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Creating and Consuming Web Services With PHP

March 24, 2004

Web services are widely supported by all the major technology vendors and organizations including IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and the W3C. Millions of dollars have been invested in the development of this technology. Web services allow you to share data across many platforms and hardware configurations. For example, you can create a Java web service and someone else can consume it using a .NET client without having to learn one line of Java code.

There are many available scripting languages that support web services. PHP is one such language, with a powerful arsenal of open source functions and tools.

In this article, we will compare and contrast three methods of consuming and producing web services: XML-RPC, SOAP and REST. This article assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge of both web service specifications and PHP. You must also have access to a PHP-enabled web server to implement our code samples. If you require more information, please refer to the resource section at the end of the article.


Remote Procedure Calls are used to establish and facilitate transactions between two remote systems. Example of popular RPC implementations include DCOM and CORBA. XML-RPC is an established implementation of RPC that allows you to transport XML encoded data between two servers using HTTP. In the following examples, we will use an implementation of XML-RPC originally developed by Edd Dumbill ( http://xmlrpc.usefulinc.com/php.html).

To enable PHP XML-RPC functionality, you must download the XML-RPC toolkit available at the following link: http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=34455

Creating an XML-RPC Web service

The main include files we will be using are xmlrpc.inc (the base class library) and xmlrpcs.inc (the server class library). Here is how you implement a simple XML-RPC server using PHP. First, we bring in both the client and server libraries using include statements:


Then we define a new function called onttax. This function will be the backbone of a web service that will calculate the 15% Federal & Provincial sales tax for Ontario Canada based on a dollar amount. A parameter, which corresponds to the dollar amount, is passed into the function. The parameter is then converted to a scalar variable. Once the calculation is completed, a response is created (using the xmlrpcresp class) returning the value of the sales tax:

function onttax($par){
return new xmlrpcresp(new xmlrpcval($taxcalc, "string"));

Then we can instantiate the server and serialize our onttax function back to the caller.

$server=new xmlrpc_server(array("taxcalc.onttax"=>array("function"=>"onttax")));

Consuming an XML-RPC Web service

Now that we have built a server, the next step is to develop a client to call our web service. First, we need to bring in the base class library and define a scalar variable called $amount and assign it a value of $15.00:


Then we instantiate our XML-RPC client which will connect to our new server. The value of $amount is passed to the server using the xmlrpcmsg object:

$format=new xmlrpcmsg('taxcalc.onttax',
            array(new xmlrpcval($amount, "double")));
$client=new xmlrpc_client("/xmlrpc-server.php", "localhost", 80);

Once a connection is made, the request is sent to the server. The response, which corresponds to the sales tax calculation, is then passed along to $value. $value is then converted to a scalar variable and returned to the user. Of course there is no need to stop there, you can easily create a custom client which manipulates the data returned from the server:

print $value->scalarval();

XML-RPC is a simple, effective method of transmitting XML data. It has been implemented in projects such as FreeNET, O'Reilly's Meerkat, Syndic8, the Google API and numerous other applications. For more information about XML-RPC, be sure to visit the official website at http://www.xmlrpc.com or read Programming Web Services with XML-RPC.


SOAP is designed as an XML wrapper for web services requests and responses. SOAP's strength lies in its use of namespaces, XML Schema datatypes, and its flexibility with regard to transports. The disadvantage of SOAP is the fact that the specs and implementation is more complex, especially when you compare it to the simple XML-RPC approach. SOAP is the bread and butter of corporate web service developers. It has been deeply integrated into Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere. Based on its popularity, Google and Amazon.com have both created SOAP-based Web services.

NuSOAP is a powerful API developed for the PHP platform. It allows you to build both Web service clients and servers. One of the great features of NuSOAP is the built-in WSDL support. Installing the API is a snap: all you need is a PHP enabled server. The required libraries are contained in a file called nusoap.php. You can download both the toolkit and the documentation at this link: http://deitrich.ganx4.com/nusoap/.

Creating a NuSOAP Client using PHP

Creating a SOAP client with the library is very simple. To illustrate how the SOAP client works, I've decided to call a web service from XMethods.net (http://www.xmethods.net). This website has a wide range of useful web services you can access freely. In our particular example, we will be querying the currency converter Web service to find out the exchange rate between Canadian and American dollars.

Here is a breakdown of the PHP code needed to access the currency converter. First, we need to bring in the library file. The require_once command will make sure the functions are only added once into our script.


Next step we will define where the WSDL is located and create an instance of the soapclient class to access the web service. WSDL stands for Web Services Description Language, an XML file which describes the interface of a web service:

$client=new soapclient($wsdl, 'wsdl');

We then send in two parameters through the SOAP client, the two countries that we want to compare to get the currency exchange rate. We then call the getRate function and pass our parameters to get a response from the remote server. The result is then displayed to the user:

echo $client->call('getRate', $param);

To help better explain the process happening during SOAP communication, here is a sample of packet data transmitted from client to server and vice versa. First, our web client requests the WSDL file from the XMethods server:

GET /sd/2001/CurrencyExchangeService.wsdl HTTP/1.0
Host: www.xmethods.net

The WSDL file is then passed into our SOAP client. It contains definitions for all the methods available from the CurrencyExchangeService Web service:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004 11:45:24 GMT
Server: Apache/1.3.26 (Unix) Enhydra-Director/3 PHP/4.0.6 DAV/1.0.3 AuthNuSphere/1.0.0
Last-Modified: Tue, 23 Oct 2001 18:10:37 GMT
ETag: "1981a8-654-3bd5b29d"
Accept-Ranges: bytes
Content-Length: 1620
Connection: close
Content-Type: text/xml

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<definitions name="CurrencyExchangeService" 
 <message name="getRateRequest">
  <part name="country1" type="xsd:string"/>
  <part name="country2" type="xsd:string"/>
 <message name="getRateResponse">
  <part name="Result" type="xsd:float"/>
 <portType name="CurrencyExchangePortType">
  <operation name="getRate">
   <input message="tns:getRateRequest" />
   <output message="tns:getRateResponse" />
 <binding name="CurrencyExchangeBinding" type="tns:CurrencyExchangePortType">
  <soap:binding style="rpc" transport="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/soap/http"/>
  <operation name="getRate">
   <soap:operation soapAction=""/>
   <input >
    <soap:body use="encoded" namespace="urn:xmethods-CurrencyExchange" 
    <soap:body use="encoded" namespace="urn:xmethods-CurrencyExchange"
 <service name="CurrencyExchangeService">
  <documentation>Returns the exchange rate between the two currencies</documentation>
  <port name="CurrencyExchangePort" binding="tns:CurrencyExchangeBinding">
   <soap:address location="http://services.xmethods.net:80/soap"/>

Next step, our client contacts the server requesting the conversion rate using the getRate method. The parameters are sent according to the Web service specifications:

POST /soap HTTP/1.0
User-Agent: NuSOAP v0.6
Host: services.xmethods.net
Content-Type: text/xml
Content-Length: 622
SOAPAction: ""

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<SOAP-ENV:Envelope SOAP-ENV:encodingStyle="http://schemas.xmlsoap.org/soap/encoding/"
<country1 xsi:type="xsd:string">usa</country1>
<country2 xsi:type="xsd:string">canada</country2>

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