W3C RDF Vocabulary Guidelines

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W3C - Best Practices for managing RDF Vocabularies

The World Wide Web Consortium has developed best practice guidelines for publishing RDF vocabularies on the web. A vocabulary management task force (W3C, 2006a) was established in February 2004 (W3C, 2006b). The best practices for RDF vocabulary management was developed using a W3C wiki (W3C, 2005) and later two official W3C Guidelines was published (Miles et al, 2006; Kendall et al, 2008). Miles et al (2006) provides guidelines for choosing between a hash namespace and a slash namespace including configuration guidelines for the Apache web server. Kendall et al (2008) provides guidelines with more focus on development and maintenance of the RDF vocabulary resource itself.

W3C maintain the RDFS (RDF vocabulary description language; Brickley and McBride 2004) and SKOS (simple knowledge organization system; W3C 2009) as tools for maintaining a vocabulary of terms.

Principles of Good Practice (see W3C Wiki, 2005)

  • Identify Terms with URIs.
  • Articulate and publish maintenance policies for the Terms and their URIs.
  • Identify the historical version of a Vocabulary or its Terms.
  • Provide natural-language documentation about the Terms.
  • Declare the Terms using a formal, machine-processable schema language.

Principles of Good Practice (W3C, 2008)

  • Use URIs For Naming [1]
  • Provide Readable Documentation [2]
  • Articulate Maintenance Policies [3]
  • Identify Versions [4]
  • Publish a Formal Schema [5]

Some definitions (W3C 2005)

  • Term: A named concept. [Tom: Or - "A named physical or conceptual entity". (Because "London" is arguably not a "concept" but could be a "term".) AJM>> Can we not do something like ... Term: a name or identifier used to denote a physical or conceptual entity. ...?
  • Vocabulary: A set of terms.
  • URI Reference: A globally unique identifier.
  • Description: A set of statements about a term or vocabulary.
  • Declaration: A machine-processable representation of a term or vocabulary.
  • Vocabulary Owner: The maintainer of a term set.
  • Versioning: The identification of changes to a term or vocabulary.
  • Natural language: A grammar and vocabulary for statements that can be uttered, written, and understood by ordinary humans.
  • Formal language: A grammar and vocabulary for statements intended for processing by machines.
  • Namespace: In RDF the term "namespace" refers to an XML namespace where the identifying namespace URI can be dereferenced in the Web to obtain further information about the objects defined in that namespace. That is, in the Semantic Web a namespace is expected to be self-documented at its namespace URI.



  • W3C (2006a). Semantic Web Best Practices and Deployment Working Group. Vocabulary Management Task Force (VM). Members: Thomas Baker, Dan Brickley, Libby Miller, Alistair Miles, Ralph Swick. Available at http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/BestPractices/VM/ (last updated 7 March 2006).