Our ESWC17 demos: TDDonto2 and an OWL verbaliser for isiZulu

Besides the full paper on heterogeneous alignments for 14th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’17) that will take place next week in Portoroz, Slovenia, we also managed to squeeze out two demo papers. You may already know of TDDonto2 with Kieren Davies and Agnieszka Lawrynowicz, which was discussed in an earlier post that has been updated with a tutorial video. It now has a demo paper as well [1], which describes the rationale and a few scenarios. The other demo, with Musa Xakaza and Langa Khumalo, is new-new, but the regular reader might have seen it coming: we finally managed to link the verbalisation patterns for certain Description Logic axiom types [2,3] to those in OWL ontologies. The tool takes as input an ontology in isiZulu and the verbalisation algorithms, and out come the isiZulu sentences, be this in plain text for further processing or in a GUI for inspection by a domain expert [4]. There is a basic demo-screencast to show it’s all working.

The overall architecture may be of interest, for it deviates from most OWL verbalisers. It is shown in the following figure:

For instance, we use the Python-based OWL API Owlready, rather than a Java-based app, for Python is rather popular in NLP and the verbalisation algorithms may be used elsewhere as well. We made more such decisions with the aim to make whatever we did as multi-purpose usable as possible, like the list of nouns with noun classes (surprisingly, and annoyingly, there is no such readily available list yet, though isizulu.net probably will have it somewhere but inaccessible), verb roots, and exceptions in pluralisation. (Problems for integrating the verbaliser with, say, Protégé will be interesting to discuss during the demo session!)

The text-based output doesn’t look as nice as the GUI interface, so I will show here only the GUI interface, which is adorned with some annotations to illustrate that those verbalisation algorithms in the background are far from trivial templates:

For instance, while in English the universal quantification is always ‘Each’ or ‘All’ regardless the named class quantified over, in isiZulu it depends on the noun class of the noun that is the name of the OWL class. For instance, in the figure above, izingwe ‘leopards’ is in noun class 10, so the ‘Each/All’ is Zonke, amavazi ‘vases’ is in noun class 6, so ‘Each/All’ then becomes Onke, and abantu ‘people’/’humans’ is in noun class 2, making Bonke. There are 17 noun classes. They also determine the subject concords (SC, alike conjugation) for the verbs, with zi- for noun class 10, ­a- for noun class 6, and ba- for noun class 2, to name a few. How this all works is described in [2,3]. We’ve implemented all those algorithms and integrated the pluraliser [5] in it to make it work. The source files are available to check and play with already, you can do so and ask us during the ESWC17 demo session, and/or also have a look at the related outputs of the NRF-funded project Grammar Engine for Nguni natural language interfaces (GeNi).



[1] Davies, K. Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. TDDonto2: A Test-Driven Development Plugin for arbitrary TBox and ABox axioms. Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’17), Springer LNCS. Portoroz, Slovenia, May 28 – June 2, 2017. (demo paper)

[2] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Toward a knowledge-to-text controlled natural language of isiZulu. Language Resources and Evaluation, 2017, 51:131-157.

[3] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. On the verbalization patterns of part-whole relations in isiZulu. 9th International Natural Language Generation conference (INLG’16), 5-8 September, 2016, Edinburgh, UK. Association for Computational Linguistics, 174-183.

[4] Keet, C.M. Xakaza, M., Khumalo, L. Verbalising OWL ontologies in isiZulu with Python. 14th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’17). Springer LNCS. Portoroz, Slovenia, May 28 – June 2, 2017. (demo paper)

[5] Byamugisha, J., Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Pluralising Nouns in isiZulu and Related Languages. 17th International Conference on Intelligent Text Processing and Computational Linguistics (CICLing’16), Springer LNCS. April 3-9, 2016, Konya, Turkey.

