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OIO REST: RESTful web services developed by the Danish Public Sector

The Danish Office for IT and Telecommunications (IT & Telestyrelsen) is experimenting with so-called RESTful web services, and I’m very happy to hear that, because this is an indication that something finally is happening again, after years of impasse.

Services for the REST (sry) of us

RESTful web services are the predominant implementation model for web services developed by web 2.0 companies, and Flickr are prime examples of services with extensive RESTful web services and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).

A web service is a software service, or API, that software (application) developers can use to provide functionality to their applications, and thus users. The “web” refers to the fact that the service can be accessed using technology developed for the web, like a standard web-browser.

Other technologies for implementing web services exits, the best known is the web service or (WS_*) stack, often referred to as SOAP. REST is, however, much easier to use than SOAP, because it has a GET based interface, meaning that you can query a RESTful service using simple URIs for instance entered using a browser. REST is also much better understood by commercial web developers in the private sector, and the tools they use, eats REST for breakfast.

Here’s an example:

This retrieves the road-code and city-number of the street I live on in XML format, pretty sweet.

What IT&TS has done is that they, two years later, have picked up my idea, so that I don’t have to implement it (well it only means that I’ll never release my own code) ;-).

Concerns that history will repeat itself

I’m pleased, very pleased, and surprised that The Danish Office for IT and Telecommunications (IT & Telestyrelsen) has begun experimenting with such a relevant service, and has actually made some real-word applications available on the web-site.

But! I fear that history might repeat itself.

Something like 3-4 years ago, a sample SOAP service Address Web Service (AWS) was developed by IT&Telestyrelsen, they even had a competition to develop a sample application, and there even was a winner. But AWS never went into production, and the project dropped off the radar, that is until now. It seems that AWS soon will be released for production, and this is great news.

The problem was that I lost faith in AWS, I felt the project had died, so I didn’t really want to develop against it, and I hear the same concerns from others regarding the RESTful services today.

Do we need pseudo-standards like REST?

The RESTful experiments will probably never launch, but with the SOAP/WS_* AWS likely to go into production, we don’t really need them do we?

What we do need is an open and free infrastructure, for instance for eFaktura, it’s way too expensive to use the current providers, so I suggest that the next thing you do IT&TS, is to pick up another of my old projects 😉

In many ways I fail to see the real need for a RESTful service, but RESTful APIs are so much easier to implement than SOAP.

What I’d like to see is light-weight data-formats, like JSON, and JavaScript APIs Google style. The light-weight data-formats are simpler to parse than XML, so I’d love to see a JSON, or similar, version, e.g. something that is closer to the internal representations of data, without going to binary interfaces, even though they’re coming back, for instance through WCF (Windows Communication Framework).

Conclusion: BIG thumbs up! (but it was overdue)

All in all BIG thumbs up to IT&TS for this initiative, keep it up, and stay above the radar in the future, please. We need widely available, and free, services like AWS, and with the competition from Google GeoCoder, which can be implemented with few lines of code – and works with other than Danish addresses, and – that is using it’s own, outdated, copy of data from Kort og Matrikelstyrelsen to provide a nice, URI based service, reviving of AWS, and the new initiatives, were way overdue.

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