BizTalk Server: Standard Message Exchange Patterns and Types of Service

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Identifying Standard Message Exchange Patterns

When we talk about Message Exchange Patterns, or MEPs, we’re considering the direction and timing of data between the client and service. How do I get into the bus and what are the implications of those choices? Let’s discuss the four primary options.

Request/Response services

This is probably the pattern that’s most familiar to you. We’re all comfortable making a function call to a component and waiting for a response. When a service uses this pattern, it’s frequently performing a remote procedure call where the caller accesses functionality on the distant service and is blocked until either a timeout occurs or until the receiver sends a response that is expected by the caller.

As we’ll see below, while this pattern may set developers at ease, it may encourage bad behavior. Nevertheless, the cases where request/response services make the most sense are fine-grained functions and mashup services. If you need a list of active contracts that a hospital has with your company, then a request/response operation fits best. The client application should wait until that response is received before moving on to the next portion of the application. Or, let’s say my web portal is calling an aggregate service, which takes contact data from five different systems and mashes them up into a single data entity that is then returned to the caller. This data is being requested for immediate presentation to an end user, and thus it’s logical to solicit information from a service and wait to draw the screen until the completed result is loaded.

BizTalk Server 2009 has full support for both consuming and publishing services adhering to a request/response pattern. When exposing request/response operations through BizTalk orchestrations, the orchestration port’s Communication Pattern is set to Request-Response and the Port direction of communication is equal to I’ll be receiving a request and sending a response. Once this orchestration port is bound to a physical request/response receive port, BizTalk takes care of correlating the response message with the appropriate thread that made the request. This is significant because by default, BizTalk is a purely asynchronous messaging engine. Even when you configure BizTalk Server to behave in a request/response fashion, it’s only putting a facade on the standard underlying plumbing. A synchronous BizTalk service interface actually sits on top of a sophisticated mechanism of correlating MessageBox communication to simulate a request/response pattern.

When consuming request/response services from BizTalk from an orchestration, the orchestration port’s Communication Pattern is set to Request-Response and the Port direction of communication is equal to I’ll be sending a request and receiving a response. The corresponding physical send port uses a solicit-response pattern and allows the user to set up both pipelines and maps for the inbound and outbound messages.

One concern with either publishing or consuming request/response services is the issue of blocking and timeouts. From a BizTalk perspective, this means that whenever you publish an orchestration as a request/response service, you should always verify that the logic residing between inbound and outbound transmissions will either complete or fail within a relatively brief amount of time. This dictates wrapping this logic inside an orchestration Scope shape with a preset timeout that is longer than the standard web service timeout interval.

For consuming services, a request/response pattern forces the orchestration to block and wait for the response to be returned. If the service response isn’t necessary for processing to continue, consider using a Parallel shape that isolates the service interaction pattern on a dedicated branch. This way, the execution of unrelated workflow steps can proceed even though the downstream service is yet to respond.

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