1.2. What is a Service-Oriented Architecture?

A Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is not a single program or technology. Think of it, rather, as a software design paradigm.
As you may already know, a hardware bus is a physical connector that ties together multiple systems and subsystems. If you use one, instead of having a large number of point-to-point connectors between pairs of systems, you can simply connect each system to the central bus. An enterprise service bus (ESB) does exactly the same thing in software.
The ESB sits in the architectural layer above a messaging system. This messaging system facilitates asynchronous communications between services through the ESB. In fact, when you are using an ESB, everything is, conceptually, either a service (which, in this context, is your application software) or a message being sent between services. The services are listed as connection addresses (known as end-points references.)
It is important to note that, in this context, a "service" is not necessarily always a web service. Other types of applications, using such transports as File Transfer Protocol and the Java Message Service, can also be "services."


At this point, you may be wondering if an enterprise service bus is the same thing as a service-oriented architecture. The answer is, "Not exactly." An ESB does not form a service-oriented architecture of itself. Rather, it provides many of the tools than can be used to build one. In particular, it facilitates the loose-coupling and asynchronous message passing needed by a SOA. Always think of a SOA as being more than just software: it is a series of principles, patterns and best practices.