REST vs. SOAP with Examples

REST vs SOAP are both means of accessing web services. Many different companies use them for a variety of purposes and operations. Despite this, there is considerable confusion between the two and their distinct functions. How can you know when to use REST vs. SOAP?

At least 83% of APIs use REST, while another 15% use SOAP. Although REST is by far the most common, SOAP is still a viable option due to certain advantages and possibilities it offers. Whether your company is currently using REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs or SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), it is important to understand the use cases and examples for each.

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

Create a REST API Now

This article will not only define these solutions but also present some of their most common use cases in business with clear and useful examples.

Contents

  1. What is SOAP?
  2. What is REST?
  3. Pros & Cons – SOAP vs REST
  4. SOAP Examples
  5. REST Examples
  6. Manage APIs with DreamFactory

What is SOAP?

SOAP and REST do not perform the exact same functions. Microsoft developed SOAP as a web communication protocol. One of its most important features is that it is platform-independent. It can also operate over various protocols such as HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol).

Historically, SOAP was the most commonly used option. SOAP exclusively uses XML (Extensible Markup Language). It is standardized and follows strict rules, making it a rather inflexible but highly structured option. As a result, it is very well-documented.

What is REST?

REST is currently the default choice for most service providers. Unlike SOAP, it is an architectural style for software development. The two are essentially not intended for the same purpose, and that is why a comparison between them can be rather difficult and confusing.

While REST does have certain constraints, it also allows for the use of various languages rather than just XML. This considerably simplifies the process of using REST. Instead of having to create requests with XML, REST can typically perform such requests with a simple URL. It is usually used along with JSON for most public APIs.

REST requires the use of HTTP or HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). It restricts itself to stateless operations, meaning that any web service classified as RESTful does not store the client state on the server. 

DreamFactory is a REST API management platform, making it easy for you to create RESTful applications. We can instantly build a secure, live REST API on top of your current SOAP solution.

Pros & Cons – SOAP vs REST

How can you know best when to use REST vs. SOAP? There are various pros and cons to each. 

SOAP Pros: REST vs. SOAP

  • Strong documentation
  • Strict regulations, allowing for increased accuracy and easy collaboration
  • Includes built-in WS (Web Services) Security
  • Includes built-in extensibility through various other WS standards
  • Is ideal for formal contracts due to its in-depth regulations
  • Made to support stateful operations
  • Various transport options

REST Pros: REST vs SOAP

Despite all of these significant advantages, REST is far and away the most popular choice today. Why is this? There are some things REST can do that SOAP just cannot.

  • Can make requests with a simple URL instead of complex XML
  • Provides great flexibility
  • Easy and fast to work with
  • Requires less bandwidth than SOAP
  • Superior support for different modern browsers
  • Supports a variety of messaging formats
  • Highly scalable

All of these advantages have meant that Google and many other such well-known giants use REST, giving it the good name and popularity that it has today.

They are also why many companies turn to DreamFactory. DreamFactory provides instant APIs without code that you can then reuse at will. 

SOAP Cons: REST vs SOAP

SOAP does have some very specific drawbacks that have encouraged companies to seek a different solution. 

  • Complexity
  • Tends to be slow
  • Only uses XML

These things, and the fact that many big names use REST, have caused SOAP to fall into the background somewhat. Nonetheless, there are still instances where SOAP can be very useful, as you will see later in the examples. 

REST Cons: REST vs SOAP

  • Greater margin for error in greater flexibility
  • No built-in stateful capabilities
  • You may require additional employee hours of development time in order to provide benefits that SOAP has built-in with the WS standards

SOAP Examples

When should you use SOAP? SOAP is best for anything that requires formal contracts. To be even more specific, here are two common use cases for SOAP. 

  1. Asynchronous operations. An asynchronous operation is very time-specific. It is when various signals or preceding events trigger new events, rather than an external timer. REST limits itself to HTTP and HTTPS, neither of which are the ideal communication protocols for this purpose as they may delay such an operation. SOAP supports additional communication protocols. Asynchronous operations are not suited either for very simple tasks or exceptionally complex ones, since it can be difficult to maintain correct timing. 
  2. Stateful operations. Performing repetitive, chained tasks such as the financial industry requires means that you may need to retain certain client data within the server for future use. By default, REST is stateless. RESTful apps will not save any previous transactions, but SOAP supports stateful operations. 

There are many other such use cases for SOAP as well, but most have to do with some variation of these two operations. 

REST Examples

While you can use REST to produce many if not all of the same results as SOAP with enough work from a professional developer, there are a few situations that REST is specially geared towards. 

  1. Limited bandwidth, low-cost or simple operations.Why take the time to write complex XML when you can work from a simple URL to perform a basic, non-repetitive task? Additionally, if you have a lower income business at the moment or limited bandwidth, REST will perform much faster and give better results in these situations than SOAP. 
  2. Developing public APIs. REST is a useful framework for developing public APIs because it is so common, and therefore it is easy to find other developers who understand it. Additionally, it is highly flexible, bringing lots of options to the marketplace. One example is Gmail, which is a RESTful API. Github features public APIs from various developers for various purposes, including health, jobs, cryptocurrency, machine learning, anti-malware and even the weather, just to name a few. 

You can also use REST APIs to import or export content, create and manage credentials and much more. 

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

Create a REST API Now

Manage APIs with DreamFactory

DreamFactory brings a new level of simplicity and speed to the table by enabling you to generate database APIs instantly and with ease. We offer powerful security options and take hours or minutes to do what a typical backend engineer may do in a month. 

We can also help you simplify workflows and get all of the advantages of a secure REST API on top of your SOAP web service. DreamFactory gives an easy process for wrapping any SOAP API in REST

If you are struggling with when to use REST vs. SOAP, contact DreamFactory today and learn more about what we can do to help you make the right choices for your business.