Capturing the functionality of Web services with functional descriptions


Many have left their footprints on the field of semantic RESTful Web service description. Albeit some of the propositions are even W3C Recommendations, none of the proposed standards could gain significant adoption with Web service providers. Some approaches were supposedly too complex and verbose, others were considered not RESTful, and some failed to reach a significant majority of API providers for a combination of the reasons above. While we neither have the silver bullet for universal Web service description, with this paper, we want to suggest a lightweight approach called RESTdesc. It expresses the semantics of Web services by pre- and postconditions in simple N3 rules, and integrates existing standards and conventions such as Link headers, HTTP OPTIONS, and URI templates for discovery and interaction. This approach keeps the complexity to a minimum, yet still enables service descriptions with full semantic expressiveness. A sample implementation on the topic of multimedia Web services verifies the effectiveness of our approach.

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    We use the terms “API” and “(Web) service” synonymously throughout this paper.

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    RESTdesc testing website:

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    Located at

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    It is not obligatory to detail the server-specific vocabulary in an ontology. Its consistent use across different descriptions may suffice for interpretation and composition.

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    This approach works well with actions that do not involve commitment, i.e. information exchange, which we primarily focus on. Data fetching and even state-changing actions, such as image upload, are thus perfectly possible. In case of irreversible actions with binding consequences (e.g., reservations), special care might be necessary. But then again, not all errors can be foreseen, which renders this topic inherently difficult and not generally solvable.


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The authors wish to thank Niklas Lindström for his help with the CoIN vocabulary and Mark Nottingham for his suggestion on HTTP header line folding.

The research activities as described in this paper were funded by Ghent University, the Interdisciplinary Institute for Broadband Technology (IBBT), the Institute for the Promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT), the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders (FWO Flanders), and the European Union.

This work was partially supported by the European Commission under Grant No. 248296 FP7 I-SEARCH project. Joaquim Gabarró is partially supported by TIN-2007-66523 (FORMALISM), and SGR 2009-2015 (ALBCOM).

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Correspondence to Ruben Verborgh.

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Verborgh, R., Steiner, T., Van Deursen, D. et al. Capturing the functionality of Web services with functional descriptions. Multimed Tools Appl 64, 365–387 (2013).

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  • Semantic Web
  • Service description
  • Service discovery