Towards a Web Object Model

Position Paper for the OMG-DARPA-MCC Workshop on Compositional Software Architectures

Frank Manola
Object Services and Consulting, Inc.

The World Wide Web is becoming an increasingly important factor in planning for enterprise distributed computing environments, both to support external access to enterprise systems and information (e.g., by customers, suppliers, and partners), and to support internal enterprise operations. Organizations perceive a number of advantages in using the Web in enterprise computing, a particular advantage being that it provides an information representation which

However, as organizations have attempted to employ the Web in increasingly-sophisticated applications, these applications have begun to overlap in complexity the sorts of distributed applications for which distributed object architectures such as OMG's CORBA, and its surrounding Object Management Architecture (OMA) [Sol95] were originally developed. Since the Web was not originally designed to support such applications, Web application development efforts increasingly run into limitations of the basic Web infrastructure.

If the Web is to be used as the basis of complex enterprise applications, it must provide generic capabilities similar to those provided by the OMA (although these may need to be adapted to the more open, flexible nature of the Web). This involves addressing the provision of higher level services (such as enhanced query and transaction support) and their composition in the Web. However, the basic data structuring capabilities provided by the Web (its "object model") must also be addressed, since the ability to define and apply powerful generic services in the Web, and the ability to generally use the Web to support complex applications, depends crucially on the ability of the Web's underlying data structuring facilities to support these complex applications and services.

The basic data structure of the Web consists of hyperlinked HTML documents. It is generally recognized that HTML is too simple a data structure to support complex enterprise applications [Bos97], e.g.:

A fundamental direction of efforts to address HTML limitations has been attempts to integrate aspects of object technology with the basic infrastructure of the Web. There are a number of reasons for the interest in integrating Web and object technologies:

Such efforts all contribute toward giving the Web a richer structural base, capable of directly supporting a wider variety of activities, in more flexible and extensible ways. However, up until recently these efforts have still been based on HTML, with its basic structuring limitations, and have generally been pursued as separate, non-integrated activities. There is much other ongoing work within both the Web and database communities on data structure developments to address Web-related enhancements. Work on similar issues is ongoing within the Object Management Group as well. This work has contributed valuable ideas, and the various proposals illustrate similar basic concepts (generally, movement toward some form of object model). However, these similarities are often obscured by detailed representational differences, and the work is fragmented and lacks a unifying framework. As a result, individual proposals often lack key capabilities that are in some cases contained in other proposals. Moreover, in many cases these proposals are not well-integrated with key areas of emerging industry consensus on Web data structuring technologies.

If the Internet is to develop to support advanced application requirements, there is a need for both richer individual data structuring mechanisms, and a unifying overall framework which supports heterogeneous representations and extensibility and provides metalevel concepts for describing and integrating them.

We believe that a number of (in some respects) separate "threads" of development in the Web community can be combined to form the basis of a Web object model to address these requirements. This combination is based on the observation that the fundamental components of any object model are:

Extending this idea to the Web environment, the idea is that Web pages can be considered as state, and objects can be constructed by enhancing those pages with additional metadata that allows the pages to be considered as objects in some object model. In particular, we want to enhance Web pages with metadata consisting of programs that act as object methods with respect to the "state" represented by the Web page.

As a result, what is needed to progress toward a Web object model is:

At the same time, the openness of the Web compared to conventional object models needs to be preserved, due to the distinct requirements of the Web environment for openness and scalability.

The key component technologies we have identified to support these requirements are:

These same technologies can also play other valuable roles in distributed object architectures (for example, XML could be used as a serialization representation for moving objects within a network).

We have prepared a full technical report, "Towards a Web Object Model" <>, which:

A more complete integration of object technologies into the Web would provide the basis of both powerful capabilities for integrating all kinds of data and information, and a wide variety of enhanced services, within a distributed architecture that is both widely-available, and easy-to-use and extend.


[Bos97] J. Bosak, "XML, Java, and the Future of the Web" <>, 1997.

[Sol95] R. Soley (ed.), Object Management Architecture Guide, Third Edition, Wiley, June 1995 <>.