The WS-Discovery protocol provides a means for devices, such as printers, and for software running on an application server to announce themselves on a LAN and make themselves available to other systems that want to use their services. Those systems could be desktops, notebooks or handheld devices.
The protocol, which would work on a wireless or wired LAN, is meant to work in conjunction with other Web-services protocols for system-to-system communications, including WS-Eventing, WS-Addressing, WS-Security, and WS-ReliableMessaging.
WS-Discovery "fits well with the rest of the Web-services tools and specifications," says John Beatty, a senior principal technologist at infrastructure software maker BEA Systems Inc. Web services is an emerging set of standards, based on XML, for system-to-system communications.
BEA and Canon worked with Microsoft and Intel on developing the latest protocol.
WS-Discovery is meant to complement another Web-services standard for system-to-system discovery, called Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration. UDDI is used in connecting systems across networks, as opposed to just one network.
"WS-Discovery is really meant for limited resource devices and systems and is to be used on local networks," says Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst for market researcher ZapThink.
At least in the short term, the new protocol isn't meant to replace Universal Plug-and-Play, a specification championed by Microsoft that connects devices directly.
"UPnP will be used first and foremost to let systems know when devices are available for direct communication, while WS-Discovery will be a way to let an entire network know about the services that are available on that device," Schmelzer says.
For example, a network printer could connect directly to a desktop using UPnP, while using WS-Discovery to let servers on a network know that it can print digital color photos, Schmelzer says.
The companies that have developed WS-Discovery have posted the specification on their Web sites for developers to implement and to provide feedback. Interoperability testing is planned before the specification will be submitted to a standards body.
Says Beatty, "It's too early to say right now what the appropriate standards body would be for this specification."