Much has been written about electronic commerce and its many forms: business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and consumer-to-consumer. The Internet is the driving force behind a surge of interest in electronic commerce. EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has been the de facto standard for many years, but it is somewhat arcane and very expensive to implement. Cost alone leaves most small and medium-size businesses out in the cold. This is where XML comes to the rescue with the ebXML initiative. Unfortunately, the recently published book, ebXML: The Technical Specifications (Prentice Hall, ISBN 0130347981) falls short as your guide.

ebXML: The Technical Specifications

Edited by Aaron Walsh
Prentice-Hall PTR
Date published: January 14, 2002
630 pages
ISBN: 0130347981
Cover price: $34.99

What is ebXML?
Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) is a set of modular specifications that can be used by any size business in any location to conduct business over the Internet. It is sponsored by OASIS and UN/CEFACT. The Web site describes the technology’s mission: “To provide an open XML-based infrastructure enabling the global use of electronic business information in an interoperable, secure and consistent manner by all parties.”

Read more about it
I’ve read many ebXML articles and regularly monitor the Web site, so I was anxious to get my hands on the book, ebXML: The Technical Specifications. Sadly, I was quite disappointed. Basically, the book is nothing more than the freely available ebXML technical specifications in hard copy. These specifications are easily attainable from the Web site.

The book consists of seven chapters, one for each specification, and an ebXML glossary, itself a specification. Actually, each chapter resembles its own book, with individual chapters and appendices. The book’s main chapter titles include version numbers for the corresponding specification. Everything in the book is in some version-one state, as shown in the following list of chapters:

  • “Requirements Specification v1.06”: This chapter defines the requirements from representatives of international business and accredited organizations to assist the ebXML project team members in developing their deliverables in a timely manner.
  • “Technical Architecture Specification v1.0.4”: This describes the underlying architecture for ebXML.
  • “Business Process Specification Schema v1.01”: This provides a standard framework by which systems may be configured to support execution of business collaborations consisting of business transactions.
  • “Registry Information Model v1.0”: This specifies the information model for the ebXML registry.
  • “Registry Services Specification v1.0”: This defines the interface to the ebXML Registry Services as well as interaction protocols, message definitions, and XML schema.
  • “Collaboration-Protocol Profile and Agreement Specification v1.0”: This contains the detailed definitions of the Collaboration Protocol Profile and Collaboration Protocol Agreement.
  • “Message Service Specification v1.0”: This defines the ebXML Message Service protocol that enables the secure and reliable exchange of messages between two parties.
  • “Glossary v1.0”

Each specification (chapter) serves a particular purpose within the realm of ebXML.

A tough read
I’ve always found technical specifications to be a tough read. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the XML 1.0 specification from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The language is usually at a very high level. Given the terseness, it would have been great to include author commentary or a real-world example to parallel the specifications presented in the book. The reader is still left wondering where each specification is applicable. I’m sure this will be covered in subsequent books, so you may want to wait.

As I made my way through the book, I kept wondering why it was published. The information itself is in a constant state of flux, and everything in the book is freely available online. No value was added by providing the specifications in book form—they are presented as-is, with no author comments or explanations to clear up the vagueness of the emerging specifications.


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Always changing
We are all aware of the speed of change on the Internet, and ebXML is no different. As I write this, three of the seven specifications included in the book have been updated with new versions:

  • Registry Information Model Specification v2.0
  • Registry Services Specification v2.0
  • Message Service Specification v2.0

The specifications will continue to be updated and enhanced, so the site should be closely monitored if you are actively working with the technology.

Save your money
The ebXML initiative continues to move ahead with various changes. The goal is an industry standard for electronic commerce, but that goal is far from being reached. Industry acceptance has been very slow. All of the changes and uncertainty make this book less valuable. Save your money and download the specifications if necessary. You’ll get the latest version, and it’s free.