12.5. Introducing WSDL

The SOAPProxy class proxies local method calls and transparently turns then into invocations of remote SOAP methods. As you've seen, this is a lot of work, and SOAPProxy does it quickly and transparently. What it doesn't do is provide any means of method introspection.

Consider this: the previous two sections showed an example of calling a simple remote SOAP method with one argument and one return value, both of simple data types. This required knowing, and keeping track of, the service URL, the service namespace, the function name, the number of arguments, and the datatype of each argument. If any of these is missing or wrong, the whole thing falls apart.

That shouldn't come as a big surprise. If I wanted to call a local function, I would need to know what package or module it was in (the equivalent of service URL and namespace). I would need to know the correct function name and the correct number of arguments. Python deftly handles datatyping without explicit types, but I would still need to know how many argument to pass, and how many return values to expect.

The big difference is introspection. As you saw in Chapter 4, Python excels at letting you discover things about modules and functions at runtime. You can list the available functions within a module, and with a little work, drill down to individual function declarations and arguments.

WSDL lets you do that with SOAP web services. WSDL stands for “Web Services Description Language”. Although designed to be flexible enough to describe many types of web services, it is most often used to describe SOAP web services.

A WSDL file is just that: a file. More specifically, it's an XML file. It usually lives on the same server you use to access the SOAP web services it describes, although there's nothing special about it. Later in this chapter, we'll download the WSDL file for the Google API and use it locally. That doesn't mean we're calling Google locally; the WSDL file still describes the remote functions sitting on Google's server.

A WSDL file contains a description of everything involved in calling a SOAP web service:

In other words, a WSDL file tells you everything you need to know to be able to call a SOAP web service.