The term "Web service" describes a standardized way of integrating Web-based applications using the XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI open standards over an Internet Protocol backbone. XML is the data format used to contain the data and provide metadata around it, SOAP is used to transfer the data, WSDL is used for describing the services available and UDDI lists what services are available. 

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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.
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 web service is a collection of open protocols and standards used for exchanging data between applications or systems. Software applications written in various programming languages and running on various platforms can use web services to exchange data over computer networks like the Internet in a manner similar to inter-process communication on a single computer. This interoperability (e.g., between Java and Python, or Windows and Linux applications) is due to the use of open standards (XML, SOAP, HTTP).
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