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A Web Service VS Microservice: What Are the Core Differences?

As businesses today look to embrace digital transformation initiatives, they face the challenge of selecting a suitable architecture for their web solutions. Two popular models are web services and microservices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to developing software applications, differentiating between web services and microservices can be especially confusing. Both types of services enable businesses to expand the capabilities of their applications and provide better service to customers as needed.

If you're experiencing "analysis paralysis," you're not alone. Many organizations today feel this way when they're trying to determine exactly how to best implement a microservices architecture. Some are so confused that they think microservices are the same as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). This isn't the case. It's imperative that organizations begin understanding what a microservice is and how it differs from SOA. The benefits of each should be explored as well as the challenges involved in implementing them.

To help clarify the differences between these types of services, this blog article will provide a detailed explanation of both web services and microservices, including their key functions and use cases that businesses must understand to consider for their specific needs.

What is a Web Service?

The first known mention of the term "Web Service" can be traced back to a white paper written in 1998 by Dave Winer, founder of Userland Software, where he discussed a project that allowed non-programmers to access program functions without having to write any code. This project was called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). SOAP allows different applications to communicate by using XML as the data representation format. The term "Web Service" has become synonymous with the SOAP-based services offered on the Web today. SOAP helps make it easy for different applications to communicate over the Web. The term "Web Service" itself, dates back to 2000 when Microsoft enabled web developers to expose their software as SOAP-based web services.

A web service is a self-contained unit of functionality that is accessible over the internet. Web services are often used to provide an external facing API for an application. An application programming interface (API) is used over a network, primarily for interoperability. This API can be used by other applications to access the functionality of the first application. For example, a customer facing e-commerce application may have a web service that exposes the functionality of the shopping cart to other applications. This would allow other applications to display the contents of the shopping cart to the customer, or add items to the cart, without having to duplicate the functionality of the shopping cart in those other applications.

What is a Microservice?

Next, let's look at microservices. Microservices are a type of software architecture that decomposes a large application into a set of small, independent services. Each microservice has a single responsibility and can be deployed independently of other microservices. This enables a microservice-based application to be more scalable and easier to maintain than a monolithic application. A microservice is essentially a small, modular, reusable software entity that performs a specific function and can increase development velocity. Deployment automation, such as Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery, are used to deploy microservices. Microservices blend with cloud-based application architectures by allowing software development teams to take advantage of features like event-driven programming and autoscale. Their components expose APIs, typically over REST protocols, for communicating with other services.

For example, a microservice-based eCommerce application might have one microservice responsible for the shopping cart, another microservice responsible for order management, and yet another microservice responsible for customer account management. Therefore, a business can scale its application without impacting the entire application's functionality. They can add or upgrade parts of it as they need them and retire underused microservices as demand fluctuates.

graphic comparing web services vs microservices

Difference Between Web Services and Microservices

Pros and Cons of Web Services

For anyone who has been following the architecture debates for the last few years, this topic is nothing new. The main difference between microservices and web services is in their granularity. In the case of web services, a web service describes an entire business's capability that can be used by any other application (think about a service like Weather or Stock Ticker). One of the biggest advantages of Web Services is they can be developed and deployed individually as needed. If a new feature or functionality isn’t needed immediately, you can potentially wait until it makes sense to work on it. Plus, their Web-focused nature and the fact that most organizations are already using some form of web service, make them a fairly natural fit for integration with existing systems and applications.

Web services are great if you are looking for a complete, ready-to-use solution with only one API that can be used by your clients. They are easier to develop and deploy, but they don't offer the same level of scalability and maintainability. The recurring costs of performance issues due to monolithic applications are expensive. They cost businesses millions of dollars in downtime and revenue losses. Businesses are growing every year due to increased competition in the marketplace, which means they need to scale their business accordingly. Large monolithic applications are not scalable and eventually result in downtime and revenue losses, which are expensive in both dollar amounts and reputation. Ultimately, the decision of which type of architecture to use depends on the specific needs of your business. Web Services are a recommended solution when the needs of an application are best served by a back-end developed web service API. This solution is ideal for organizations that need a back-end API but have no immediate plans to develop a client application or deploy an on-premise server.

Pros and Cons of Microservices

However, many companies have been working toward a microservices-based architecture as technology has expanded and shifted in the market and around the restless consumer cycle. It works because it breaks down an application into small, independent units. This approach decouples the application's components and promotes the reusability of code. It also facilitates scaling and makes the organization more effective if they should need to maneuver and adapt or even compromise goals to reach peak performance.

In the case of microservices, each service describes a very small and specific business capability that can be consumed by any other application. The microservices approach is not for everyone. It makes changes to the software stack necessary. Companies should do some preparatory work before jumping on the bandwagon. Some of the changes include moving to a hosted database and adopting a messaging solution such as Kafka or RabbitMQ, which are widely used open-source, message-handling solutions that provide assisted communication in distributed environments. They essentially help organizations streamline the movement of data in real time for building streaming applications.

Microservices adoption also poses a significant challenge to an organization since it requires a shift in how we think of software development. The traditional monolithic approach involves building an entire application as one big unit and then deploying it as such. All components in that unit assume that they are working within the same context; changing something elsewhere can break the other components that are working on the same data set.

In microservices, you are working with independent services. That means each microservice has its own database, database schema, and language implementation. This is much easier said than done! If you have been working on a monolithic solution for a long time, then it is necessary to change your way of thinking, planning, and implementing solutions from one database/schema to many databases/schemas. We recommend web services when you have a business need that can be better addressed by leveraging the scale and capabilities of the cloud. Examples of web services solutions include:

  • Custom-built applications for scaling your business. Web Services can help you build and maintain many custom applications completely in the cloud, without expensive hardware or support staff.
  • Disaster recovery. Your business can be more secure with an offsite data backup in the cloud for immediate access to critical data and software.
  • Backoffice solutions for offices or employees working remotely. Web Services lets you set up and manage an office without onsite servers, network gear, and expensive on-site IT support.
  • Data storage and analytics solutions. With Microsoft Azure, you can store your data in the cloud, where it's safe from accidental loss or theft and easily accessible from anywhere. You can then access advanced analytics tools to gain insights into your data – whether you have 10 records or 100 million.

As software has grown larger and more complex, the number of defects in each piece of software is growing faster than we can often make them. Organizations are forced to dedicate more and more of their engineering time to fixing defects instead of making the next great feature that will differentiate their product or service from the competition. While businesses continue down this path, software organizations will have to dedicate even more time to managing source code dependencies and testing. These are not scalable engineering practices. It's unsustainable, and we're going to inevitably reach a point where an engineer's entire job is dedicated to defect remediation.

In order to combat this trend, we need to incorporate automated testing and continuous integration into our workflow as early as possible. Senior leaders within organizations need to understand that taking shortcuts in software development puts engineering teams at risk of severe technical debt.

Light bulb with applications going in and out to mobile devices

Why Choose?

We see the benefits of both web services vs microservices. In fact, it helps that these two development styles are not mutually exclusive. One of the primary benefits of leveraging both development styles is that you can use Web Services to develop some services while microservices development is used for other services. This gives you the ability to leverage each development style or mix and match depending on your preferences or changing needs. It is said that the rise of microservices facilitates the rapid delivery of a new feature or application, while web services are more focused on the maintenance of a current service. However, in reality, both can be used to enable applications to stay up-to-date with the latest technology trends and support the introduction of new products and services, which can help to improve the speed of product delivery and foster innovation.

If you'd like to learn more about these services or another service that CSW Solutions can provide for you, feel free to reach out to our team any time, and we'll be happy to help!

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