SOAP vs. REST - What Is the Difference?

Understand SOAP vs. REST: Key differences, advantages, and considerations for making informed decisions. Choose the right protocol for your project’s success.

Introduction to SOAP and REST

SOAP is a type of protocol that adheres strictly to a set of rules and standards. Based on the XML format, SOAP uses HTTP, SMTP, and a range of other protocols for transport. Messages are typically formatted as XZML and are transported via different protocols.

To remain flexible, SOAP relies heavily on the use of WSDL (Web Services Definition Language) files to describe the operations and their input/output parameters. Because of this, SOAP is more suitable for enterprise-level applications with more complex functionalities as well as an enhanced need for strong reliability and security features.

In contrast, more complexity means slower performance when compared to the REST protocol. REST is an architectural style that uses the existing HTTP protocol for communications. The focus is on a resource-oriented approach, where different resources are identified by unique URLs.

RESTful APIs use standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE, to perform operations on resources. The message format used in REST is usually JSON or XML, as both provide a lightweight and flexible structure.

This article will provide more details on the SOAP and REST protocols and how they compare against each other. Understanding the difference between the two can mean a more streamlined development process.

SOAP vs. REST: Architectural Style

The architectural style of SOAP and REST differ slightly. SOAP stands for a protocol-driven, message-oriented architectural style that is based on a protocol-driven architectural style. Using SOAP means relying on a tightly coupled system that requires both the client and server to possess prior knowledge of the structure and format of messages. Messages are typically represented in XML format.

REST, on the other hand, is based on a stateless, resource-based approach. This framework keeps the server and client loosely coupled while making resources available through URLs. The client then interacts with the server by utilizing HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE. Messages are typically represented using lightweight data formats such as JSON whenever a REST service is used.

SOAP vs. REST: Messaging Format

SOAP messages are typically structured using XML. Using this structure offers several benefits, including the ability to handle complex data types such as namespaces. Built-in features for data validation and error handling also prove useful. One thing to keep in mind is that XML formatting adds overhead, which may result in larger message sizes.

REST messages are more flexible and can use various formats. JSON is the format most commonly used with REST because of its simplicity and compatibility with JavaScript. JSON offers a lightweight and easily readable format that can represent data, making parsing and manipulation much easier. REST messages are generally more compact than SOAP messages since they do not have the extra XML overhead.

SOAP vs. REST: Transport Protocol

SOAP has several transport protocols including HTTP and SMTP. SOAP is often used with the HTTP protocol by encapsulating within the body of an HTTP POST request. It can transport SOAP messages over different protocols by defining appropriate bindings.

REST also primarily uses the HTTP protocol for communication purposes. HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE can be used to perform operations on resources. RESTful services use HTTP status codes to indicate the success or failure of a request.

SOAP vs. REST: Interoperability and Standards

SOAP promotes a more standardized approach to web services by defining a comprehensive set of protocols and specifications. Built-in support for Web Service standards like WS-Security, WS-Reliable messaging, and WS-Addressing are also provided. These standards facilitate a reliable communication chain between different systems. This can however introduce complexity and overhead.

REST follows a more lightweight and flexible approach. This allows developers to choose the level of standards and specifications they want to implement. There are some industry-standard RESTful services like HATEOAS (Hypermedia as the Engine of Application State), though there is no strict enforcement of standards. This approach leads to a simpler and more adaptable implementation process.

SOAP vs. REST: Design

SOAP is a messaging protocol that allows communication between applications over a network. It is based on an API-centric design approach, meaning the focus is on exposing a set of operations or methods that clients can invoke to perform specific actions.

REST is based on a resource-centric design approach. It discloses data or resources that can then be accessed and manipulated using standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE.

SOAP vs. REST: Performance

SOAP messages are typically larger due to the additional overhead caused by XML. This results in slower communication overall. The size of the messages has a high impact on performance, especially in scenarios with limited bandwidth or high network latency.

REST messages, especially those in JSON format, can be much smaller than SOAP messages. Smaller messages contribute to faster communication overall. REST has the ability to leverage caching mechanisms provided by the underlying HTTP protocol, which further enhances performance.

SOAP vs. REST: Scalability

SOAP is more challenging to scale when compared to REST. Since SOAP is stateful, the server needs to maintain the state of each client request, including storing previous messages exchanged with the client. This can lead to increased memory consumption and make scaling much more complex.

REST is stateless, meaning that each request sent to a RESTful service is independent and self-contained. The server doesn’t need to store any client-specific information between requests, making it easier to scale horizontally by adding more servers to handle the increased load.