Relations with roles / verbalising object properties in isiZulu

The narratives can be very different for the paper “A model for verbalising relations with roles in multiple languages” that was recently accepted paper at the 20th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge management (EKAW’16), for the paper makes a nice smoothie of the three ingredients of language, logic, and ontology. The natural language part zooms in on isiZulu as use case (possibly losing some ontologist or logician readers), then there are the logics about mapping the Description Logic DLR’s role components with OWL (lose possible interest of the natural language researchers), and a bit of philosophy (and lose most people…). It solves some thorny issues when trying to verbalise complicated verbs that we need for knowledge-to-text natural language generation in isiZulu and some other languages (e.g., German). And it solves the matching of logic-based representations popularised in mainly UML and ORM (that typically uses a logic in the DLR family of Description Logic languages) with the more commonly used OWL. The latter is even implemented as a Protégé plugin.

Let me start with some use-cases that cause problems that need to be solved. It is well-known that natural language renderings of ontologies facilitate communication with domain experts who are expected to model and validate the represented knowledge. This is doable for English, with ACE in the lead, but it isn’t for grammatically richer languages. There, there are complications, such as conjugation of verbs, an article that may be dependent on the preposition, or a preposition may modify the noun. For instance, works for, made by, located in, and is part of are quite common names for object properties in ontologies. They all do have a dependent preposition, however, there are different verb tenses, and the latter has a copulative and noun rather than just a verb. All that goes into the object properties name in an ‘English-based ontology’ and does not really have to be processed further in ontology verbalisation other than beautification. Not so in multiple other languages. For instance, the ‘in’ of located in ends up as affixes to the noun representing the object that the other object is located in. Like, imvilophu ‘envelope’ and emvilophini ‘in the envelope’ (locative underlined). Even something straightforward like a property eats can end up having to be conjugated differently depending on who’s eating: when a human eats, it is udla in isiZulu, but for, say, a dog, it is idla (modification underlined), which is driven by the system of noun classes, of which there are 17 in isiZulu. Many more examples illustrating different issues are described in the paper. To make a long story short, there are gradations in complicating effects, from no effect where a preposition can be squeezed in with the verb in naming an OP, to phonological conditioning, to modifying the article of the noun to modifying the noun. A ‘3rd pers. sg.’ may thus be context-dependent, and notions of prepositions may modify the verb or the noun or the article of the noun, or both. For a setting other than English ontologies (e.g., Greek, German, Lithuanian), a preposition may belong neither to the verb nor to the noun, but instead to the role that the object plays in the relation described by the verb in the sentence. For instance, one obtains yomuntu, rather than the basic noun umuntu, if it plays the role of the whole in a part-whole relation like in ‘heart is part of a human’ (inhliziyo iyingxenye yomuntu).

The question then becomes how to handle such a representation that also has to include roles? This is quite common in conceptual data modelling languages and in the DLR family of DL languages, which is known in ontology as positionalism [2]. Bumping up the role to an element in the representation language—thus, in addition to the relationship—enables one to attach information to it, like whether there is a (deep) preposition associated with it, the tense, or the case. Such role-based annotations can then be used to generate the right element, like einen Betrieb ‘some company’ to adjust the article for the case it goes with in German, or ya+umuntu=yomuntu ‘of a human’, modifying the noun in the object position in the sentence.

To get this working properly, with a solid theoretical foundation, we reused a part of the conceptual modelling languages’ metamodel [3] to create a language model for such annotations, in particular regarding the attributes of the classes in the metamodel. On its own, however, it is rather isolated and not immediately useful for ontologies that we set out to be in need of verbalising. To this end, it links to the ‘OWL way of representing relations’ (ontologically: the so-called standard view), and we separate out the logic-based representation from the readings that one can generate with the structured representation of the knowledge. All in all, the simplified high-level model looks like the picture below.

Simplified diagram in UML Class Diagram notation of the main components (see paper for attributes), linking a section of the metamodel (orange; positionalist commitment) to predicates (green; standard view) and their verbalisation (yellow). (Source: [1])

Simplified diagram in UML Class Diagram notation of the main components (see paper for attributes), linking a section of the metamodel (orange; positionalist commitment) to predicates (green; standard view) and their verbalisation (yellow). (Source: [1])

That much for the conceptual part; more details are described in the paper.

Just a fluffy colourful diagram isn’t enough for a solid implementation, however. To this end, we mapped one of the logics that adhere to positionalism to one of the standard view, being DLR [4] and OWL, respectively. It equally well could have been done for other pairs of languages (e.g., with Common Logic), but these two are more popular in terms of theory and tools.

