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RE: summary of OWL-QL experiences

From: Seaborne, Andy <andy.seaborne@hp.com>
Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 11:10:18 +0100
Message-ID: <E864E95CB35C1C46B72FEA0626A2E808028A34CE@0-mail-br1.hpl.hp.com>
To: Pat Hayes <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: public-rdf-dawg@w3.org


Lots of stuff here - I have only mangaged to cover some things here.

Comments inline.


-------- Original Message --------
> From: public-rdf-dawg-request@w3.org <>
> Date: 5 May 2004 01:37
> As requested in todays telecon, this is a summary of some
> experiences when developing DQL, a query language for DAML,
> later OWL-QL. The work was done in collaboration with Ian
> Horrocks and Richard Fikes and a full paper on it can be got from
> http://ksl-web.stanford.edu/KSL_Abstracts/KSL-03-14.html
> All three of us are basically logicians, so we started with a
> 'logical' (rather than a 'database') mental model of what a
> query language is basically like, which is that the query is
> a (pattern of a) theorem to be proved and the Kbase being
> queried is what you try to prove it from, and the result of
> the query is something like the bindings to the variables in
> the query that make it provable.  Formally, an answer to a
> query is a set of bindings to the variables in the query such
> that the resulting instance was entailed by the Kbase: in
> effect, this treats the query variables as being
> existentially quantified in the query (= conclusion = theorem
> = goal, terminology depending on what school you went to).
> So this was the formal core of the design. It has the merit
> of being very general (eg it applies to anything with a
> semantics, by tweaking what counts as 'provable' accordingly)
> and simple to state and kind of semantically robust. It has
> the demerit of not supporting tabular-algebraic operations on
> entire data sets in the SQL style. And of course like every
> such neat semantic idea it immediately needs to be modified
> to make it practicable :-).
> Applied to RDF, strictly, this definition says that a query
> would be a piece of RDF with variables in place of some
> URIrefs or literals, and the relevant notion of entailment is
> just being a subgraph with some URIrefs and/or literals
> possibly replaced with blank nodes. For example, in a
> modified Ntriples type syntax, the query
> Query:
> [ ?p ex:owns ?c .
> ?c rdf:type ex:Car .]
> when used to query the KB graph
> ex:Joe ex:owns ex:JoesCar1 .
> ex:JoesCar1 rdf:type ex:car .
> ex:Bill ex:owns ex:BillsCar1 .
> ex:BillsCar1 rdf:type ex:car .
> should produce two answer bindings:
> [?p/ex:Joe, ?c/ex:JoesCar1]
> [?p/ex:Bill, ?c/ex:BillsCar1]
> The same KB with the query
> Query:
> [?p ex:owns _:y .
> _:y rdf:type ex:Car .]
> should return the bindings
> [?p/ex:Joe]
> [?p/ex:Bill].
> Note that _:y here is not a variable, 

Agreed - I have seen this coming up in RDQL questions.

> and that the relevant
> query instances are entailed by the given Kbase graph but are
> not themselves subgraphs of it. In OWL, of course, the
> entailments can get pretty complicated, but in RDF they
> amount only to one-way matching of bnodes in the query with
> other nodes in the graph. (In principle this is NP-complete
> since you CAN encode the general subgraph problem this way by
> making RDF graphs entirely out of blank nodes. Yawn.)
> This simple picture had to be modified pretty quickly,
> however. First, there was an immediate issue about blank
> nodes in the Kbase. For example suppose the graph also contained
> ....
> ex:Joe ex:owns _:x .
> _:x rdf:type ex:car .
> then should there be a third possible answer to the first query
> [?p/ex:Joe, ?c/_:x] ?? The trouble with this is that the bnode
> identifier has no 
> meaning outside the graph: its an existential variable, not a
> 'public' name like a URI or a literal - so it seems wrong to
> return it as an answer binding; and yet, it seems that a
> query ought to produce *something* in a case like this. We
> thought about 'blank bindings' to indicate the presence of a
> bnode in the graph, but eventually settled on a more
> restrictive policy in which ONLY non-blank bindings of query
> variables are allowed, so that in this example there would be
> only two answers to that query, and the bnode case is
> 'invisible' from this query (but see next paragraph).

There are two cases of use of RDQL: in Jena, the local case, where the
application has direct access to the RDF graph through the Jena RDF API,
retruning bNodes does make sense because tha application can ask further
questions e.g. list the properties of the bNode in the graph.  It also
includes the case of wanting to put a retrived bNode into a query cerated
form the results of another. The RDQL synatx does permit this but at the
programmatic level it is possible.

Used remotely, like OWL-QL, bNodes don't make sese and I get Joseki-related
questions about how to deal with bNodes.  The OWL-QL solution of surpressing
them (by default?) is one possibility.

