How Are Microservices and Web Services Different? Posted in Design J Simpson January 10, 2023 Microservices have been all the rage for the past several years. 96% of developers claim to be familiar or very familiar with microservices. This awareness isn’t entirely academic or abstract, either. 73% of organizations report already adopting microservices. Additionally, one-third of those who haven’t switched plan on adopting a microservices-based architecture. Of course, new technology trends always generate a lot of buzz and headlines. Inevitably, this can lead to terms being misused, which creates confusion and introduces incorrect information about new technologies. Below, we look at microservices against the backdrop of a much-loved legacy technology, web services. We’ll compare and contrast the similarities and differences between microservices and web services, and help you decide which one’s right for your projects. What Are Microservices? Let’s start with a definition. Having a clear definition, along with some examples of microservices in production, goes a long way towards making the difference between microservices and web services obvious. Microservices architecture is a common architectural style for modern web apps with limited scope or specific functionality. This makes for a highly versatile modular environment, as each microservice can be employed independently. The small size and light weight of microservices can make modern web apps surprisingly fast and efficient. Microservices are also an essential part of modern development styles like Agile, as each function using microservices architecture can be worked on independently by separate teams. Examples Of Microservices Let’s pause for a moment and look at a few concrete examples of microservices architectures. Hopefully, this will make microservices-based architecture more understandable so you can more easily see the differences between microservices and web services. Amazon offers many of the best examples of microservices, as they played an enormous part in Amazon’s eventual prominence. In the early 2000s, Amazon’s architecture was painfully monolithic. This made any changes to the system prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, and frustrating. Amazon’s solution is a prime example of microservices in action, partially because it helped invent the concept. Starting in the early 2000s, Amazon developers went through Amazon’s source code and identified code snippets that performed a specific function. These functions were then wrapped into a web service interface. This is the root of today’s microservices. Microservices also played an essential role in Netflix’s eventual success, as well. In August 2008, Netflix suffered a major database corruption that threatened to shutter the entire company. They realized having customers interact directly with relational databases simply wasn’t sustainable. As a result, Netflix identified key functions of their code and moved these microservices to AWS, setting a precedent for how microservices are used and implemented today. What Are Web Services? Web services perform many similar functions as microservices, but there are many key differences. Web services are more generalized web applications with a standardized interface. A simple, straightforward definition of web services from W3.org reads as follows: “A web service is a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network. It has an interface described in a machine-processable format (specifically WSDL). Other systems interact with the web service in a manner prescribed by its description using SOAP messages, typically conveyed using HTTP with an XML serialization in conjunction with other web-related standards.” Reading this definition, you’ll likely notice the similarities between web services and APIs. In many ways, web services are APIs and offer an early example of web-based interoperable technology. Yet, technology has evolved significantly since web services were first developed, and contemporary microservices address some of web services’ shortcomings. Examples Of Web Services Now let’s take a look at some web services in action to better understand the difference between microservices and web services. Let’s consider Amazon again, as they also offer some excellent examples of web services. For example, Amazon offers a web service that displays the price of any product on Amazon. These prices can be returned in various formats, all of which can be interpreted differently by different front-end or display layers. This is usually accomplished with an XML file transmitted via SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). Microservices vs. Web Services: Similarities and Differences Specific Functions The key difference between microservices and web services is the scope of their functionality. Microservices, by definition, perform a very specific function. Web services, on the other hand, might perform numerous different functions. Web services will then control access to different functions. As a result, web services aren’t nearly as light as microservices. Modularity The ease with which different apps can be linked together is another key difference between microservices and web services. Microservices are built to be linked together. It also means microservices are even more versatile and flexible, as microservices APIs support both HTTP and HTTPS. This makes microservices better for scalability as well as flexibility, making microservices a better option for many modern applications. Cost Effectiveness The cost of implementation is another main difference between microservices and web services. Microservices were developed to take advantage of modern digital architecture like containers, for example. This gives microservices many of the same advantages as container-based technologies. You can scale up microservices when needed and then cut back when traffic slows. When adopting microservices, organizations can embrace a universal API format, making it cheap and easy to implement microservices. It should be noted that web services can offer similar uniformity. Both microservices and web services can make working with APIs more consistent and predictable. Both can save you and your development time, money, energy, and resources. Arguably, microservices can save you even more, though. This is perhaps why 50% of developers plan to move the bulk of their services to microservices. Resilience Here’s one area where microservices and web services are similar. Both make your network more resilient as it makes it less likely to cause a system failure when one function goes down. Developers can use both microservices or web services to implement a parallel design pattern with failsafes and contingency plans in case of system failure. Platform Agnostic Both microservices and web services can be written and run on virtually any platform. This means that either can be written into any programming language or development environment. Smaller Development Teams Finally, both microservices and web services allow for smaller teams of developers, making both an integral part of modern development styles like Agile and scrum. Small development teams can be assigned to work on particular functions without disrupting the work of other teams. Web services are slightly less efficient, though, as teams working on a web service must work in the same language or platform. Microservices Vs. Web Services: Final Thoughts As we have seen, microservices and web services have a lot in common. This is partially due to the fact that web services are the direct ancestors of today’s microservices. They both can be used for a variety of the same functions. That’s where the similarities end, though. A lot has changed since web services were first developed. This makes microservices a better pick for many applications. They’re more flexible. Most of their actions are achieved via microservices APIs instead of relying on XML and SOAP. The scalability and modularity is the final selling point, making microservices architecture the obvious choice for those looking to create streamlined, cost-effective, and adaptable projects.