W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > semantic-web@w3.org > September 2014

deterministic naming of blank nodes

From: Sandro Hawke <sandro@w3.org>
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2014 19:37:28 -0400
Message-ID: <54220438.3010302@w3.org>
To: David Booth <david@dbooth.org>, semantic-web@w3.org
On 09/23/2014 05:34 PM, David Booth wrote:
> BTW, I want to draw attention to the fact that the need for defining 
> an RDF-specific PATCH operation is *entirely* a consequence of RDF's 
> allowance of unrestricted blank nodes.  I do not think that blank 
> nodes should be eliminated from RDF, but I am convinced that RDF's 
> current treatment of blank nodes is a significant design flaw that has 
> *many* downstream effects that are ultimately detrimental to RDF's 
> adoption. The need for RDF PATCH is another example.
>
> Unix/linux diff and patch utilities have been used successfully for 
> *decades*, with many other information representations. Imagine how 
> simple and easy it would be if we could just generate canonical 
> N-Triples and use standard diff and patch against that! But we can't, 
> because blank nodes are unstable across RDF serializations and no 
> canonical way to generate them has been standardized.  This, in turn 
> is because generating a canonical form of unrestricted RDF is a hard 
> problem (NP-complete), because of blank nodes.  The problem is *much* 
> easier if the use of blank nodes is limited to *implicit* blank nodes 
> -- those that are generated implicitly by the use of square brackets 
> "[]" or parentheses "()" for lists in Turtle -- and indeed this is the 
> vast majority of blank node use.  (See "Everything You Always Wanted 
> to Know About Blank Nodes", by Hogan, Arenas, Mallea and Polleres:
> http://www.websemanticsjournal.org/index.php/ps/article/viewFile/365/387 
> )
>
> For this reason the use of "Well Behaved RDF" was proposed, which 
> limits the use of blank nodes to implicit blank nodes:
> http://dbooth.org/2013/well-behaved-rdf/Booth-well-behaved-rdf.pdf
> I don't know if Well Behaved RDF is the best solution to this problem. 
> Maybe someone will come along with a better idea.  But I am convinced 
> that the current treatment of blank nodes in RDF is a serious problem 
> that we should fix in order to make RDF simpler to use, understand and 
> adopt.
>
> I really don't like having to make excuses for RDF when it cannot be 
> used in a similar way as nearly every other information representation 
> -- such as being able to easily compare two RDF documents for 
> "equality" (which in RDF becomes a complex graph isomorphism problem) 
> or generate a simple diff and patch -- all because of RDF's 
> unrestricted treatment of blank nodes.
>
> Clearly this is not something that the Linked Data Platform working 
> group can fix.  But I think it is important to bring it to people's 
> attention, in the hope that we will someday soon have the creativity 
> and gumption to fix it.
>
> I should also acknowledge that there are some who do not feel that 
> RDF's treatment of blank nodes is a problem.  Fine.  It may not be a 
> problem to an elite few who are well steeped in the subtleties of 
> description logic, model theory and RDF Semantics, and who don't mind 
> having to use RDF-specific tools instead of generic tools.  But having 
> tried for over 10 years to explain RDF to a wider audience of regular 
> software developers, I am convinced that subtleties like RDF's 
> treatment of blank nodes *are* a problem to a much wider audience of 
> *potential* RDF users who would be more inclined to adopt RDF if it 
> didn't have complexities like this. As it is they are more likely to 
> stick with JSON or XML, whose complexities they already know, rather 
> than venturing into the obscure and esoteric world of RDF.
>
> RDF tools are not as mature as those for XML or even JSON, which is 
> much younger than RDF.  I believe blank nodes are one specific reason 
> they're not.  The fact that we still don't even have a simple, 
> standard way to compare RDF documents and compute diffs and patches, 
> is a perfect example.
>
> David
>
>

I agree that it makes sense to have good terminology for graphs that can 
be serialized in Turtle without blank node labels, and perhaps to focus 
diff on these nice graphs.    (When I clicked on your Well-Behaved RDF 
link, my PDF viewer remembered I was on page six. :-)   )

How would you name the blank nodes when serializing this in n-triples or 
n-quads?   I guess given triple S P O, where O is a blank node, you'd 
name O based on the hash of the names of S and P?   Something like

    o.asNTriplesTerm = "_:a"+sha1hex(s.asNTriplesTerm+" "+p.asNTriplesTerm)?


Or maybe leave off the NTriples baggage, the "<"...">" and "_:".    Maybe:

    o.id = sha1hex(s.id+" "+p.id)

You'd have to evaluate these in the right order, but that would be the 
order you parsed them from Turtle, so it should be fast and 
deterministic.   Hm.   Can we avoid the repeated hashing?   I suppose 
so, with some kind of path expression:

    Given:  <s1> <p1> [ <p2> ( 1 2 3 [ <p3> ( 11 12 [ <p4> 444 ] ) ] ) ]

    The subject of <p4> 444 would have its id determined by hashing (s1,
    p1, p2, 4, p3, 3).

(I'm treating integer list positions as if they were properties.) With a 
little cleverness, caching those intermediate hashes, I think that could 
run almost as fast as computing a hash of the turtle file (ie very fast).

Wow, this might work.    Very good idea, David.    Beyond the fact that 
it only works on this kind of graph, does anyone see any problem with it?

       -- Sandro
Received on Tuesday, 23 September 2014 23:37:30 UTC

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