Designing and Implementing Services

This section shows you how to define and implement WCF contracts. A service contract specifies what an endpoint communicates to the outside world. At a more concrete level, it is a statement about a set of specific messages organized into basic message exchange patterns (MEPs), such as request/reply, one-way, and duplex. If a service contract is a logically related set of message exchanges, a service operation is a single message exchange. For example, a Hello operation must obviously accept one message (so the caller can announce the greeting) and may or may not return a message (depending upon the courtesy of the operation).

For more information about contracts and other core Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) concepts, see Fundamental Windows Communication Foundation Concepts. This topic focuses on understanding service contracts. For more information about how to build clients that use service contracts to connect to services, see WCF Client Overview.


This topic provides a high level conceptual orientation to designing and implementing WCF services. Subtopics provide more detailed information about the specifics of design and implementation. Before designing and implementing your WCF application, it is recommended that you:

  • Understand what a service contract is, how it works, and how to create one.

  • Understand that contracts state minimum requirements that runtime configuration or the hosting environment may not support.

Service Contracts

A service contract specifies the following:

  • The operations a contract exposes.

  • The signature of the operations in terms of messages exchanged.

  • The data types of these messages.

  • The location of the operations.

  • The specific protocols and serialization formats that are used to support successful communication with the service.

For example, a purchase order contract might have a CreateOrder operation that accepts an input of order information types and returns success or failure information, including an order identifier. It might also have a GetOrderStatus operation that accepts an order identifier and returns order status information. A service contract of this sort would specify:

  1. That the purchase order contract consisted of CreateOrder and GetOrderStatus operations.

  2. That the operations have specified input messages and output messages.

  3. The data that these messages can carry.

  4. Categorical statements about the communication infrastructure necessary to successfully process the messages. For example, these details include whether and what forms of security are required to establish successful communication.

To convey this kind of information to other applications on many platforms (including non-Microsoft platforms), XML service contracts are publicly expressed in standard XML formats, such as Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and XML Schema (XSD), among others. Developers for many platforms can use this public contract information to create applications that can communicate with the service, both because they understand the language of the specification and because those languages are designed to enable interoperation by describing the public forms, formats, and protocols that the service supports. For more information about how WCF handles this kind of information, see Metadata.

Contracts can be expressed many ways, and while WSDL and XSD are excellent languages to describe services in an accessible way, they are difficult languages to use directly and are merely descriptions of a service, not service contract implementations. Therefore, WCF applications use managed attributes, interfaces, and classes both to define the structure of a service and to implement it.

The resulting contract defined in managed types can be exported as metadata—WSDL and XSD—when needed by clients or other service implementers. The result is a straightforward programming model that can be described (using public metadata) to any client application. The details of the underlying SOAP messages, the transportation and security-related information, and so on, can be left to WCF, which performs the necessary conversions to and from the service contract type system to the XML type system automatically.

For more information about designing contracts, see Designing Service Contracts. For more information about implementing contracts, see Implementing Service Contracts.

Messages Up Front and Center

Using managed interfaces, classes, and methods to model service operations is straightforward when you are used to remote procedure call (RPC)-style method signatures, in which passing parameters into a method and receiving return values is the normal form of requesting functionality from an object or other type of code. For example, programmers using managed languages such as Visual Basic and C++ COM can apply their knowledge of the RPC-style approach (whether using objects or interfaces) to the creation of WCF service contracts without experiencing the problems inherent in RPC-style distributed object systems. Service orientation provides the benefits of loosely coupled, message-oriented programming while retaining the ease and familiarity of the RPC programming experience.

Many programmers are more comfortable with message-oriented application programming interfaces, such as message queues like Microsoft MSMQ, the System.Messaging namespaces in the .NET Framework, or sending unstructured XML in HTTP requests, to name a few. For more information about programming at the message level, see Using Message Contracts, Service Channel-Level Programming, and Interoperability with POX Applications.

Understanding the Hierarchy of Requirements

A service contract groups the operations; specifies the message exchange pattern, message types, and data types those messages carry; and indicates categories of run-time behavior an implementation must have to support the contract (for example, it may require that messages be encrypted and signed). The service contract itself does not specify precisely how these requirements are met, only that they must be. The type of encryption or the manner in which a message is signed is up to the implementation and configuration of a compliant service.

Notice the way that the contract requires certain things of the service contract implementation and the run-time configuration to add behavior. The set of requirements that must be met to expose a service for use builds on the preceding set of requirements. If a contract makes requirements of the implementation, an implementation can require yet more of the configuration and bindings that enable the service to run. Finally, the host application must also support any requirements that the service configuration and bindings add.

This additive requirement process is important to keep in mind while designing, implementing, configuring, and hosting a Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) service application. For example, the contract can specify that it needs to support a session. If so, then you must configure the binding to support that contractual requirement, or the service implementation will not work. Or if your service requires Windows Integrated Authentication and is hosted in Internet Information Services (IIS), the Web application in which the service resides must have Windows Integrated Authentication turned on and anonymous support turned off. For more information about the features and impact of the different service host application types, see Hosting Services.

See also