> Second, and related, it rapidly became clear that we might
> not want answers to return all the bindings. We therefore
> allow a query to specify which of the variables are expected
> to be bound in an answer: and in fact we finished up with a
> three-way distinction, between must-bind, don't-bind, and
> may-bind. This allows some clever stuff to be done, eg if you
> make ?c be may-bind and ?p be must-bind in the first query
> then you can get the answers
> [?p/Joe ?c/JoesCar1]
> [?p/Bill ?c/BillsCar1]
> [?p/Joe]
> from the larger Kbase: it enables you to sneak past the
> no-bnodes-as-bindings rule by allowing the binding to be
> suppressed in bnode cases. If you insist that ?c is a
> must-bind then you only get two answers. In effect, a
> must-bind variable says: this must be a genuine name (URIref
> or literal), and a may-bind variable says: this can be
> anything, including a blank node, but in that case don't tell
> me what blank node. As is often the case, this style of
> querying requires the query-writer to have the smarts: the
> answers you get depend on how you tweak the query.

Could may-bind variables interact?

may-bind(?n), may-bind(?d)   # May not know licensePlateNumber 

[ ?p ex:usesCar ?c .
  ?c ex:licensePlateNumber ?n .

  ?p ex:spouse ?x .
  ?x ex:usesCar ?d . 
  ?d ex:licensePlateNumber ?n .

that is ?n occurs twice and effects ?d.  (not sure this is the best

In the optional triples discussions, because th optionality is usually a
graph, not  a single triple, there are cases where graph components are
connected by optional triples.  Execution order makes a difference (i.e.
there are alternative interpretations of the query intention.)

> BTW, we never did get into the issue of whether one could
> query part of a typed literal, eg by writing a pattern like
> ex:joe ex:age ?x^^xsd:integer .
> with a binding to the numeral part of the literal as the
> answer. I see no basic objection to this, however.

I, too, see this as reasonable and also didn't do anything about it! What
type is the thing bound to ?x?  Its not a literal and it does not exist in
the graph as an independent entity.  What about the (strange in this
example) case  ex:joe ex:age "31"^^?x (what's the XSD type of..)?

