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Introduction to posts about JSONPath, SOAP and Amadeus with PowerShell

sarafian profile image Alex Sarafian Updated on ・9 min read

The airline industry

The airline and in general the travelling industry depend quite a lot on SOAP to integrate the systems. All companies within the travelling and transportation sector base their business on well-established platforms like Amadeus, Sabre etc. These platforms are what runs behind the clerks' desks at the airport check-in, or at the gates or many other places you as a passenger don't see. With the industry being heavily standardized by IATA, there isn't much room for the airlines to differentiate and this is why we, as passengers, experience the process of air travelling in a consistent manner regardless of the airline. These platforms exist for a very long time and they are not easy to change. There is an incredible amount of business flows implemented around their APIs and the standardization. That means the technology doesn't change easily as well. You could consider them as legacy systems but they are still very much functioning.

Most airlines, don't even own for example the reservation system. If you actually look into the history, then when the rest of the world discovered the concept of Software as a service, the travelling sector was doing SAAS already since the 70s.

The airline I'm in involved with particularly, uses Amadeus (aka 1A) as their main driver. Amadeus's API is a stateful SOAP API and to makes matters worse, it is very much complicated in terms of the data contracts used.

Please note that I'm not an expert on Amadeus and I'll not discuss analyze Amadeus API with regards to functionality. Besides, this post is not only about Amadeus. It is everyone who is looking for an easier path into PowerShell and SOAP.
{: .notice--tip}

UI to drive process

When my journey started, I noticed that people use UI tools like SOAPUI as the development tool for all sorts of processes such as:

  • Visualizer of the API like others use Postman.
  • Proof of concepts (POC) flows.
  • Some sort of workflow, where test cases are combined with groovy code, take csv as input, do some processing and then export to csv.

The main indication was that you could recognize its UI on the screens of many people including developers, architects and product owners. I also noticed that people, who complained about SOAPUI looked and found an alternative with similar features but with a more modern UI. Regardless, the approach and usage remained the same while inheriting the same problems for some of the above-mentioned processes.

Why PowerShell

With my background in automation, this felt very strange and troubling. I always use UI tools when available as the visual accelerator to help me establish a basic understanding. But when things need to be combined or repetition is expected, then code is my first choice.

The fact that the Amadeus's API is stateful automatically meant that some custom code was required to extract the session variables from one invocation and then pass them to the next ones. SOAPUI can't do this by default and therefore Groovy code is required in between the first request that captures the session and the following ones that need to use it. Extra care is required when finalizing the session. Looking back into my PowerShell experience with SOAP, I remembered that once you had a soap client from New-WebServiceProxy, then the headers were automatically managed across different invocations, in a similar way that browsers manage the cookies for example.

So, I started looking into this with high hopes.

Trouble in paradise

Unfortunately, things didn't go easy with PowerShell and there were a lot of complications. The complications were not easy to address and I can understand why someone would skip this approach and quickly fall back to a UI tool, especially when everyone else is doing the same. But, often with software, what the majority does is not the best solution and innovation requires avoiding the established approach.

The problems I encountered were the followings:

  • New-WebServiceProxy related issues.
    • It has limitations. This is because the workhorse is the System.Web.Services assembly which used to be the driver for ASMX technology which is the predecessor of WCF. For this particular case, an expected header is not recognized understood in the WSDL and is not available on the created proxy. This inevitably leads to errors related to bad headers.
    • It is not available in PowerShell 6/Core scope, mostly because SOAP is not getting much attention from the .NET Core team. Remember that the System.Web.Services assembly is about ASMX which is an obsolete technology and difficult to justify its port to the .NET Core.
    • The interface and data contracts generated are compiled into memory. Most people understand this as the current PowerShell session or windows. Although there is some preventive code, the reality is that multiple invocations of the cmdlet mess up the session with multiple types of the same name but from different assemblies. This often requires a restart of the PowerShell session which is very annoying when developing a solution.
  • The data contracts referenced by the operations of Amadeus's API are very complicated and difficult to understand from a scripting language. The only good visualization is an XML fragment but the XML doesn't reveal the types and relationships that are described in the WSDL and drive the code generation.
  • One must use the data contract types generated by the cmdlet because they implicitly contain the annotations that drive the XML serialization. This has to be very specific because this process produces SOAP envelopes which are very strict, something that is considered one of the strengths of SOAP. Any attempt to deviate away from the generated types and use dynamic objects, will not serialize to the expected XML. In fact, the variable will not be even accepted as a parameter to the operation because the types won't match.

These issues are manageable but the Amadeus's API enlarges them to a point that reveals the weakness of SOAP when using a scripting language.

Let's see an example of problems faced when working with Amadeus's API's data structures. Here is an example of an XML fragment for the input of the PNR_Retrieve operation.

