enhancements (WSE) toolkit, developers can easily integrate X.509 certificates, role-based security, WS-Addressing (see below for an explanation) and DIME attachmements (again, more information below). WS-Security is both mature and versatile enough to address all but the most stringent security requirements.

DSIG - Digital Signatures

Another aspect of the security associated with web service messages is known as non-repudiation.  In plain terms, this means that the recipient of the message is absolutely certain of who sent the message. As well, the recipient is absolutely certain that the content of the message has not been changed. If both of these conditions are met, then the message has the potential (not that I say potential here, not the reality...yet) of being a legally binding document. 

The typical approach accomplishing non-repudiation in a SOAP message is through digitial signing. Without getting into the dirty details, it involves hashing the message so that the change to a single byte will be detected by the processing.  For those who are interested in the details, check out here. But ignoring the specifics, the WSE toolkit makes it simple to digitally sign SOAP messages.

DIME - Direct Internet Message Encapsulation

Using jargon, DIME is a binary message format that is designed to encapsulate one or more payloads into a single message.  In real world terminology, the DIME protocol is used to include attached files to a SOAP message.

In order for DIME to be truly useful, any type of file must be attachable to a message.  This causes some temporary concerns.  Not every file is suitable for transmission in an XML format.  Consider for a moment the problems that would arise if the attached file contained characters that looked l ike an XML tag.  Also, binary formats, such as audio, video or images, can cause a problem when embedded in an XML document.  And since DIME is associated with the XML-based SOAP message, the underlying technology used to transmit the attachments must be compatible.  This means base64. 

Base64 is a encoding mechanism that allows arbitrary binary information to be translated into a format that is appropriate for both XML documents and e-mail.  The basic approach is to break the source data into 24-bit blocks.  Each block is translated into four characters with each character representing 6-bits of the 24-bit block.  The characters (there are 64 possible choices, hence the name base64) in the translation are present in all variants of both ASCII and EBCDIC, making it completely compatible with XML.


One of the issues associated with services is determining which methods are exposed and which parameters. That problem is handled through WSDL.  Next up is determining the requirements and capabilities provided by a particular web service.  That information is made available through the Web Services Policy Framework, otherwise known as WS-Policy.

A WS-Policy document defines a set of assertions about the policy supported by a particular web service.  Possible assertions include encryption methods, the types of digital signatures which are recognized, and the presense or absense of particular WS-Security information. The assertions can be queried in real-time before constructing the service request.  The requester can then tailor the encryption, authentication and signing used on the message to match the needs of the web service.


Workflow is an up and coming issue associated with SOAP messages.   At the moment, many web services are simple point-to-point solutions. In that situation, web services closely resemble Remote Procedure Calls (RPC). But the real future of SOA involve the processing of documents. And when a SOAP message contains a document, there is an implication that the document will need to pass through a number of steps before it has finished processing.  Say, for example, the document is a sales order. That document will need to be processed through the incoming sales service, the manufacturing service and the shipping service. And to keep track of the services in the process flow, a standard is required.

WS-Routing is a protocol that is used to route SOAP messages from service to service in a work flow.  It supports all of the common types of flow, including request/response, peer-to-peer and one-way messaging. At the moment, there are no tools to assist with implementing WS-Routing.  But if you can wait as as yet undermined amount of time, it would appear that this functionality is addressed in Indigo, Microsoft's upcoming web services middleware application.


While WS-Routing handles the basic flow of messages, the interim steps are static.  Once defined, the message does what it has been programmed to do.  The WS-Referral protocol allows for the modification of the flow while the message is in transit.  As a result, this protocol and WS-Routing are usually found hand-in-hand.  Which also means that there are no currently available tools to help with implementing the protocol.  So you will either need to grit your teeth and bear it or wait for Indigo.


The WS-Addressing protocol is used to identify the endpoints of a web service.  The endpoint of a web service looks like the URL that is specified in the proxy.  It is the place to which the service request is made. Internally (at least to IIS) it defines the server and code that implements the methods exposed by the service. 

While in most circumstances, the endpoint of a web service is static (at least, it is most of the time), there are times when the actual endpoint needs to be more flexible. This is particularly true when the request passes through various routers and gateways.The WS-Addressing specification provides a means for redefining the endpoint of a web service as the message is in transit.

GXA - Global XML Web Service Architecture

While the term GXA still appears in a great deal of the older document from Microsoft regarding web services, the term has fallen out of general use.  It referred to a collection of extensible, orthogonal specifications related to providing require functionality for web service requests.  The standards included in GXA were WS-Security, WS-Routing, and WS-Referral.

SOA - Service Oriented Architecture

Service Oriented Architecture is the next great thing in web services.  Put simply, it is a style of designing applications based on the loosely coupled architecture that is forced by using services.  A service is a piece of software that exposes a set of methods that can be invoked (called an interface).  Because the only way to interact with the service is through the interface, the actual implementation and even the location of the service is irrelevant to the calling application.

But utimately, the benefits associated with using SOA, along with the details involved with designing and implementing a SOA-based are beyond the scope of this article.  The purpose of this article was to introduce you to some of the concepts behind web services and to explain some of the acronyms that inhabit this world. Future articles will dive more deeply into the concepts, benefits, issues and implementation details of SOA in the real world. I hope that you'll follow me on my journey down the rabbit hole.

Identifying SOAP Requests in Http Modules

This might seem a little on the simplistic side, but given the difficulty that I had finding this information, I'm posting it in the hope that it helps others.

I have created an HTTP Module whose job it is to raise EIF (Enterprise Instrumentation Framework) events on the receipt and response to SOAP requests.  The key here is the SOAP requests.  I don't want to pay any attention to the non-SOAP requests that come through.  So I needed to find a way to separate the two classes of messages using the information that was available.

The answer is to use the HTTP_SOAPACTION header that is included with SOAP requests (but not with the normal GETs and POSTs that a web site sees).  For example, the following code simply skips processing any non-SOAP requests.

private void Application_BeginRequest(Object source, EventArgs e)
   HttpApplication application = (HttpApplication)source;

   // Don't do anything for non-SOAP requests
   if (application.Context.Request.ServerVariables["HTTP_SOAPACTION"] == null)


Naturally, I have tied this procedure into the BeginRequest event for the HttpApplication object in the Init method for the HttpModule.

If someone has a better idea (or a reason why/when this won't work), I'm open to suggestions.  But for what I'm trying to accomplish it did the trick.