Did you do selection on lang tags?  e.g. ?x@fr  and I suppose the case of

> Third, our users insisted that a query should be able to
> specify the form that the answers were delivered in. We
> therefore require that a query contain an 'answer pattern'
> which may contain some or all of the variables in the query
> pattern. Each answer is an instance of the answer pattern
> with all the must-bind variables bound to something.  If you
> omit it, then the default is that the answer pattern is the
> query pattern, but if all you want are the bindings then you
> can give an answer pattern which is just a vector of
> variables. Or indeed anything you like: we don't require that
> it be legal OWL or RDF.  Any attempt to put any kind of
> restriction on the form of the answer pattern was met with resistance,
> by the way. (To be honest, I no longer recall what the point of the
> 'no-bindings' option was, and I think it is not really
> needed. No-bind variables are just those that are omitted
> from the answer pattern, right?)
> The above example might then look like this, using a
> deliberately non-RDF answer pattern:
> Query:
> [ ?p ex:owns ?c .
> ?c rdf:type ex:Car .]
> Answer:
> [ ?p owns a car called ?c]
> must-bind:[?p]
> may-bind:[?c]
> with answers (from the extended graph) being:
> [ex:Joe owns a car called ex:JoesCar1]
> [ex:Bill owns a car called ex:BillsCar1]
> [ex:Joe owns a car called ?c]
> where the presence of an unbound variable in the third answer
> is permitted and indicates the presence of a blank node in the graph.
> BTW, these examples all query subjects and objects, but its
> legal to query properties also, eg
> Query:
> [?x ?x ?y .]
> Answer:
> [?x is really weird]
> must-bind:[?x]
> applied to the RDFS axioms should yield the answers [rdfs:range is
> really weird] [rdfs:domain is really weird]
> Fourth, a query can contain a temporary-premis assumption.
> This is to enable asking conditional queries. A temporary
> premis is just another piece of pattern that is to be
> temporarily added to the Kbase to entail the answer: all the
> sexiness arises from its being able to share variables with
> the query. Example from the paper:
> Premis:
> [ ?c rdf:type wines:seafoodCourse .
> ?w wines:hasDrink ?c .]
> Query:
> [?w wines:has-color ?x .]
> must-bind:[ ?x ]
> which encodes "if a wine is drunk with seafood, what color
> can it be?" This trick turns out to be quite powerful in OWL
> and has been used in LP-type applications and 'logical'
> querying a lot. It may be less relevant to RDF since there
> are fewer implications of premises+Kbases to be explored.
> On an orthogonal issue, we realized that you could use DQL to
> query a database-like source that might have many 'answers'
> in it, or a much more ontology-like source that might spend a
> lot of energy trying to come up with a single answer. So we
> thought it might be a good idea to allow the query to specify
> how many answers it wanted to see at once, and we invented a
> fairly elaborate set of conventions about answer dialogs
> where the query specifies how many answers it wants to see at
> once, answers come in bundles, etc. See section IV in the
> paper for details. I actually think this stuff is kind of
> neat, but I have to admit that it was probably the hardest to
> fly. Many people seemed to think it was out of place in a
> query language design and was stuff that ought to be handled
> at a different layer altogether, and maybe they were right.
> So I won't go into details here.
> One point however that did become clear was that there is a
> need for the server to be able to respond "no more answers'
> to a query and to distinguish between "I guarantee that no
> other answers are possible" from "I give up" or "I can't find
> any more" or some such. That is, to know that an exhaustive
> search has been done (or not) is an important piece of
> feedback. Database querying protocols often seem to take this
> for granted, but it can't be automatically assumed when the
> server needs to do open-ended inference. We invented
> 'termination tokens' to handle this (and also to encode a
> kind of closed-world response to a query), but the exact
> mechanism isn't so important as the distinction.  (This also
> may be less important for RDF querying. In general, the more
> elaborate the inference that might need to be done, the more
> this is necessary to avoid forcing all answering services to
> be super-powerful or some answers to be misleading: you have
> to allow the answering service to fail gracefully.)
> Another point is that the set of answers may contain
> duplications and/or redundancies. We went into this in more
> detail than I care now to remember (section IV -A in the
> paper), but the basic point, similar to the previous, was
> that we had to cut the answering service some slack:
> guaranteeing no duplications is potentially very expensive,
> particularly in cases where answers were being delivered in
> bundles on demand, and we did not want to insist that the
> server had to maintain the 'state' of the answering process
> in sufficient detail as to always guarantee that there would
> be no duplications in answer sets.  Several uses objected to
> this, and we finished up with a design where the query could
> specify that answer sets must be duplicate-free, but (1) this
> meant duplication of actual bindings, not of what the
> bindings refer to (not much of an an issue for RDF, but a
> very big one for OWL because of owl:sameAs) and (2) the
> service could just refuse to accept such a query, and
> indicate why, and still be conformant.
> Finally, there is a notion of the 'answer KB' which is
> notionally an OWL (in our case RDF) graph. However, we felt
> that there was no way to specify that it had to be a *fixed*
> such graph, since there were going to be Web resources which
> answered queries on a 'time-of -query' basis, eg weather
> services or news services; moreover, there would be
> Google-like services which scoured the 'state of the Web' at
> the time of querying and might give different answers to the
> same query in unpredictable ways. So we require only that the
> answering source be identifiable by a URI, and expect that in
> general this will be an RDF resource in the strict REST
> sense, ie a time-dependent function whose value at any
> millisecond is an RDF graph. We allow a query to specify a
> range of such sources to be used to answer the query (or it
> may not, of course) and again, allow a conforming server to
> respond with a refusal to answer on the grounds that it
> cannot access the source, when the source is specified; or,
> the query can ask to be informed of the source or sources
> that were used; and again, a conforming server may respond
> with its own URI, in effect saying "Im not telling you what
> my sources are". We expect that this would be the norm, in
> fact. All of this can be handled by the same kind of
> pattern/must-/may-bind machinery, but where the pattern is
> some kind of conventional way of referring to ontology
> sources and the variables bind to URIs of sources. It could
> all be done in RDF and hence incorporated into the
> query/answer pattern if we could come up with a standard
> querying ontology, in fact.
> However, and this may be relevant to requirement 3.5, there
> is no general guarantee that the same query applied to a
> given source at two different times will always yield the
> same result, even if you use a single URI to refer to the
> source. That kind of stability depends on the source: some
> will be fixed graphs, some will not. To find out, ask the
> resource owner.
> Many of our potential users complained that there was no way
> to do SQL-type stuff in a query language like this. One can
> do some of this using OWL and by tweaking the answer pattern,
> as the paper mentions; but basically they are right, and I
> don't know what we can do about it, since many RDF graphs
> aren't database-like. However, many are, so it seems that
> there ought to be something constructive to be done here.
> Over to y'all :-)  FWIW, I have come to think that allowing
> some SQL-style operations on RDF based on namespaces would be
> generally useful, eg allowing a query to be applied to a
> subset of a graph defined by a 'select'  based on parts of a
> triple being in a particular set of namespaces. This isn't
> handled by the DQL model very well but seems useful.
> Another piece of feedback was that people wanted to be able
> to ask things like, how many answers are there? before asking
> to see the actual answers. This makes sense for tabular
> databases but makes no sense for most 'logical' KBs, and in
> general breaks our 'query as proving a theorem' model since
> this is a query about the entire set of answers. Still, we
> gave in to pressure and allowed it. (This particular one is a
> little hairy in OWL since OWL itself reasons about
> cardinalities of sets.) In general, our default response to
> requests like these was to allow a query to ask them, but to
> keep them simple and allow an answering service to refuse to
> answer them without being nonconformant.
> That is all I can think of right now.


> Pat
> PS. In case its not obvious, things like 'yes/no' answers can
> be encoded as patterns without any answer variables, by
> distinguishing between an empty set of answers (= no) and a
> single answer which is empty (= yes), or more directly by
> giving "yes" as the answer pattern.
Received on Thursday, 6 May 2004 06:10:59 GMT

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