Monday, June 2, 2008

Web Services Core

I've been doing a lot of work with Web Services Core lately. Although I honestly hate to criticize Apple, I must say they've really dropped the ball with their Web Services support. SOAP web services have moved forward quite a bit, but Web Services Core seems to be frozen at circa 2003 functionality, and WSMakeStubs is even worse.

The first, and more minor problem I've hit recently, is that WSMakeStubs doesn't provide an easy mechanism for supporting HTTP authentication. That's not too big of a deal since it can be worked around with a few tweaks to the generated code. Web Services Core does provide a way to support this, but it's not necessarily something that would be obvious to somebody new to the platform.

The show-stopper, however, for many web services is that there is absolutely no mechanism for specifying attributes for an XML attribute that's passed inside your SOAP envelope. So, if a web service requires some piece of information to be passed in using an attribute, you're pretty much screwed.

There is a way to make Web Services Core do this, but it's such a hack, that you'd probably be better off rolling your own client libraries. It involves writing your own serializer and overriding the XML serialization for the CFTypes you use. It's an ugly hack, difficult to implement and even harder to explain. It's not the type of code you want to maintain if you're likely to have much turnover in your development staff.

I opened a bug report with Apple, but I'm not overly optimistic that they'll fix this, to be honest. They don't seem overly concerned with SOAP web services at the moment. 

This could be a big deal if you're an iPhone developer, though. You see, Apple appears to be trying to position the iPhone into the enterprise by adding Exchange support, and a lot of new iPhone developers that I've met come from a background of working in Corporate IT shops. Many of the web services used inside the corporate enterprise are written using Microsoft tools that support (and even encourage) using attributes in the XML tags in SOAP methods. In fact,a prime example of this is the Exchange WSDL itself. It has required attributes in at least one tag on every single exposed method. This means you currently can't write a Cocoa client for even a single exposed method from the Exchange WSDL using WSMakeStubs or Webs Services Core. You can write one, of course, but it's going to be a lot of work.

I'm honestly concerned about the impression this is going to leave on people coming to the iPhone from .Net, which has very robust Web Services libraries. Many of the new Cocoa developers I've talked to lately have experience with .Net. Of course, the long-time Cocoa developers are trying to convince these newcomers how wonderful Cocoa is, but things like this kind of get in the way of proving that point. 


Luke said...

Same problem here, I can't figure it out. I hear Apple has an example of SOAP implementation on the way though.

UI Labs said...

Coming from Java to Cocoa, I am too disappointed with the WebService support in the language. WSMakeStubs in particular is just awful.

Jellodog said...

I have exactly the same problem - I've been using the Mac OS X / Cocoa platform for years, but my day job is coding .NET in the Enterprise. Our principle tool for platform interoperability is SOAP, and I am specifically interested in talking to our services from the iPhone.

Right now, this is looking like a deal-breaker. I really hope Apple have an ace up their sleeve concerning this, and that they reveal it soon... It's hard to understand when so many other aspects of Apple's platform really kicks ass.

John said...

Glad I found your post. Been thinking about building an iPhone app, and one of the things that interests me most is extending it for enterprise use.

Ahh well, just have to wait until they get their act together. I do find it hard to believe that they don't have better support for this. Its one of the easiest ways for people to build useful apps for the iPhone.

Joe said...

Plan on doing XML parsing yourself. Here's some reference links to other's who have done this quite effectively:

using libxml2 :

using NSXMLDocument :

Includes XML parsing code:

bpstylianos said...

hi all,

i'm a beginner so i need your leniency if i say something wrong.

I saw that there is a way to call a web service with AJAX(, additionally
i saw that you can call javascript from objective C. So my question is if you can develop a web server client using Ajax from objective C.


Scott said...

Same problem here, looking for an iphone soap client to access a soap service. Coming from a bit of PHP background it's surprising there isn't one yet. Something like the PHP soap client would really add a lot.

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Mike said...

Hi, I've been tasked with estimating an enterprise iPhone app that would rely heavily on consuming web services. I've been googling nearly a full day and this is one of the best posts I've found. Unfortunately, I still can't find a client library, only random people's code snippets. Has anyone heard anything about if and when apple or somebody will release this?

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