What is service-oriented architecture?

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a method of software development that uses software components called services to create business applications. Each service provides a business capability, and services can also communicate with each other across platforms and languages. Developers use SOA to reuse services in different systems or combine several independent services to perform complex tasks.

For example, multiple business processes in an organization require the user authentication functionality. Instead of rewriting the authentication code for all business processes, you can create a single authentication service and reuse it for all applications. Similarly, almost all systems across a healthcare organization, such as patient management systems and electronic health record (EHR) systems, need to register patients. These systems can call a single, common service to perform the patient registration task.

What are the benefits of service-oriented architecture?

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) has several benefits over the traditional monolithic architectures in which all processes run as a single unit. Some major benefits of SOA include the following:

Faster time to market

Developers reuse services across different business processes to save time and costs. They can assemble applications much faster with SOA than by writing code and performing integrations from scratch.

Efficient maintenance

It’s easier to create, update, and debug small services than large code blocks in monolithic applications. Modifying any service in SOA does not impact the overall functionality of the business process.

Greater adaptability

SOA is more adaptable to advances in technology. You can modernize your applications efficiently and cost effectively. For example, healthcare organizations can use the functionality of older electronic health record systems in newer cloud-based applications.

What are the basic principles of service-oriented architecture?

There are no well-defined standard guidelines for implementing service-oriented architecture (SOA). However, some basic principles are common across all SOA implementations.


Each service in SOA includes description documents that specify the functionality of the service and the related terms and conditions. Any client system can run a service, regardless of the underlying platform or programming language. For instance, business processes can use services written in both C# and Python. Since there are no direct interactions, changes in one service do not affect other components using the service.

Loose coupling

Services in SOA should be loosely coupled, having as little dependency as possible on external resources such as data models or information systems. They should also be stateless without retaining any information from past sessions or transactions. This way, if you modify a service, it won’t significantly impact the client applications and other services using the service.


Clients or service users in SOA need not know the service's code logic or implementation details. To them, services should appear like a black box. Clients get the required information about what the service does and how to use it through service contracts and other service description documents.


Services in SOA should have an appropriate size and scope, ideally packing one discrete
business function per service. Developers can then use multiple services to create a composite service for performing complex operations.

What are the components in service-oriented architecture?

There are four main components in service-oriented architecture (SOA).


Services are the basic building blocks of SOA. They can be private—available only to internal users of an organization—or public—accessible over the internet to all. Individually, each service has three main features.

Service implementation
The service implementation is the code that builds the logic for performing the specific service function, such as user authentication or bill calculation.

Service contract
The service contract defines the nature of the service and its associated terms and conditions, such as the prerequisites for using the service, service cost, and quality of service provided.
Service interface
In SOA, other services or systems communicate with a service through its service interface. The interface defines how you can invoke the service to perform activities or exchange data. It reduces dependencies between services and the service requester. For example, even users with little or no understanding of the underlying code logic can use a service through its interface.

Service provider

The service provider creates, maintains, and provides one or more services that others can use. Organizations can create their own services or purchase them from third-party service vendors.

Service consumer

The service consumer requests the service provider to run a specific service. It can be an entire system, application, or other service. The service contract specifies the rules that the service provider and consumer must follow when interacting with each other. Service providers and consumers can belong to different departments, organizations, and even industries.

Service registry

A service registry, or service repository, is a network-accessible directory of available services. It stores service description documents from service providers. The description documents contain information about the service and how to communicate with it. Service consumers can easily discover the services they need by using the service registry.

How does service-oriented architecture work?

In service-oriented architecture (SOA), services function independently and provide functionality or data exchanges to their consumers. The consumer requests information and sends input data to the service. The service processes the data, performs the task, and sends back a response. For example, if an application uses an authorization service, it gives the service the username and password. The service verifies the username and password and returns an appropriate response.

Communication protocols

Services communicate using established rules that determine data transmission over a network. These rules are called communication protocols. Some standard protocols to implement SOA include the following:

• Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)
• Apache Thrift
• Apache ActiveMQ
• Java Message Service (JMS)

You can even use more than one protocol in your SOA implementation.

What is an ESB in service-oriented architecture?

An enterprise service bus (ESB) is software that you can use when communicating with a system that has multiple services. It establishes communication between services and service consumers no matter what the technology.  

Benefits of ESB

An ESB provides communication and transformation capabilities through a reusable service interface. You can think of an ESB as a centralized service that routes service requests to the appropriate service. It also transforms the request into a format that is acceptable for the service’s underlying platform and programing language.

What are the limitations in implementing service-oriented architecture?

Limited scalability

System scalability is significantly impacted when services share many resources and need to coordinate to perform their functionality. 

Increasing interdependencies

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) systems can become more complex over time and develop several interdependencies between services. They can be hard to modify or debug if several services are calling each other in a loop. Shared resources, such as centralized databases, can also slow down the system.

Single point of failure

For SOA implementations with an ESB, the ESB creates a single point of failure. It is a centralized service, which goes against the idea of decentralization that SOA advocates. Clients and services cannot communicate with each other at all if the ESB goes down.

What are microservices?

Microservices architecture is made up of very small and completely independent software components, called microservices, that specialize and focus on one task only. Microservices communicate through APIs, which are rules that developers create to let other software systems communicate with their microservice.

The microservices architectural style is best suited to modern cloud computing environments. They often operate in containers—independent software units that package code with all its dependencies.

Benefits of microservices

Microservices are independently scalable, fast, portable, and platform agnostic—characteristics native to the cloud. They are also decoupled, which means they have limited to no dependencies on other microservices. To achieve this, microservices have local access to all the data they need instead of remote access to centralized data that other systems also access and use. This creates data duplication which microservices make up for in performance and agility.

SOA compared to microservices

Microservices architecture is an evolution of the SOA architectural style. Microservices address the shortcomings of SOA to make the software more compatible with modern cloud-based enterprise environments. They are fine grained and favor data duplication as opposed to data sharing. This makes them completely independent with their own communication protocols that are exposed through lightweight APIs. It’s essentially the consumers' job to use the microservice through its API, thus removing the need for a centralized ESB.

How does AWS help you implement microservices?

AWS is a great place to build modern applications with modular architectural patterns, serverless operational models, and agile development processes. It offers the most complete platform for building highly available microservices to power modern applications of any scope and scale. For example, you can do the following:

• Build, isolate, and run secure microservices in managed containers to simplify operations and reduce management overhead.
• Use AWS Lambda to run your microservices without provisioning and managing servers.
• Choose from 15 relational and non-relational purpose-built AWS databases to support microservices architecture.
• Easily monitor and control microservices running on AWS with AWS App Mesh.
• Monitor and troubleshoot complex microservice interactions with AWS X-Ray.

Microservices on AWS help you innovate faster, reduce risk, accelerate time to market, and decrease your total cost of ownership. Get started with SOA and microservices on AWS by creating an AWS account today.

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