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Re: what RDF is not (was ...)

From: Jonathan Borden <jborden@mediaone.net>
Date: Wed, 2 Jan 2002 12:56:22 -0500
Message-ID: <04fc01c193b6$ca601530$0a2e249b@nemc.org>
To: "Peter Crowther" <peter.crowther@networkinference.com>, "Sandro Hawke" <sandro@w3.org>
Cc: "'Jeremy Carroll'" <jjc@hplb.hpl.hp.com>, <www-rdf-interest@w3.org>
Sandro Hawke wrote:

> Here's my little rant on what RDF is.   Not directed at anyone in
> particular.

Well said Sandro... I think the issue is that many people have decided there
is a need for a formal language to describe the data(base) e.g. a

The question which this raises is why do we need _something other_ than XML
Query with its wide support, multiple syntaxes (e.g. XML Query 1.0/XPath
2.0) and formalism, in order to describe databases? Perhaps what you are
saying is that RDF/XML is one standard way to serialize a database using
XML, but what makes this one way better than any number of other ways? XML
now has its SQL equivalent, formally expressed, with apparently wide
industry support in the works. If this is all RDF _is_, then what is the

> RDF is a language for transmitting pieces of collaborative databases.
> It started as a way to categorize web pages, but since the subject
> matter of the web is arbitrary, RDF ended up as a way to express
> arbitrary information, just like one might store in a relational DBMS.
> The pieces of RDF are peices of a web-wide database of information,
> not just about web pages but about anything.
> While SQL is a database manipulation and query language, RDF is just a
> data format, equivalent to the tables that result from a SQL query or
> to an on-disk database file format.  (RDF still needs a SQL-equivalent
> language.)  RDF's database model is different from SQL's in being
> "webized" to support distributed collaboration: tables/columns and
> datatypes are named in a global namespace (URIs) so they can be
> automatically linked.
> There is a temptation to think a mass of RDF fragments can store all
> of human knowledge.  The truth is that RDF is only marginally better
> than a typical SQL database for storing "knowledge".  It works well
> for a catalog of the CDs you own, or the products you sell, or the
> configurations of software installed on your computers, but the only
> thing it does for "knowledge representation" and "machine reasoning"
> is provide a standard underlying format.
> (If RDF sounds a lot like XML, well, it is.  The difference is that an
> XML database fragment is less self-describing than an RDF one.
> Whether this difference is critical is a subject of debate.  Whether
> either of them is better than a comma-separated-values file is also
> subject to debate.  The basic question is whether self-description is
> important.)
> So how do you encode some knowledge like "All men are mortal" or "Only
> 3 Sale-Items Per Customer" in RDF?  The same way you do in SQL: you
> don't.  You need another mechanism - some logic somewhere else in the
> system.  It may, however, be a standard logic, driven by information
> also in the database.  That is, the database can hold software written
> in some programming or constraint language (Perl, Python, i386 machine
> code, first-order predicate logic, DAML, RDFS, etc), and there can be
> conventions about how apply that knowledge to other knowledge in the
> database (eg for database validation or inference).
> Putting other-language elements into a database like this is a common
> design style for complex database applications.  Additionally,
> database systems which do validation or inference (as many of them now
> do) often make available data views of the logic-language expressions.
> It's a fairly obvious technique.  RDF may cloud the issue by
> encouraging a different encoding style, where you encode each
> logic-language token (instead of each whole ASCII expression) in
> separate RDF objects.  This somehow makes the language look more like
> it's "in" RDF or extending RDF; the truth is, for RDF, it's only data
> in the database.
>      -- sandro                 http://www.w3.org/People/Sandro/
Received on Wednesday, 2 January 2002 12:57:35 UTC

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