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Choosing the Right Integration Protocol: REST vs. SOAP in Integration

Jasper Scholten
September 01, 2023

When it comes to designing and implementing integration solutions, choosing the appropriate protocol is crucial. Two commonly used protocols in the integration landscape are Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

REST and SOAP are both communication protocols used for exchanging data between systems over networks, but they differ in terms of architectural styles, message formats, and transport mechanisms.

REST (Representational State Transfer):

REST is an architectural style that emphasises a stateless, client-server communication model. It leverages the existing HTTP protocol and its methods (GET, POST, PUT, DELETE) for data exchange. REST APIs expose resources through URLs and utilise common data formats such as JSON or XML for message payloads. It is lightweight, flexible, and widely adopted for building web services.

SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol):

SOAP, on the other hand, is a protocol that defines a set of rules for structuring messages and defining communication patterns. It uses XML-based message formats and can operate over various transport protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, or JMS. SOAP is more rigid and formal compared to REST, as it relies on a well-defined contract (WSDL) for service description and message structure.

Key Differences between REST and SOAP

Message Format:

REST predominantly uses lightweight data formats like JSON, which is concise, human-readable, and easily consumable by web browsers and mobile devices. SOAP, on the other hand, uses XML, which is more verbose and requires additional parsing. XML provides strong typing and allows complex message structures, but it comes with added overhead and complexity.

Transport Protocol:

REST commonly uses HTTP as its transport protocol, making it compatible with existing web infrastructure and easily traversable through firewalls. SOAP can operate over multiple protocols, including HTTP, SMTP, or JMS, providing more flexibility but requiring additional configuration and support for different transport mechanisms.

Architecture and Statelessness:

REST follows a stateless model, where each request is independent and self-contained. This makes REST APIs scalable, cacheable, and allows for easy load balancing. SOAP, on the other hand, supports stateful communication through its built-in WS-* standards, enabling complex interactions and transactions but introducing additional complexity in managing session state.

Integration Flexibility:

REST is known for its simplicity and ease of integration, making it well-suited for lightweight, resource-oriented APIs. It aligns well with the principles of the web and is widely adopted for building public-facing APIs. SOAP, with its formal contract and support for various protocols, is favoured in enterprise scenarios where complex integrations, orchestration, and security requirements are paramount.

When to Use REST and SOAP in Integration

Use REST when:

  • Building public-facing APIs that need to be easily consumed by a wide range of clients, including web browsers, mobile devices, and IoT devices.
  • Focusing on simplicity, lightweight communication, and resource-oriented design.
  • Leveraging existing web infrastructure and protocols, such as HTTP and JSON.
  • Emphasising scalability, caching, and statelessness.

Use SOAP when:

  • Working in enterprise environments with complex integration scenarios, including distributed transactions, reliable messaging, or formal contracts.
  • Requiring strong typing, complex message structures, and the ability to define explicit interfaces using WSDL.
  • Operating in heterogeneous systems that may use different transport protocols beyond HTTP.
  • Emphasising advanced security features, message-level encryption, or WS-Security standards.

Choosing the right integration protocol, whether REST or SOAP, depends on the specific requirements and characteristics of your integration scenarios. REST excels in simplicity, lightweight communication, and ease of integration with web infrastructure, making it ideal for public-facing APIs. SOAP, on the other hand, offers a more formal and powerful approach suitable for complex integrations with strict security, transactional, and interface definition requirements. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each protocol, evaluate your integration needs, and select the protocol that aligns best with your specific integration goals. By making an informed choice between REST and SOAP, you can build efficient, scalable, and robust integration solutions that meet your organisation’s needs.

About the author

Principal Consultant Data & Integration Services | Netherlands
Jasper is the Subject Matter Expert Integration in The Netherlands. In his more than 24-year career in the industry, he has fulfilled many engineering and architectural roles. The last years his dedication and main focus is aimed at creating business value with integration.


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