Friday, July 31, 2015

Dublin Core Metadata Applications - Web Ontology Language (OWL)

In my last post, I described one of the most used applications of Dublin Core Metadata - RDF. In today's post, I will describe second most used applications of Dublin Core Metadata - Web Ontology Language (OWL).

The Web Ontology Language (OWL) is a family of knowledge representation languages for authoring ontology. Ontology is a formal way to describe taxonomy and classification networks, essentially defining the structure of knowledge for various domains: the nouns represent classes of objects and the verbs represent relations between the objects.

An ontology defines the terms used to describe and represent an area of knowledge. Ontologies are used by people, databases, and applications that need to share domain information (a domain is just a specific subject area or area of knowledge, like medicine, tool manufacturing, real estate, automobile repair, financial management, etc.). Ontologies include computer-usable definitions of basic concepts in the domain and the relationships among them. They encode knowledge in a domain and also knowledge that spans domains. In this way, they make that knowledge reusable.

Ontology resembles class hierarchies. It is meant to represent information on the Internet and are expected to be evolving almost constantly. Ontologies are typically very flexible as they are coming from all sorts of data sources.

The OWL languages are characterized by formal semantics. They are built upon a W3C XML standard for RDF objects. I described RDF in my previous post.

The data described by an ontology in the OWL family is interpreted as a set of "individuals" and a set of "property assertions" which relate these individuals to each other. An ontology consists of a set of axioms which place constraints on sets of individuals (called "classes") and the types of relationships permitted between them. These axioms provide semantics by allowing systems to infer additional information based on the data explicitly provided.

OWL ontologies can import other ontologies, adding information from the imported ontology to the current ontology.

For example: an ontology describing families might include axioms stating that a "hasMother" property is only present between two individuals when "hasParent" is also present, and individuals of class "HasTypeOBlood" are never related via "hasParent" to members of "HasTypeABBlood" class. If it is stated that the individual Harriet is related via "hasMother" to the individual Sue, and that Harriet is a member of the "HasTypeOBlood" class, then it can be inferred that Sue is not a member of "HasTypeABBlood".

The W3C-endorsed OWL specification includes the definition of three variants of OWL, with different levels of expressiveness. These are OWL Lite, OWL DL and OWL Full

OWL Lite

OWL Lite was originally intended to support those users primarily needing a classification hierarchy and simple constraints. It is not widely used.


OWL DL includes all OWL language constructs, but they can be used only under certain restrictions (for example, number restrictions may not be placed upon properties which are declared to be transitive). OWL DL is so named due to its correspondence with description logic, a field of research that has studied the logics that form the formal foundation of OWL.

OWL Full

OWL Full is based on a different semantics from OWL Lite or OWL DL, and was designed to preserve some compatibility with RDF Schema. For example, in OWL Full a class can be treated simultaneously as a collection of individuals and as an individual in its own right; this is not permitted in OWL DL. OWL Full allows an ontology to augment the meaning of the pre-defined (RDF or OWL) vocabulary.

OWL Full is intended to be compatible with RDF Schema (RDFS), and to be capable of augmenting the meanings of existing Resource Description Framework (RDF) vocabulary. This interpretation provides the meaning of RDF and RDFS vocabulary. So, the meaning of OWL Full ontologies are defined by extension of the RDFS meaning, and OWL Full is a semantic extension of RDF.

Every OWL ontology must be identified by an URI. For example: Ontology(). The languages in the OWL family use the open world assumption. Under the open world assumption, if a statement cannot be proven to be true with current knowledge, we cannot draw the conclusion that the statement is false.

Languages in the OWL family are capable of creating classes, properties, defining instances and its operations.


An instance is an object. It corresponds to a description logic individual.


A class is a collection of objects. It corresponds to a description logic (DL) concept. A class may contain individuals, instances of the class. A class may have any number of instances. An instance may belong to none, one or more classes. A class may be a subclass of another, inheriting characteristics from its parent superclass.

Class and their members can be defined in OWL either by extension or by intension. An individual can be explicitly assigned a class by a Class assertion, for example we can add a statement Queen Elizabeth is a(an instance of) human, or by a class expression with ClassExpression statements of every instance of the human class who has a female value to is an instance of the woman class.


A property is a directed binary relation that specifies class characteristics. It corresponds to a description logic role. They are attributes of instances and sometimes act as data values or link to other instances. Properties may possess logical capabilities such as being transitive, symmetric, inverse and functional. Properties may also have domains and ranges.

Datatype Properties

Datatype properties are relations between instances of classes and RDF literals or XML schema datatypes. For example, modelName (String datatype) is the property of Manufacturer class. They are formulated using owl:DatatypeProperty type.

Object Properties

Object properties are relations between instances of two classes. For example, ownedBy may be an object type property of the Vehicle class and may have a range which is the class Person. They are formulated using owl:ObjectProperty.


Languages in the OWL family support various operations on classes such as union, intersection and complement. They also allow class enumeration, cardinality, and disjointness.


Metaclasses are classes of classes. They are allowed in OWL full or with a feature called class/instance punning.


The OWL family of languages supports a variety of syntaxes. It is useful to distinguish high level syntaxes aimed at specification from exchange syntaxes more suitable for general use.

High Level

These are close to the ontology structure of languages in the OWL family.

OWL Abstract Syntax

This high level syntax is used to specify the OWL ontology structure and semantics.

The OWL abstract syntax presents an ontology as a sequence of annotations, axioms and facts. Annotations carry machine and human oriented metadata. Information about the classes, properties and individuals that compose the ontology is contained in axioms and facts only. Each class, property and individual is either anonymous or identified by an URI reference. Facts state data either about an individual or about a pair of individual identifiers (that the objects identified are distinct or the same). Axioms specify the characteristics of classes and properties.

OWL2 Functional Syntax

This syntax closely follows the structure of an OWL2 ontology. It is used by OWL2 to specify semantics, mappings to exchange syntaxes and profiles

OWL2 XML Syntax

OWL2 specifies an XML serialization that closely models the structure of an OWL2 ontology.

Manchester Syntax

The Manchester Syntax is a compact, human readable syntax with a style close to frame languages. Variations are available for OWL and OWL2. Not all OWL and OWL2 ontologies can be expressed in this syntax.

OWL is playing an important role in an increasing number and range of applications, and is the focus of research into tools, reasoning techniques, formal foundations and language extensions.

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