Having the conceptual and logical foundations in place, we did implement it to see whether it actually can be done and to check whether the theory was sufficient. The Protégé plugin is called iMPALA—it could be an abbreviation for ‘Model for Positionalism And Language Annotation’—that both writes all the non-OWL annotations in a separate XML file and takes care of the renderings in Protégé. It works; yay. Specifically, it handles the interaction between the OWL file, the positionalist elements, and the annotations/attributes, plus the additional feature that one can add new linguistic annotation properties, so as to cater for extensibility. Here are a few screenshots:

OWL’s arbeitetFuer ‘works for’ is linked to the relationship arbeiten.

OWL’s arbeitetFuer ‘works for’ is linked to the relationship arbeiten.

The prey role in the axiom of the impala being eaten by the ibhubesi.

The prey role in the axiom of the impala being eaten by the ibhubesi.

 Annotations of the prey role itself, which is a role in the relationship ukudla.

Annotations of the prey role itself, which is a role in the relationship ukudla.

We did test it a bit, from just the regular feature testing to the African Wildlife ontology that was translated into isiZulu (spoken in South Africa) and a people and pets ontology in ciShona (spoken in Zimbabwe). These details are available in the online supplementary material.

The next step is to tie it all together, being the verbalisation patterns for isiZulu [5,6] and the OWL ontologies to generate full sentences, correctly. This is set to happen soon (provided all the protests don’t mess up the planning too much). If you want to know more details that are not, or not clearly, in the paper, then please have a look at the project page of A Grammar engine for Nguni natural language interfaces (GeNi), or come visit EKAW16 that will be held from 21-23 November in Bologna, Italy, where I will present the paper.



[1] Keet, C.M., Chirema, T. A model for verbalising relations with roles in multiple languages. 20th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management EKAW’16). Springer LNAI, 19-23 November 2016, Bologna, Italy. (in print)

[2] Leo, J. Modeling relations. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2008, 37:353-385.

[3] Keet, C.M., Fillottrani, P.R. An ontology-driven unifying metamodel of UML Class Diagrams, EER, and ORM2. Data & Knowledge Engineering, 2015, 98:30-53.

[4] Calvanese, D., De Giacomo, G. The Description Logics Handbook: Theory, Implementation and Applications, chap. Expressive description logics, pp. 178-218. Cambridge University Press (2003).

[5] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. Toward a knowledge-to-text controlled natural language of isiZulu. Language Resources and Evaluation, 2016, in print.

[6] Keet, C.M., Khumalo, L. On the verbalization patterns of part-whole relations in isiZulu. Proceedings of the 9th International Natural Language Generation conference 2016 (INLG’16), Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept 2016. ACL, 174-183.

Automatically finding the feasible object property

Late last month I wrote about the updated taxonomy of part-whole relations and claimed it wasn’t such a big deal during the modeling process to have that many relations to choose from. Here I’ll back up that claim. Primarily, it is thanks to the ‘Foundational Ontology and Reasoner enhanced axiomatiZAtion’ (FORZA) approach which includes the Guided ENtity reuse and class Expression geneRATOR (GENERATOR) method that was implemented in the OntoPartS-2 tool [1]. The general idea of the GENERATOR method is depicted in the figure below, which outlines two scenarios: one in which the experts perform the authoring of their domain ontology with the help of a foundational ontology, and the other one without a foundational ontology.


I think the pictures are clearer than the following text, but some prefer text, so here goes the explanation attempt. Let’s start with scenario A on the left-hand side of the figure: a modeller has a domain ontology and a foundational ontology and she wants to relate class two domain classes (indicated with C and D) and thus needs to select some object property. The first step is, indeed, selecting C and D (e.g., Human and Heart in an anatomy ontology); this is step (1) in the Figure.