SOAP vs. REST: Security

SOAP includes built-in support for advanced security features through WS-* standard. This included WS-Security, which provides encryption, digital signatures, and message-level security to enhance the security of SOAP-based web services.

Using WS-Security, encryption can be applied to SOAP messages to protect sensitive information from being intercepted and understood by unauthorized parties. This helps to ensure the confidentiality of the data being transmitted.

Digital signatures provide a mechanism to verify the authenticity and integrity of SOAP messages. Digital signatures must be verified using private keys with the corresponding public key. Message-level security then secures the entire SOAP message, including the headers and body, as a unit.

This ensures that the entire message is protected from unauthorized access or modification. All of these additional security methods can introduce extra overhead and complexity.

REST achieves secure communication by utilizing HTTPS to encrypt data being transmitted between a client and a server. This is achieved by using SSL or TLS. The security process when a client makes a request to RESTful services using HTTPs begins by starting a secure connection by sending a request to the server using HTTPS.

After receiving this request, the server generates a digital certificate that contains a public key. The client then verifies the server’s certificate using the trust certificate authority key. If the certificate is valid, the client proceeds with the secure connection.

The client and server then establish a secure connection by negotiating the encryption algorithms and generating a session key. This key is used to encrypt and decrypt the data exchanged during the session. Data can now be securely exchanged over the encrypted connection.

SOAP Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Protocol Independence: It can be used over a variety of protocols, including HTTP, SMTP, and more, making it flexible for different environments.
  • Extensibility: SOAP supports the use of additional standards, such as WS-Security and WS-Reliable Messaging, which enhance security and reliability in web services.
  • Built-in error handling: SOAP includes comprehensive error handling mechanisms, allowing for reliable communication and robust error reporting.
  • Standardized specification: SOAP follows a strict specification, ensuring interoperability between different platforms and programming languages.
  • Tool support: SOAP has been around for a long time and has extensive tooling support in various programming languages, making it easier to develop and consume SOAP web services.



  • Complexity: SOAP can be complex and verbose because of its XML-based message format, making it more difficult to understand and implement compared to other simpler protocols.
  • Performance Overhead: SOAP messages are larger due to XML formatting, resulting in increased network traffic and slower performance.
  • Limited browser support: SOAP is not widely supported by web browsers, which can limit its usage in client-side applications and restrict its adoption in certain contexts.
  • Lack of caching: SOAP messages are typically not catchable by intermediaries, which can affect performance and scalability in distributed systems.
  • Tight coupling: SOAP APIs often require strong contracts and tight coupling between the client and server, making it harder to evolve and update the service without affecting clients.

REST Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Simplicity: REST leverages existing HTTP protocols and follows a simpler architectural style, making it easier to understand, implement, and use.
  • Lightweight message format: RESTful APIs typically use JSON or other lightweight data formats, resulting in smaller message payloads and improved performance.
  • Stateless nature: REST is stateless, meaning that each request contains all the information for the server to understand and process it, enabling scalability and easy load balancing.
  • Caching support: RESTful services can leverage the caching capabilities of HTTP, allowing for improved performance and reduced server load.
  • Widely adopted: REST has acquired significant popularity and support from developers, frameworks, and tools, making it easier to find resources and examples for building RESTful services.



  • Lack of standardized security: While REST can use HTTPS for secure communication, it lacks a standardized security framework like WS-Security in SOAP.
  • Limited functionality: REST focuses on resource-oriented operations, which may not cover all the complex functionalities required by certain applications.
  • Lack of discoverability: RESTful APIs often lack a standardized way of discovering available resources and operations, making it harder for clients to explore and interact with the service.
  • Over-reliance on client knowledge: Clients consuming REST APIs need to have prior knowledge of the API structure and endpoints, which can lead to coupling between the client and server.
  • Lack of strong typing: REST APIs typically rely on loose typing, which can introduce potential errors and make it harder to ensure data integrity sometimes.

Final Thoughts in SOAP vs. REST Protocols

The choice between SOAP and REST ultimately comes down to personal preferences as well as the objectives and complexity of the project. Project goals, intricacy, security requirements, and existing infrastructure all must be considered to make the right choice.

If you need a bigger focus on security, then SOAP is likely more appropriate. If seamless and lightweight integration within pre-existing systems is a priority, then REST will be the preferred approach. Achieving the optimal outcome generally involves striking the right balance and weighing the factors mentioned above to make an informed decision that aligns with the project’s goals.

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