A web service is something that a website chooses to offer to those who wish to read, update and/or delete data from your website. You might call it a "backdoor" to your data. Instead of presenting the data as part of a webpage it is provided in a pre-determined way where some of the more popular are XML and JSON. There are several ways to communicate with a webservice, some use SOAP, others have REST'ful web services, etc.
Web services use something known as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) for sending the XML data between applications. The data is sent over normal HTTP. The data which is sent from the web service to the application is called a SOAP message. The SOAP message is nothing but an XML document. Since the document is written in XML, the client application calling the web service can be written in any programming language.