Then (step 2) there are those long red arrows, which indicate that somehow there has to be a way to deal with the alignment of Human and of Heart to the relevant categories in the foundational ontology. This ‘somehow’ can be either of the following three options: (i) the domain ontology was already aligned to the foundational ontology, so that step (2) is executed automatically in the background and the modeler need not to worry, (ii) she manually carries out the alignment (assuming she knows the foundational ontology well enough), or, more likely, (iii) she chooses to be guided by a decision diagram that is specific to the selected foundational ontology. In case of option (ii) or (iii), she can choose to save it permanently or just use it for the duration of the application of the method. Step (3) is an automated process that moves up in the taxonomy to find the possible object properties. Here is where an automated reasoner comes into the equation, which can step-wise retrieve the parent class, en passant relying on taxonomic classification that offers the most up-to-date class hierarchy (i.e., including implicit subsumptions) and therewith avoiding spurious candidates. From a modeller’s viewpoint, one thus only has to select which classes to relate, and, optionally, align the ontology, so that the software will do the rest, as each time it finds a domain and range axiom of a relationship in which the parents of C and D participate, it is marked as a candidate property to be used in the class expression. Finally, the candidate object properties are returned to the user (step 4).

While the figure shows only one foundational ontology, one equally well can use a separate relation ontology, like PW or PWMT, which is just an implementation variant of scenario A: the relation ontology is also traversed upwards and on each iteration, the base ontology class is matched against relational ontology to find relations where the (parent of the) class is defined in a domain and range axiom, also until the top is reached before returning candidate relations.

The second scenario with a domain ontology only is a simplified version of option A, where the alignment step is omitted. In Figure-B above, GENERATOR would return object properties W and R as options to choose from, which, when used, would not generate an inconsistency (in this part of the ontology, at least). Without this guidance, a modeler could, erroneously, select, say, object property S, which, if the branches are disjoint, would result in an inconsistency, and if not declared disjoint, move class C from the left-hand branch to the one in the middle, which may be an undesirable deduction.

For the Heart and Human example, these entities are, in DOLCE terminology, physical objects, so that it will return structural parthood or plain parthood, if the PW ontology is used as well. If, on the other hand, say, Vase and Clay would have been the classes selected from the domain ontology, then a constitution relation would be proposed (be this with DOLCE, PW, or, say, GFO), for Vase is a physical object and Clay an amount of matter. Or with Limpopo and South Africa, a tangential proper parthood would be proposed, because they are both geographic entities.

The approach without the reasoner and without the foundational ontology decision diagram was tested with users, and showed that such a tool (OntoPartS) made the ontology authoring more efficient and accurate [2], and that aligning to DOLCE was the main hurdle for not seeing even more impressive differences. This is addressed with OntoPartS-2, so it ought to work better. What still remains to be done, admittedly, is that larger usability study with the updated version OntoPartS-2. In the meantime: if you use it, please let us know your opinion.



[1] Keet, C.M., Khan, M.T., Ghidini, C. Ontology Authoring with FORZA. 22nd ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM’13). ACM proceedings, pp569-578. Oct. 27 – Nov. 1, 2013, San Francisco, USA.

[2] Keet, C.M., Fernandez-Reyes, F.C., Morales-Gonzalez, A. Representing mereotopological relations in OWL ontologies with OntoPartS. 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’12), Simperl et al. (eds.), 27-31 May 2012, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Springer, LNCS 7295, 240-254.

An exhaustive OWL species classifier

Students enrolled in my ontology engineering course have to do a “mini-project” on a particular topic, chosen from a list of topics, such as on ontology quality, verbalisations, or language features, and may be theoretical or software development-oriented. In terms of papers, the most impressive result was OntoPartS that resulted in an ESWC2012 paper with the two postgraduate students [1], but also quite some other useful results have come out of it over the past 7 years that I’m teaching it in one form or another. This year’s top project in terms of understanding the theory, creativity to do something with it that hasn’t been done before, and working software using Semantic Web technologies was the “OWL Classifier” by Aashiq Parker, Brian Mc George, and Muhummad Patel.

