The developers'

API Guide

Everything you need to know about building, purchasing and integrating with APIs.


What is a SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) API?

Simple object access protocol (SOAP) is a messaging protocol that facilitates seamless communication between programs, regardless of their operating systems and technologies, by defining structured rules for messages, often using XML. A SOAP API is a web service interface that uses the SOAP protocol for communication. 

SOAP was introduced to the world in 1998, and is an extremely verbose protocol that requires the use of highly-structured XML for all requests. It gained prominence in enterprise settings for secure and standardized data exchange. Despite the rise of alternatives like REST APIs, often seen as simpler and more flexible, SOAP APIs remain relevant in specific use cases. They are particularly valued in environments requiring strict standards adherence and where transactional integrity is paramount. 

<SOAP-ENV:Envelope xmlns:SOAP-ENV=""

SOAP API characteristics

SOAP APIs are distinguished by several key features that make them effective across a range of applications: 

  • Structured communication: SOAP APIs utilize a structured XML format for communication, which is beneficial for any system requiring precise and controlled data exchange.
  • Formal interface definition: Using web services description language (WSDL), SOAP APIs offer clear and formal definitions of their interfaces. 
  • Flexibility in operations: SOAP can support stateful and stateless operations, making it adaptable to various scenarios, including complex business processes, where maintaining a continuous client-server interaction is necessary.
  • Transport protocol independence: SOAP APIs are not limited to HTTP and can operate over multiple transport protocols, which adds to their flexibility in different network and messaging environments. This makes them suitable for various applications, from simple data exchange to complex enterprise-level integrations.

Security standards: The inclusion of robust security standards like WS-Security makes SOAP APIs suitable for use cases that demand high levels of data security, including applications outside the typical web service domain.

SOAP API use cases

SOAP APIs have specific features that are beneficial in certain situations, particularly where there is a need for standardized, structured communication with enhanced security and transactional integrity. However, it’s important to note that these industries often choose between SOAP and REST APIs based on their specific needs and preferences. 

Here are some use cases that highlight the strengths of SOAP APIs:

  • Financial services: In the financial industry, SOAP APIs are one of the options for managing secure transactions, account management, and facilitating data exchange between banks, payment processors, and financial institutions. They are valued for their structured message formats and security standards. 
  • Healthcare systems: SOAP APIs are used in healthcare for secure data transfer, including patient data, medical records, and insurance claims. 
  • Government and public sector: Government agencies may use SOAP APIs for services involving citizen data, tax filings, social benefits, and other areas where data accuracy and security are important. 
  • Telecommunications: Telecom companies utilize SOAP APIs for managing network resources, provisioning services, and ensuring communication reliability.
  • E-commerce: SOAP APIs are used in e-commerce for secure payment processing, order management, and inventory synchronization. 

SOAP API advantages

SOAP’s primary advantages are rooted in its strict adherence to standards and capability for comprehensive error handling and transaction management. This makes it particularly suitable for high data integrity scenarios, such as those requiring atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability (ACID) compliance. These features ensure reliable and precise communications, ideal in environments where the predictability of message formats and transactional reliability are crucial.

However, the rigor and structure of SOAP come with increased complexity, as it requires a detailed understanding of the data structure for API interactions. Additionally, this complexity often results in higher bandwidth usage than REST APIs, which may render SOAP less suitable in situations where bandwidth is limited or needs to be conserved.

SOAP API disadvantages

In evaluating SOAP APIs, it’s essential to consider some of their disadvantages, which can impact their suitability for certain applications:

  • Increased payload size: Due to the XML-based structure of SOAP messages, they often have larger payloads than other types like JSON used in REST APIs. This increased size can lead to higher bandwidth usage, which might be a significant concern in environments with bandwidth limitations or costs.
  • Complexity in development and maintenance: The intricacy of SOAP’s standards and the requirement for a detailed understanding of its structure can make SOAP APIs more complex. This complexity can result in longer development times and potentially higher costs, particularly when compared to the more streamlined and flexible development process of REST APIs.
  • Performance considerations: The verbosity of SOAP may impact performance, particularly in scenarios where rapid data exchange is necessary. The larger message sizes can lead to slower processing and transmission times, which might be a critical factor in time-sensitive applications.

