This HTML document titled “XMLFrag header” describes a proposal I wrote for a header that would allow one to target a SOAP message to a subset of the resource to which the message is sent. This is useful in cases where messages are used to interact with systems that have a well-known model, as is often the case in the IT systems management world. If you’ve ever used or been intrigued by WS-Management’s “FragmentTransfer” header, or WS-ResourceProperties’s “QueryResourceProperties” message or WS-RessourceTransfer’s “Expression” element then you may be interested by a different approach that is operation-independent. Please read the example at the beginning of the proposal for an explanation of what XMLFrag does.
I think it’s nifty, but I am not sure how much need for this there is. Are the composition/mash-up scenarios that this allows important enough to replace well established alternatives, such as WS-Management’s “FragmentTransfer” header? I am not sure. Which is why I am putting this out, to see if there’s any interest.
One possible approach would be to generalize WS-Management’s current mechanism to support the features presented here. This could be done very easily and in a backward-compatible way by declaring that the response wrapper (wsman:XmlFragment) is not applied for all dialect but defined in a per-dialect fashion. The currently defined dialects would keep using the wsman:XmlFragment wrapper, but a new dialect could be defined that didn’t use a wrapper and would behave like the XMLFrag element defined in my proposal.
A few additional notes and comments:
This proposal has been called “WS-SubversiveAddressing” by some of my IBM friends who have very definite ideas about what belongs in SOAP headers, what belongs in the body and what headers are appropriate to use as reference properties in an EPR. And this proposal seems to break all these rules. But since the rules seem more inspired by lack of flexibility in the WebSphere message routing/processing capabilities than by true architectural constraints I am not too worried. I would even say that this proposal represents the only kind of header that really make sense to use as reference properties. Headers that sometimes are set by the sender explicitly and sometimes are hard-coded in the EPR used. Using reference properties for headers that only come from reference properties (and aren’t expected to ever be set explicitly by the sender) is a sign of lack of ability of the stack to route messages based on URL. A too-frequent limitation of Java SOAP stacks. But I am digressing…
I didn’t think there was anything worthy of a patent in this, but in these sad times you can’t be sure that someone is not going to try to get one for it, so just to be sure HP published this a year ago in Research Disclosure so that no-one can patent it. If you want to check, it starts on page 627 of the May 2006 Research Disclosure (not available on-line unless you have an account w/ them, but you can order it). So in reality, this document has already been public for a year, but in a pretty hidden form. This post just gives it a little bit more visibility.
This is not a spec. It is just a description of what a spec could do. It doesn’t have normative language, it doesn’t provide formal syntax (pseudo-schema, XSD and/or other) and it doesn’t address some of the details that would be needed for interoperability (e.g. what namespaces declarations are in context for the XPath evaluation).
Why use a car fleet as an example for illustration? For the same reason that the SML spec uses a university (class/student) example. To pick a domain that is different from the expected domain of application of the technology to not invite modeling discussions that are irrelevant to the proposal and to not biaise people’s view of what this could be used for.
Is there a relationship between this and federation efforts? Sort of. This could be very useful when exposed by a a federator, if the model is very hierachical. But it doesn’t work so well for graph-type models. Which is what CMDBF does and which is why CMDBF is coming up with a more graph-oriented approach. But that too is a different topic.