The OWL classifier classifies an OWL ontology in any of its ‘species’, which can be any of the 8 specified in the standard, i.e., the 3 OWL 1 ones and the 5 OWL 2 ones. It also gives information on the DL ‘alphabet soup’—which axioms use which language feature with which letter, and an explanation of the letters—and reports on which axioms are the ones that violate a particular species. An example is shown in the following screenshot, with an exercise ontology on phone points:


The students’ motivation to develop it was because they had to learn about DLs and the OWL species, but Protégé 4.x and 5.x don’t tell you the species and the interfaces have only a basic, generic, explanation for the DL expressivity. I concur. And is has gotten worse with Protégé 5.0: if an ontology is outside OWL 2 DL, it still says the ‘old’ DL expressivity plus an easy-to-overlook tiny red triangle in the top-right corner once the reasoner was invoked (using Hermit 1.3.8) or a cryptic “internal reasoner error” message (Pellet), whereas with Protégé 4.x you at least got a pop-up box complaining about the ‘non-simple role…’ issues. Compare that with the neat feedback like this:


It is also very ‘sensitive’—more so than one would be with Protégé alone. Any remote ontology imports have to be available at the location specified with the IRI. Violations due to wrong datatype usage is a known issue with the OWL Reasoner Evaluation set of ontologies, and which we’ve bumped into with the TDD testing as well. The tool doesn’t accept the invalid ones (wrong datatypes—one can select any XML data type in Protégé, but the OWL standard doesn’t support them all). In addition, a language such as OWL 2 QL has further restrictions on types of datatypes. (It is also not trivial to figure out manually whether some ontology is suitable for OBDA or not.) So I tried one from the Ontop website’s examples, presumably in OWL 2 QL:


Strictly speaking, it isn’t in OWL 2 QL! The OWL 2 QL profile does have xsd:integer as datatype [2], not xsd:int, as, and I quote the standard, “the intersection of the value spaces of any set of these datatypes [including xsd:integer but not xsd:int, mk] is either empty or infinite, which is necessary to obtain the desired computational properties”. [UPDATE 24-6, thanks to Martin Rezk:] The main toolset for OWL 2 QL, Ontop, actually does support xsd:int and a few other datatypes beyond the standard (e.g.: also float and boolean). There is similar syntax fun to be had with the pizza ontology: the original one is indeed in OWL DL, but if you open the file in Protégé 5 and save it, it is not in OWL DL anymore but in OWL 2 DL, for the save operation snuck in an owl#NamedIndividual. Click on the thumbnails below to see the before-and-after in the OWL classifier. This is not an increase in expressiveness—both are in SHOIN—just syntax and tooling.







The OWL Classifier can thus classify both OWL 1 and OWL 2 ontologies, which it does through a careful orchestration of two OWL APIs: v1.4.3 was the last one to support OWL 1 species checking, whereas for the OWL 2 ontologies, the latest version is used (v4.2.3). The jar file and the source code are freely available on github for anyone to use and to take further. Turning it into a Protégé plugin very likely will make at least next year’s ontology engineering students happy. Comments, questions, and suggestion are welcome!



[1] Keet, C.M., Fernandez-Reyes, F.C., Morales-Gonzalez, A. Representing mereotopological relations in OWL ontologies with OntoPartS. 9th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’12), Simperl et al. (eds.), 27-31 May 2012, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. Springer, LNCS 7295, 240-254.

[2] Boris Motik, Bernardo Cuenca Grau, Ian Horrocks, Zhe Wu, Achille Fokoue, Carsten Lutz, eds. OWL 2 Web Ontology Language: Profiles. W3C Recommendation, 11 December 2012 (2nd ed.).

The TDDonto tool to try out TDD for ontology authoring

Last month I wrote about Test-Driven Development for ontologies, which is described in more detail in the ESWC’16 paper I co-authored with Agnieszka Lawrynowicz [1]. That paper does not describe much about the actual tool implementing the tests, TDDonto, although we have it and used it for the performance evaluation. Some more detail on its design and more experimental results are described in the paper “The TDDonto Tool for Test-Driven Development of DL Knowledge Bases” [2] that has just been published in the proceedings of the 29th International Workshop on Description Logics, which will take place next weekend in Cape Town (22-25 April 2016).

What we couldn’t include there in [2] is multiple screenshots to show how it works, but a blog is a fine medium for that, so I’ll illustrate the tool with some examples in the remainder of the post. It’s an alpha version that works. No usability and HCI evaluations have been done, but at least it’s a Protégé plugin rather than command line :).