<retrievalFacts>
  <retrieve>
    <type>2</type>
  </retrieve>
  <reservationOrProfileIdentifier>
    <reservation>
      <companyId>SN</companyId>
      <controlNumber>MTHOH2</controlNumber>
    </reservation>
  </reservationOrProfileIdentifier>
</retrievalFacts>

Based on this XML, one would expect that a path like retrievalFacts.reservationOrProfileIdentifier.reservation.companyId would make sense but in reality it is retrievalFacts.reservationOrProfileIdentifier.companyId. When developing in a typed language with a powerful IDE, this is relatively easy to spot and connect the dots but when in PowerShell, errors about properties start showing up.

Remember that there are no code files generated that can be consulted for the structure. The only way to try and establish a similar picture of the data structures is to use GetType() and Get-Member and start drilling in. But this is very tedious and a difficult process. Anyone with a C# background would probably give up at this point, switch to a C# project and generate the respected service references. But I want to keep it dynamic not because this is the nature of scripting languages but because of something I noticed in the Amadeus's API. Their API is really big and the operations are organized in different functional areas as they call them. Also, they don't offer all of the operations to every client. In fact, what they do, is that they ask the candidate consumer to request which operations he is interested in and they compose a specific endpoint with only those. They do this by some sort of an API Gateway. For example, I would ask Amadeus for the following operations from the functional areas of PNR, Security and Inv:

  • PNR_Retrieve
  • Inv_AdvancedGetFlightData
  • Security_SignOut

When using the code generated approach e.g. with Visual Studio, then this particular code is applicable only for this particular endpoint given to me. This means, that any solution based on this static approach is very specific and not suitable for a dynamic scripting language like PowerShell. Even if someone would build a binary module, this module would be so specific that would only serve my specific purpose and at best act as a code template for other endpoints.

To make matters worse, my airline adds a second layer of SOAP composition through our very own API Gateway named Sentinet. With Sentinet, we compose endpoints with a mixture of operations provided by a custom Amadeus endpoint and other SOAP endpoints developed internally. This composition changes the WSDL file so much that a static code generated proxy would not work against the Amadeus endpoint and the one from out Sentinet.

Static code generation is surely not the solution.

While looking around, I soon realized that there isn't anything available and my options became:

  • Accept the situation and fallback to SOAPUI
  • Code something that generates the SOAP envelope and does a POST. This would be a very dirty solution and felt very unattractive from the beginning.
  • Figure out a solution for PowerShell.

My goals

Being a bit stubborn and not easily accepting something as impossible with code, I naturally chose the option to solve this in PowerShell and share with the community. Based on the problems and challenges already faced, I've set the following goals for the solution:

  1. Make working with the request and response types of operations much easier. One of the best aspects of any scripting language is its ability to utilize dynamic objects and allow for expressions like $var.A.B.C.D="a value". It is not exactly like this in PowerShell when setting values but if with the process could improve the PowerShell experience, then even better.
  2. Protect the session from the multiple assemblies generated by the New-WebServiceProxy cmdlet for the same endpoint.
  3. Wrap the life cycle management of the Amadeus session state to make code simpler. This is actually the only goal that is specific to Amadeus. I set this goal because I want overall as much as possible clean and simple code. It would be a shame to ruin the code experience by asking the developer to constantly move around the session values.
  4. Find a solution for the missing header of New-WebServiceProxy.

In the following posts, I'll discuss the solution with an individual post about each goal. Unfortunately, the only goal that I haven't solved yet, is the last one. My workaround is to leverage Sentinet's (API Gateway) processing pipeline to inject the missing header when necessary. I believe that this issue can't be solved because of how old technology is that the New-WebServiceProxy depends on and because the proxies created by the cmdlet don't offer much flexibility to do custom header injections. The other issue that is not currently solved is the lack of support for PowerShell Core. This makes the solution Windows platform specific. The only possibility at this moment is to raise yet another issue, requesting SOAP support from PowerShell or WCF parity from .NET Core. In this comment, it becomes clear why there is much uncertainty if we will ever get cross-platform support for SOAP in PowerShell.

1ASOAP repository

My solution to each of the above goals is already available in the 1ASOAP repository. 1ASOAP offers 3 independent PowerShell modules currently residing in this single repository. None of the modules is published at this moment to the PowerShell gallery but they do work independently of each other.

The following table provides a summary for each module and a link to the more detailed post, if already published.

Module Scope Description Post
SOAPProxy General Initializes and manages SOAP proxies with New-WebServiceProxy. Establishes the concept of default proxy. Simplifies the creation of request objects for a given operation. Improved SOAP proxies management in PowerShell
JSONPath General Offer JSONPath approach with expressions such as A.B.C when performing Set and Find operations. The Trace functionality was developed as a big accelerator to help understand the structure and received data and smoothen out the developer and debugging experience. JSONPath for composite types in PowerShell with extra tools for debugging
1ASOAP Amadeus API Abstraction over Amadeus API state management. Does not include any specifics for any operation and hence works with any composed endpoint. Not yet published

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