Soap, XmlRpc and Rest with the Zend Framework


20 Feb 2008

The Project

I was recently working on a project to expose our trading systems via XmlRpc, Rest and SOAP. It was quite an interesting project, which took two of us three weeks to develop (Amongst other things).

This involved creating a testbed, that would automatically generate the payload and response for each protocol. The parameters are introspected for each class method capturing each parameters data type, allowing for user input via standard html forms. This is probably best described with a picture or two.

Most of the documentation was generated via reflection and comments within the docblocks, parameters, notes were also generated making it quick and simple to update. In addition to parsing the start and end line of each method for any applicable error codes/faults that may be returned.

Rest API interface

XmlRpc API Interface - executed API method

Zend Framework

Using the Zend Framework for the first time in a commercial product was not exactly hassle free, and still has quite a few issues with its webservices implementation. Currently there seems to be quite a bit of confusion regarding its Rest implementation and whether it is to be merged, would be great if someone clarify this.

The main issue I found with the Zend Frameworks implementation of XmlRpc and Rest is that it assumes that the payload it receives is valid. During my development, I tended to mix the payloads from SOAP, XmlRpc and Rest, yet it would assume that simple_xml can parse the input.

For example $this->_sxml is assumed to be a valid object, if not you will either get invalid method call or an undefined index, which doesn’t render well for an xmlrpc server.

     * Constructor
     * @param string $data XML Result
     * @return void
    public function __construct($data)
        $this->_sxml = simplexml_load_string($data);

     * toString overload
     * Be sure to only call this when the result is a single value!
     * @return string
    public function __toString()
        if (!$this->getStatus()) {
            $message = $this->_sxml->xpath('//message');
            return (string) $message[0];
        } else {
            $result = $this->_sxml->xpath('//response');
            if (sizeof($result) > 1) {
                return (string) "An error occured.";
            } else {
                return (string) $result[0];

One of the main issues with Rest was that it needed ksort when using the Rest client as the arguments were not necessarily passed in order. This can be “rest.php?method=x&arg1=1&arg0=0″ and it would interpret each arg in the order it received them. This should be sorted in the next release of the ZF.

As the webservices we are exposing needs to have quite good performance with the number of transactions it will be handling and the amount of reflection that Zend Server Reflection (Only noticed after I started profiling) performs and I wanted to optimize any overhead, which got me looking at Zend_XmlRpc_Server_Cache. First thing I did was profile Zend_XmlRpc_Server_Cache, which added a considerable amount of overhead. Looking at its implementation, it uses serialize, which is a relatively slow process and should be avoided, unless there is a large overhead in initializing objects. So most likely Zend_XmlRpc_Server_Cache will not add any benefit. And var_dump’ing out the reflection in XmlRpc spews out a shocking amount of information on some fairly large classes.

  if (!Zend_XmlRpc_Server_Cache::get($cacheFile, $server)) {


Generating WSDL

I tried a number of WSDL generators including the implementation in incubator for ZF, which I found to be the best, yet I still had to write a large chunk of the WSDL by hand and adapt it.

The best way to debug is to run the soap client with verbose mode on, and it will typically tell you the issue straight away.

  • Zend_Soap_AutoDiscover: Duplicates an operation in WSDL for methods with parameters that are optional. (ZF-2642)
  • Zend_Soap_AutoDiscover: If missing the @return in your docblock the message response in the WSDL is not generated. (ZF-2643)
  • AutoDiscover duplicates response if using set class multiple times. (ZF-2641 )
  • One of my colleagues typically writes their docblocks with “@return int, comment.”, which the comma caused return types to be dropped with AutoDiscover, more of an issue with Zend Server Reflection

Other odd issues

Raw input bug

Some other obscurities I found was capturing the raw request data. In our local development environment reading the raw request input, and then once again within the Zend Frameworks appears to work fine. However in our pre-production environment it fails to read the second request to read the raw request. (PHP 5.2.2)

if (!isset($HTTP_RAW_POST_DATA)){
$HTTP_RAW_POST_DATA = file_get_contents('php://input');

It does seem a little odd that the XmlRpc does not check whether $HTTP_RAW_POST_DATA isset before attempting to re-read raw input.

Internal error: Wrong return type

Whilst running PHPUnit I noticed a very weird quirk in our local dev environment, which essentially did the following… You would expect this to output the contents of an array right? Well between the method call to x and return the result back to method y returns NULL. This is very obscure and i’ve never seen anything like it especially considering it is explicitly set. I had a number of colleagues check this, which had us all scratching our heads. Has anyone else seen anything similar to this?

class test {

  public function x() {
    $ret = array();
    for(...) {
      $ret[] = $row;
    return $ret;

  public function y() {
    $response = $this->x();

$t = new test();


Overall the project went pretty well, I’m confident it is now stable especially with the number of tests we ran against it. It is adaptable to other projects that we may need to expose via an API, in total there is about 6000 lines of code alone just testing the 3 different protocols it supports. I would have rather avoided the Rest implementation with ZF as it still needs a lot of work, however XmlRpc is a lot more stable and I would quite happily use again. As there is a lot of overhead with reflection it is not the fastest implementation and was contrasted to some of the heavier web pages we have for some simple functionality. It would be ideal to replace the reflection with something lighter such as an array with the corresponding methods, parameters and types, however I would have to look into that if performance did become a major issue.

PS. Just to note I used PHP’s in built soap server.

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About this blog

I have been a developer for roughly 10 years and have worked with an extensive range of technologies. Whilst working for relatively small companies, I have worked with all aspects of the development life cycle, which has given me a broad and in-depth experience.