First, you need to download the plugin from Agnieszka’s ARISTOTELES project page and place the jar file in the plugins folder of Protégé 5.0. You can then go to the Protégé menu bar, select Windows – Views – Evaluation views – TDDOnto, and place it somewhere on the screen and start using it. For the examples here, I used the African Wildlife Ontology tutorial ontology (AWO v1) from my ontology engineering course.

Make sure to have selected an automated reasoner, and classify your ontology. Now, type a new test in the “New test” field at the top, e.g. carnivore DisjointWith: herbivore, click “Add test”, select the checkbox of the test to execute, and click the “Execute test”: the status will be returned, as shown in the screenshot below. In this case, the “OK” says that the disjointness is already asserted or entailed in the ontology.


Now let’s do a TDD test that is going to fail (you won’t know upfront, of course); e.g., testing whether impalas are herbivores:


The TDD test failed because the subsumption is neither asserted nor entailed in the ontology. One can then click “add to ontology”, which updates the ontology:


Note that the reasoner has to be run again after a change in the ontology.

Lets do two more: testing whether lion is a carnivore and that flower is a plan part. The output of the tests is as follows:


It returns “OK” for the lion, because it is entailed in the ontology: a carnivore is an entity that eats only animals or parts thereof, and lions eat only herbivore and eats some impala (which are animals). The other one, Flower SubClassOf: PlantParts fails as “undefined”, because Flower is not in the ontology.

Ontologies do not have only subsumption and disjointness axioms, so let’s assume that impalas eat leaves and we want check whether that is in the ontology, as well as whether lions eat animals:


The former failed because there are no properties for the impala in the AWO v1, the latter passed, because a lion eats impala, and impala is an animal. Or: the TDDOnto tool indeed behaves as expected.

Currently, only a subset of all the specified tests have been implemented, due to some limitations of existing tools, but we’re working on implementing those as well.

If you have any feedback on TDDOnto, please don’t hesitate to tell us. I hope to be seeing you later in the week at DL’16, where I’ll be presenting the paper on Sunday afternoon (24th) and I also can give a live demo any time during the workshop (or afterwards, if you stay for KR’16).



[1] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. Test-Driven Development of Ontologies. 13th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’16). Springer LNCS. 29 May – 2 June, 2016, Crete, Greece. (in print)

[2] Lawrynowicz, A., Keet, C.M. The TDDonto Tool for Test-Driven Development of DL Knowledge bases. 29th International Workshop on Description Logics (DL’16). April 22-25, Cape Town, South Africa. CEUR WS vol. 1577.

Ontology authoring with a Test-Driven Development approach

Ontology development has its processes and procedures—conducting a domain analysis, the implementation, maintenance, and so on—which have been developed since the mid 1990s. These high-level information systems-like methodologies don’t tell you what and how to add the knowledge to the ontology, however, i.e., the ontology authoring stage is a ‘just do it’, but not how. There are, perhaps surprisingly, few methods for how to do that; notably, FORZA uses domain and range constraints and the reasoner to propose a suitable part-whole relation [1] and advocatus diaboli zooms in on disjointness constraints among classes [2]. In a way, they all use what can be considered as tests on the ontology before adding an axiom. This smells of notions that are well-known in software engineering: unit tests, test-driven development (TDD), and Agile, with the latter two relying on different methodologies cf. the earlier ones (waterfall, iterative, and similar).

Some of those software engineering approaches have been adjusted and adopted for ontology engineering; e.g., the Agile-inspired OntoMaven that uses the standard reasoning services as tests [3], eXtreme Design with ODPs [4] that have been prepared previously, and Vrandecic and Gangemi’s early exploration of possibilities for unit tests [5]. Except for Warrender & Lord’s TDD tests for subsumption [6], they are all test-last approaches (design, author, test), rather than a test-first approach (test, author, test). The test-first approach is called test-driven development in software engineering [7], which has been ported to conceptual modelling recently as well [8]. TDD is a step up from a “add something and lets see what the reasoner says” stance, because one has to think and check upfront first before doing. (Competency questions can help with that, but they don’t say how to add the knowledge.) The question that arises, then, is how such a TDD approach would look like for ontology development. Some of the more detailed questions to be answered are (from [9]):

  • Given the TDD procedure for programming in software engineering, then what does that mean for ontologies during ontology authoring?
  • TDD uses mock objects for incomplete parts of the code, and mainly for methods; is there a parallel to it in ontology development, or can that aspect of TDD be ignored?
  • In what way, and where, (if at all) can this be integrated as a methodological step in existing ontology engineering methodologies?

