E-business specification passes key milestone

Nearly a dozen companies last week joined to demonstrate how key parts of the emerging ebXML standard eventually will smooth e-business transactions.

The ebXML specifications - which will be supported in assorted e-commerce software packages - are designed to create a standard XML dialect that will let businesses find each other on the Internet, form trading partner agreements and exchange business documents electronically.

But one element still missing from ebXML is the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), which was developed by Microsoft Corp. and others, and finally gained acceptance by the ebXML partners in February. SOAP, at its simplest, uses XML and HTTP to let one software component identify and activate others on remote servers.

SOAP's acceptance came too late to include the technology as part of last week's demonstration, says Ralph Berwanger, an executive with bTrade.com Inc. and a member of the ebXML Transport, Routing and Packaging group. When SOAP 1.1 is included with ebXML, developers will be able to use SOAP or existing ebXML equivalents, he says.

The ebXML group plans to have a final version of the e-business specification at its May meeting, and SOAP will be fully integrated at that time, according to Berwanger. "We'll show a fully functional message service handler, with SOAP and security components in place."

In the demonstration, held at the XML One conference, companies could register as members of a fictional trading community, and automatically identify and find applications or services offered by others. Then they created collaboration agreements and exchanged shipping notices, receipts and other documents.

"What ebXML says is, 'I don't care what your internal processes and data structures are: I can carry any kind of [message] - XML, X12 [an EDI standard], EDIFACT, or a proprietary container,'" Berwanger says. "It lets you move between different [electronic business] syntaxes and include new trading communities that [in the past] couldn't afford the infrastructure costs of participation."

Previous ebXML demonstrations, late last year, could only show part of the now nearly complete ebXML infrastructure.

The ebXML initiative is jointly sponsored by a United Nations agency charged with global policy and technical development, and Oasis, which is a nonprofit consortium promoting XML standards. Companies backing ebXML include BEA Systems Inc., Bowstreet Software Inc., Commerce One Inc., IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others.

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