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.

Web services are a key component in "mashups". Mashups are when information from many websites is automatically aggregated into a new and useful service. For example, there are sites that aggregate Google Maps with information about police reports to give you a graphical representation of crime in your area. Another type of mashup would be to take real stock data provided by another site and combine it with a fake trading application to create a stock-market "game".
A web service is any piece of software that makes itself available over the internet and uses a standardized XML messaging system. XML is used to encode all communications to a web service. For example, a client invokes a web service by sending an XML message, then waits for a corresponding XML response. As all communication is in XML, web services are not tied to any one operating system or programming language—Java can talk with Perl; Windows applications can talk with Unix applications.
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.
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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. 

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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