We—Agnieszka Lawrynowicz from Poznan University of Technology in Poland and I—answer these questions in our paper that was recently accepted at the 13th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’16), to be held in May 2016 in Crete, Greece: Test-Driven Development of Ontologies [9]. In short: we specified tests for the OWL 2 DL language features and basic types of axioms one can add, implemented it as a Protégé plug-in, and tested it on performance with 67 ontologies (result: great). The tool and test data can be downloaded from Agnieszka’s ARISTOTELES project page.

Now slightly less brief than that one-liner. The tests—like for class subsumption, domain and range, a property chain—can be specified in two principal ways, called TBox tests and ABox tests. The TBox tests rely solely on knowledge represented in the TBox, whereas for the ABox tests, mock individuals are explicitly added for a particular TBox axiom. For instance, the simple existential quantification, as shown below, where the TBox query is denoted in SPARQL-OWL notation.








For the implementation, there is (1) a ‘wrapping’ component that includes creating the mock entities, checking the condition (line 2 in the TBox test example in the figure above, and line 4 in ABox TDD test), returning the TDD test result, and cleaning up afterward; and (2) the interaction with the ontology doing the actual testing, such as querying the ontology and class and instance classification. There are several options to realise component (2) of the TBox TDD tests. The query can be sent to, e.g., OWL-BGP [10] that uses SPARQL-OWL and Hermit to return the answer (line 1), but one also could use just the OWL API and send it to the automated reasoner, among other options.

Because OWL-BGP and the other options didn’t cater for the tests with OWL’s object properties, such as a property chain, so a full implementation would require extending current tools, we decided to first examine performance of the different options for (2) for those tests that could be implemented with current tools so as to get an idea of which approach would be the best to extend, rather than gambling on one, implement all, and go on with user testing. This TDD tool got the unimaginative name TDDonto and can be installed as a Protégé plugin. We tested the performance with 67 TONES ontology repository ontologies. The outcome of that is that the TBox-based SPARQL-OWL approach is faster than the ABox TDD tests (except for class disjointness; see figure below), and the OWL API + reasoner for the TBox TDD tests is again faster in general. These differences are bigger with larger ontologies (see paper for details).

Test computation times per test type (ABox versus TBox-based SPARQL-OWL) and per the kind of the tested axiom (source: [9]).

Test computation times per test type (ABox versus TBox-based SPARQL-OWL) and per the kind of the tested axiom (source: [9]).

Finally, can this TDD be simply ‘plugged in’ into one of the existing methodologies? No. As with TDD for software engineering, it has its own sequence of steps. An initial sketch is shown in the figure below. It outlines only the default scenario, where the knowledge to be added wasn’t there already and adding it doesn’t result in conflicts.

Sketch of a possible ontology lifecycle that focuses on TDD, and the steps of the TDD procedure summarised in key terms (source: [9]).

Sketch of a possible ontology lifecycle that focuses on TDD, and the steps of the TDD procedure summarised in key terms (source: [9]).

The “select scenario” has to do with what gets fed into the TDD tests, and therewith also where and how TDD could be used. We specified three of them: either (a) the knowledge engineer provides an axiom, (b) a domain expert fills in some template (e.g., the ‘all-some’ one) and that software generates the axiom for the domain ontology (e.g., Professor \sqsubseteq \exists teaches.Course ), or (c) someone wrote a competency question that is either manually or automatically converted into an axiom. The “refactoring” could include a step for removing a property from a subclass when it is added to its superclass. The “regression testing” considers previous tests and what to do when any conflicts may have arisen (which may need an interaction with step 5).