SOAP API components

SOAP API components work together to structure and convey information within SOAP messages. The envelope provides the outer container, the header allows for additional context or customization, the body carries the core data, and the fault mechanism ensures proper error handling and reporting. This structured approach to message composition enhances the reliability and interoperability of SOAP-based communication.


The envelope is the fundamental structure of a SOAP message that encapsulates all other SOAP components.

  • The SOAP message begins with an envelope, which serves as the outermost element.
  • It defines the start and end of the SOAP message and encapsulates all other components.
  • The envelope typically contains one mandatory element called the “Body” and an optional “header.”
<soap:Envelope xmlns:soap="" 


The header is a versatile component within SOAP messages and plays a crucial role in enhancing the capabilities of SOAP communication.

  • The header is an optional part of the SOAP message and resides within the envelope.
  • It can contain additional information related to the message, such as authentication credentials, routing instructions, or custom application-specific data.
  • Headers provide a way to extend the basic functionality of SOAP messages to accommodate various requirements.
<soap:Envelope xmlns:soap="" xmlns:wsa="">


The body is a vital and mandatory component of a SOAP API message, serving as the container for the primary data being transmitted.

  • The body is a mandatory part of the SOAP message and resides within the envelope alongside the header. 
  • It contains the actual data being sent in the SOAP message, which could be a request for an operation or a response containing the result of an operation.
  • The body’s content is typically defined by the specific SOAP operation being performed.
<soap:Envelope xmlns:soap="">
      <!-- SOAP Header elements, if present, can go here -->
      <ns1:Request xmlns:ns1="">
            <!-- Request-specific data and parameters go here -->


The fault element is a crucial part of SOAP messages, and it’s instrumental in ensuring that errors are properly communicated and can be addressed as needed.

  • The fault element provides information about errors that occur during message processing.
  • When an error occurs, a SOAP fault message is generated, containing details about the error, including a fault code, fault reason, and optional fault details.
  • Fault messages enable graceful error handling and reporting between SOAP client and server.
            <soap:Text>Invalid input provided.</soap:Text>
            <!-- Additional details about the fault can go here -->

How to use a SOAP API

To use a SOAP API effectively, follow these steps:

Step 1 – Define the SOAP message structure

Begin by specifying the structure of your SOAP message, including the envelope, header, and body.

Step 2 – Choose a programming language or framework: 

Select a programming language or framework that supports SOAP, ensuring compatibility with your development environment.

Step 3 – Implement the SOAP client and server

Develop the SOAP client and server components based on your chosen technology stack, adhering to the SOAP message structure.

Step 4 – Exchange SOAP messages 

Communicate between the client and server by exchanging SOAP messages, typically over HTTP or other transport protocols.

Step 5 – Handle SOAP faults and errors

Implement error handling mechanisms to gracefully manage SOAP faults and errors that may occur during processing.

Best practices to build a SOAP API integration

To ensure a successful SOAP API integration, consider these best practices:

  • Ensure proper error handling and fault reporting: Implement robust error handling mechanisms and provide informative fault reporting to aid troubleshooting.
  • Implement strong security measures: Utilize SSL/TLS for transport security and WS-Security for message-level security to protect data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Optimize message size: Minimize SOAP message size by employing efficient data serialization formats, especially for attachments and large payloads.
  • Consider versioning and backward compatibility: Plan for versioning to accommodate changes while maintaining backward compatibility to avoid breaking existing integrations.
  • Document thoroughly: Create comprehensive documentation for your SOAP API, including message formats, available operations, and endpoint details to assist developers and integrators.

This SOAP API guide covers everything from understanding SOAP to its practical application and best practices for building robust integrations. SOAP’s security and transaction support strengths make it a reliable choice for particular enterprise-level services. Still, careful consideration of its disadvantages and adherence to best practices are essential for success.