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Best Practices for Exchanging Valid Data Through Web Services

A model-based approach to semantic interoperability

With sufficient tool support, you can define these computations graphically, often without writing any Java code. Figure 1 shows how Pantero software uses graphically built expressions to define a method for deriving a home telephone number that combines data from several classes in a complex data model. Because this method is defined in the common data model, it is available to all services that are mapped to the model. (See the sidebar for further explanation of this example.)

Define Validation Rules Beyond XML Schema
Although payload specifications are often expressed as XML Schema, a model-based integration project contains rules that cannot be expressed in XML Schema. (See Table 1 for examples.) Virtually every industry schema is accompanied by a document describing constraints that must be enforced outside the schema itself. For example, the mortgage industry's MISMO schema is accompanied by a document that explains that a cardinality constraint must be enforced across DependentCount and Dependent; the MISMO DTD defines a sequence of zero or more Dependent elements, and their number must match DependentCount. These constraints are best defined on the exchange model itself, where they are enforced across all systems that integrate with it. Virtually every industry schema is abstract, to allow for extensibility, whereas the systems to be integrated have concrete models. The exchange model can serve as the place where the abstract-to-concrete logic takes place, again ensuring consistency and reuse across all consumers. (See the sidebar for a real-world example.)

Develop Error-Management Models
Most integration projects handle errors in the orchestration tool (typically the business process management engine). As with custom code, to perform semantic conversions this error management is heavily dependent upon the data types involved without being specifically coupled to them. Again this leads to fragile implementations. A better approach is to model the errors as well, tying them to specific validation or integrity constraints. This method preserves separation between business logic and data logic. You can introduce algorithms for correcting improper data without changing the flow of the high-level business processes. Most important, an error-management model can improve the user experience, letting you plan recovery paths and avoid dead ends with no alternative to restarting transactions from the beginning.

Benefits from Exchange Models
An exchange model comprises the schemas, mappings, rules, and computations you develop as you follow the practices outlined in this article. Using an exchange model for integration projects has significant benefits.

  • Using a common data model provides the flexibility to add, remove, or change individual systems without requiring changes to other systems or how those systems interact in the integration.
  • Disentangling business and data logic allows reuse of business processes by keeping the business process focused on business, even as data definitions change.
  • Defining common computations and rules in one model promotes reuse of data-validation logic and its deployment as a single custom control that multiple systems can invoke.
  • An error model provides means of communicating and repairing data errors without disrupting the general flow of the business process.
  • Capturing an exchange model as metadata enables analysis of the impact and prediction of the cost of proposed modifications, resulting in better management and control of change.
  • Gabriel, J. (2005). "Best Practices in Integrating Data Models for SOA." Web Services Journal. SYS-CON Publications, Inc. Vol. 5, issue 2.
  • Roy W. Schulte, Information Architecture for the Virtual Enterprise, Gartner Research ID Number COM-17-1884, July 31, 2002 www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?id=365491

More Stories By Andy Armstrong

Andy Armstrong is a software architect at Pantero Corporation. His responsibilities include the architecture and the overall user experience of Pantero software.

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