SOA-RM – Policies and contracts

A policy represents some constraint or condition on the use, deployment or description of an owned entity as defined by any participant. A contract, on the other hand, represents an agreement by two or more parties. Like policies, agreements are also about the conditions of use of a service; they may also constrain the expected real world effects of using a service. The reference model is focused primarily on the concept of policies and contracts as they apply to services.  We are not concerned with the form or expressiveness of any language used to express policies and contracts.

SOA-RM - Policies and contractsFigure 1. Policies and contracts.

Service policy

Conceptually, there are three aspects of policies: the policy assertion, the policy owner (sometimes referred to as the policy subject) and policy enforcement.

For example, the assertion: “All messages are encrypted” is an assertion regarding the forms of messages. As an assertion, it is measurable: it may be true or false depending on whether the traffic is encrypted or not. Policy assertions are often about the way the service is realized; i.e., they are about the relationship between the service and its execution context.

A policy always represents a participant’s point of view. An assertion becomes the policy of a participant when they adopt the assertion as their policy. This linking is normally not part of the assertion itself. For example, if the service consumer declares that “All messages are encrypted”, then that reflects the policy of the service consumer. This policy is one that may be asserted by the service consumer independently of any agreement from the service provider.

Finally, a policy may be enforced. Techniques for the enforcement of policies depend on the nature of the policy. Conceptually, service policy enforcement amounts to ensuring that the policy assertion is consistent with the real world. This might mean preventing unauthorized actions to be performed or states to be entered into; it can also mean initiating compensatory actions when a policy violation has been detected.  An unenforceable constraint is not a policy; it would be better described as a wish.

Policies potentially apply to many aspects of SOA: security, privacy, manageability, Quality of Service and so on. Beyond such infrastructure-oriented policies, participants MAY also express business-oriented policies – such as hours of business, return policies and so on.

Policy assertions SHOULD be written in a form that is understandable to, and processable by, the parties to whom the policy is directed. Policies MAY be automatically interpreted, depending on the purpose and applicability of the policy and how it might affect whether a particular service is used or not.

A natural point of contact between service participants and policies associated with the service is in the service description. It would be natural for the service description to contain references to the policies associated with the service.

Service contract

Whereas a policy is associated with the point of view of individual participants, a contract represents an agreement between two or more participants. Like policies, contracts can cover a wide range of aspects of services: quality of service agreements, interface and choreography agreements and commercial agreements. Note that we are not necessarily referring to legal contracts here.

Thus, following the discussion above, a service contract is a measurable assertion that governs the requirements and expectations of two or more parties.  Unlike policy enforcement, which is usually the responsibility of the policy owner, contract enforcement may involve resolving disputes between the parties to the contract. The resolution of such disputes may involve appeals to higher authorities.

Like policies, contracts may be expressed in a form that permits automated interpretation. Where a contract is used to codify the results of a service interaction, it is good practice to represent it in a machine processable form. Among other purposes, this facilitates automatic service composition. Where a contract is used to describe over-arching agreements between service providers and consumers, then the priority is likely to make such contracts readable by people.

Since a contract is inherently the result of agreement by the parties involved, there is a process associated with the agreement action. Even in the case of an implicitly agreed upon contract, there is logically an agreement action associated with the contract, even if there is no overt action of agreement. A contract may be arrived at by a mechanism that is not directly part of an SOA – an out of band process. Alternatively, a contract may be arrived at during the course of a service interaction – an in-band process.

Previous: SOA-RM – Service description
Next: SOA-RM – Execution context.