What is the Speed Difference Between Database and Web Service Calls?

All things being equal, and in the most simple form, which is faster?
1.) A call to a web service method
2.) A call to a database

For example, assume that you have a simple web service that just returns an integer that is calculated in X time. You also have a database that, when queried in th right way, also takes X time to calculate the answer. (So the compute time is the same in both cases) In both cases, assume the amount of data both directions is the same, say, a single 32-bit integer, for simplicity.

Thus far, the calculation times of both the web service and the database are exactly the same.

The environment is 1 application server, where the app resides, and 1 other server that is holding both the web service and the database. There is nothing else going on in the environment other than the application calling either the web service or database repeatedly. This all within one single LAN, so any network latency is equal.

From an application, which will be faster, the call to the database, or the call to the web service?

What I am trying to isolate, I guess, is which is more heavy-weight. Does the set up, open, close, tear down of a database connection end up slower than that for a web service, or is it the same? Additionally, if there are other things, such as parsing the result from a web service, how do they affect the speed?

10 thoughts on “What is the Speed Difference Between Database and Web Service Calls?

  1. user

    They are two different problems. Nobody intelligent will use a database to perform math operations. So, ultimately, your web service will hit a database, and therefore will be slower than hitting a database directly … until you consider possibility for results caching, and then it depends on URK

  2. user

    @kdgregory I may have misread his question but I dont totally believe they are two different problems – for instance I right now have a need to fetch the timezone for a user and I can either get it from the database (in a simple one table query) or get it from a web service – but I'm thinking Herbert-Sitz is correct on likely the database being quicker because in my instance the web service call involves more overhead both in JBoss as well as the .Net server its calling

  3. user

    If we are assuming that you are communicating to a different server for both the web and database calls, wouldn’t they be pretty much the same, since both requests are transferred through TCP/IP? The only thing then that could be compared is how big the actual results are that are sent back in terms of bits across the wire.

  4. user

    It all depends on the network topology and languages you’re using. If you’re talking C#…my money would be on the database call being faster almost every time.

    Your calls to the database server are going to be made over the native protocol. Everything is going to be optimized.

    If you’re calling a web service, you’re going to need some mechanism to send the request to the web server, wait for the web server to respond, and then something to parse the result of the web service call back into your code.

  5. user

    One could say that generally, latency of the network in a web service (which will typically be over the internet) is going to be slower than the call to a database (which is typically on a LAN or something, which is faster than one’s connection to the internet).

    Of course, this makes a LOT of assumptions about setups/software/etc, etc which effectively reduces it to an apples and oranges comparison, which there is never a good answer for.

  6. user

    Algorithmic complexity is just one variable that impacts the overall performance of a system. Other factors might include network latency or network bandwidth, especially when the size of the returned data is different.

    If you run the same O(1) algorithm on a local machine, you will get the results faster than if you run the algorithm on a machine on another continent and need the same results sent over the network.

    Other factors might include raw CPU speed if the calls are done on physically different machines.

    That’s why premature optimisation is the root of all evil.


    I’d say it depends even more now on the details of the system, i.e., what database software you are using, or whether or not your web service is reading data from a static web page or dynamically generating the data.

    But I am beginning to lose sight of why you are asking the question. You seem to say that both methods take the same amount of time. So if they take the same amount of time, how can you ask which is faster? Clearly they are equally fast. You need to tell us more about how and when they stop taking the same amount of time.

  7. user

    O(1) doesn’t refer to any length of time. A single operation could take .001 ms on a webservice and 100 seconds in a database and they both could be using O(1) functions:

    It’s hard to know quite what you’re asking. If you’re asking whether accessing a local database is generally faster than accessing a similar service over the internet, then I expect that, generally, the answer is that the local database will be faster. The call over the internet to the web service has a lot of overhead and communication over internet is relatively slow. Evan on a slow computer a databases can perform many thousands of simple queries per second. Contrast that with access over the internet, where you’d be lucky to get 50 round trip requests per second, not even accounting for time it takes to perform the requested operation on the server.

    If you’re asking whether a server on the web can serve data faster by avoiding a database and calculating results directly, then the answer is it depends. The call to the database in this case adds unnecessary overhead if the data in it can be easily calculated in a stand-alone function. The answer to this question doesn’t really have anything to do with a “web service”. Is it faster to calculate an answer in a function or to access the answer using a query on a database? As I said, the answer would depend on the complexity of the particular function you had to use, and weighing its computation time against the overhead of accessing the answer (or part of the answer) directly from a database.

    In short, the answer to your question depends on what exactly you’re asking. It would also probably help to know why you’re asking the question. I have a suspicion that the real answer is that this probably isn’t something you need to worry about, not really a practical concern unless you have a particular situation requiring optimization.

    If you’re concerned about comparison of speed when webservice and database are both on a lan, I’m pretty sure the overhead of the db is a less than the webservice. The application typically maintains a stateful connection(s) to the db, while requests to a webservice are via http, which is stateless, relatively higher overhead, and slower. Could be wrong, though. Best answer would be to whip up a simple webservice, query, and (1) measure time it takes to retrieve results using both methods, and compare, and/or (2) create an app that opens a lot of threads and do some load testing.

    A caveat: If your app doesn’t maintain an open connection or have access to a pool of connections with the db, then the db alternative may well be slower. Initial creation of a db connection can be relatively slow. But that shouldn’t figure into things, since you should write your app so that an open connection is always maintained.

  8. user

    O(1) doesn’t specify the speed, it specifies the ‘growth’ in time required as the underlying data gets larger. The constants are dropped from the equation. What this means is that O(N^2) can be less than O(N) for some really small N.

    A web service is a way to connect to some functionality. Besides the network latency, the real time is bound by what the service is actually doing. There could be a database underneath for example. If it is something that just returns an Integer, the computational time is mostly trivial, the request is bounded by the network.

    A database needs to parse the query, build a query tree, optimized it, then apply some search algorithms against a series of caches and files. If you just plopped an Integer into a trivial table, or a tableless SQL call, then fetching the data is probably trivial, its the whole transactional packaging that will eat CPU.

    Can you get a packet back and forth to a server before you can parse trivial SQL and punch back a tabled result? Mostly, these days I say it was a toss up. Some networks are faster than others, while some databases and servers are pretty good. Nothing is certain.

    In general, is a web service faster than a database? Yes, if and only if the service is trivial (if it’s hiding a database, then it’s obviously just additional time). Databases are big bulky engines, and while they’ve gotten much faster over the years, their base level of transactional integrity specifies an awful lot of minimum CPU usage. They’re slower because they are doing so much more work. Contrast that with some explicit minimal computation hidden behind network access. A fibber or gigabit network can rapidly move data. It’s just so much less work to get accomplished.

    Of course the reason we don’t replace databases with custom written web services is time. It takes too long to write it, and then keep it up to date. Way more effort than just slamming it into a database and accepting it’s performance.


  9. user

    IMHO I would say the database call would be faster hands down. I say this because there is much less overhead. With the verbosity of the HTTP protocol and SOAP markup incurred you have a lot more bloat in your data. This bloat data has extra cost for packaging and un-packaging. with a stored procedure call you could use an output parameter to return a single int instead of a result set to make it even lighter.


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