October 23, 2012

What is RDF - Resource Description Framework?

RDF - Resource Description Framework

A triple can simply be described as three URIs. A language which utilizes three URIs in such a way is called RDF: the W3C have developed an XML serialization of RDF, the "Syntax" in the RDF Model and Syntax recommendation. RDF XML is considered to be the standard interchange format for RDF on the Semantic Web, although it is not the only format. For example, Notation3 (which we shall be going through later on in this article) is an excellent plain text alternative serialization.

Once information is in RDF form, it becomes easy to process it, since RDF is a generic format, which already has many parsers. XML RDF is quite a verbose specification, and it can take some getting used to (for example, to learn XML RDF properly, you need to understand a little about XML and namespaces beforehand...), but let's take a quick look at an example of XML RDF right now:-

Why RDF?

When people are confronted with XML RDF for the first time, they usually have two questions: "why use RDF rather than XML?", and "do we use XML Schema in conjunction with RDF?".

The answer to "why use RDF rather than XML?" is quite simple, and is twofold. Firstly, the benefit that one gets from drafting a language in RDF is that the information maps directly and unambiguously to a model, a model which is decentralized, and for which there are many generic parsers already available. This means that when you have an RDF application, you know which bits of data are the semantics of the application, and which bits are just syntactic fluff. And not only do you know that, everyone knows that, often implicitly without even reading a specification because RDF is so well known. The second part of the twofold answer is that we hope that RDF data will become a part of the Semantic Web, so the benefits of drafting your data in RDF now draws parallels with drafting your information in HTML in the early days of the Web.

The answer to "do we use XML Schema in conjunction with RDF?" is almost as brief. XML Schema is a language for restricting the syntax of XML applications. RDF already has a built in BNF that sets out how the language is to be used, so on the face of it the answer is a solid "no". However, using XML Schema in conjunction with RDF may be useful for creating data types and so on. Therefore the answer is "possibly", with a caveat that it is not really used to control the syntax of RDF. This is a common misunderstanding, perpetuated for too long now.

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