What is a Web Service? - Definition & Example

Instructor: Lonny Meinecke

Lonny teaches psychology classes at King University, and has a bachelor's degree in IT and a doctorate in psychology.

This lesson will define web services and explain what they do on the web. You'll also see some useful examples to provide a clear picture of what web services can do for us.

What Is a Web Service?

A web service is a way for two applications or electronic devices to communicate over a network. Think of it like one human communicating with another human to provide a service. For example, let's say you need to convert American dollars to Euros, but you have no idea how. You turn to your friend, who happens to be from Belgium, and ask her to do the conversion for you. Now, you have the information you need while doing the minimal amount of work. The interaction is much like a web service, acting as a means of quickly communicating important information between people the way a web service communicates information between electronic devices, applications, and other technologies.

Web Services: Working Behind the Scenes

A single device or application can only do so much--it needs to share abilities and information with other technologies, and it needs to do so in a standard way. Some of the standard methods of communication include:

  • Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a way to label data so we can structure our information in meaningful ways.
  • Web Services Description Language (WSDL) works as a help desk, describing the details of the web service.
  • Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), also much like a help desk, is a means of publishing and finding information about web services.
  • Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) is like a courier or communicator during the transfer of data.

Below, you will find a diagram that explains how these work together in a web service.

Simple web service diagram
Web service diagram

Amazingly, all this can happen behind the scenes, without the requester needing to know anything about what the service provides. Like with our currency conversion example above, we can ask someone to do the conversion for us and tell us the answer without actually explaining how to do it.

Now that we understand more about web services, let's look at some examples.

Example 1: Temperature Conversion

Imagine that the web application BeachTracker provides beach conditions in California, displaying the daily air and water temperatures, surf conditions, number of hungry sharks spotted that week, and other details. Temperature in California is generally measured in Fahrenheit. However, most other parts of the world measure temperature in Celsius.

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