Exposing Business Functionality on the network - A web service is a unit of managed code that provides some sort of functionality to client applications or end users. This functionality can be invoked over the HTTP protocol which means that it can also be invoked over the internet. Nowadays all applications are on the internet which makes the purpose of Web services more useful. That means the web service can be anywhere on the internet and provide the necessary functionality as required.
Web services are a type of internet software that use standardized messaging protocols and are made available from an application service provider’s web server for use by a client or other web-based programs. Web services can range from major services such as storage management or customer relationship management (CRM) down to much more limited services such as the furnishing of a stock quote or the checking of bids for an auction item. The term is sometimes also referred to as application services.

A developer using a top-down model writes the WSDL document first and then uses a code generating tool to produce the class skeleton, to be completed as necessary. This model is generally considered more difficult but can produce cleaner designs and is generally more resistant to change. As long as the message formats between the sender and receiver do not change, changes in the sender and receiver themselves do not affect the Web service. The technique is also referred to as contract first since the WSDL (or contract between sender and receiver) is the starting point.[6]
A web service always hides the internal complexity of the service to its clients. For an example, an airliner which is selling tickets via a third party portal is only gathering end user info via a web service and in return it is providing ticket. The portal which is selling ticket doesn't have to bother about the internal complexity of the airlines ticket reservation systems. 

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.
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