There is quite a bit of work yet to be done on TDD for ontologies, but at least there is now a first comprehensive basis to work from. Both Agnieszka and I plan to go to ESWC’16, so I hope to see you there. If you want more details or read the tests with a nicer layout than how it is presented in the ESWC16 paper, then have a look at the extended version [11] or contact us, or leave a comment below.



[1] Keet, C.M., Khan, M.T., Ghidini, C. Ontology Authoring with FORZA. 22nd ACM International Conference on Information and Knowledge Management (CIKM’13). ACM proceedings. Oct. 27 – Nov. 1, 2013, San Francisco, USA. pp569-578.

[2] Ferre, S. and Rudolph, S. (2012). Advocatus diaboli exploratory enrichment of ontologies with negative constraints. In ten Teije, A. et al., editors, 18th International Conference on Knowledge Engineering and Knowledge Management (EKAW’12), volume 7603 of LNAI, pages 42-56. Springer. Oct 8-12, Galway, Ireland

[3] Paschke, A., Schaefermeier, R. Aspect OntoMaven – aspect-oriented ontology development and configuration with OntoMaven. Tech. Rep. 1507.00212v1, Free University of Berlin (July 2015)

[4] Blomqvist, E., Sepour, A.S., Presutti, V. Ontology testing — methodology and tool. In: Proc. of EKAW’12. LNAI, vol. 7603, pp. 216-226. Springer (2012)

[5] Vrandecic, D., Gangemi, A. Unit tests for ontologies. In: OTM workshops 2006. LNCS, vol. 4278, pp. 1012-1020. Springer (2006)

[6] Warrender, J.D., Lord, P. How, What and Why to test an ontology. Technical Report 1505.04112, Newcastle University (2015), http://arxiv.org/abs/1505.04112

[7] Beck, K.: Test-Driven Development: by example. Addison-Wesley, Boston, MA (2004)

[8] Tort, A., Olive, A., Sancho, M.R. An approach to test-driven development of conceptual schemas. Data & Knowledge Engineering 70, 1088-1111 (2011)

[9] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. Test-Driven Development of Ontologies. 13th Extended Semantic Web Conference (ESWC’16). Springer LNCS. 29 May – 2 June, 2016, Crete, Greece. (in print)

[10] Kollia, I., Glimm, B., Horrocks, I. SPARQL Query Answering over OWL Ontologies. In: Proc, of ESWC’11. LNCS, vol. 6643, pp. 382-396. Springer (2011)

[11] Keet, C.M., Lawrynowicz, A. Test-Driven Development of Ontologies (extended version). Technical Report, Arxiv.org http://arxiv.org/abs/1512.06211. Dec 19, 2015.





Reblogging 2013: Release of the (beta version of the) foundational ontology library ROMULUS

From the “10 years of keetblog – reblogging: 2013”: also not easy to choose regarding research. Here, then, the first results of Zubeida Khan’s MSc thesis on the foundational ontology library ROMULUS, being the first post of several papers on the theoretical and methodological aspects of it (KCAP’13 poster, KEOD’13 paper, MEDI’13 paper, book chapter, EKAW’14 paper) and her winning the award for best Masters from the CSIR. The journal paper on ROMULUS has just been published last week in the Journal on Data Semantics, in a special issue edited by Alfredo Cuzzocrea.

Release of the (beta version of the) foundational ontology library ROMULUS; April 4


With the increase on ontology development and networked ontologies, both good ontology development and ontology matching for ontology linking and integration are becoming a more pressing issue. Many contributions have been proposed in these areas. One of the ideas to tackle both—supposedly in one fell swoop—is the use of a foundational ontology. A foundational ontology aims to (i) serve as a building block in ontology development by providing the developer with guidance how to model the entities in a domain, and  (ii) serve as a common top-level when integrating different domain ontologies, so that one can identify which entities are equivalent according to their classification in the foundational ontology. Over the years, several foundational ontologies have been developed, such as DOLCE, BFO, GFO, SUMO, and YAMATO, which have been used in domain ontology development. The problem that has arisen now, is how to link domain ontologies that are mapped to different foundational ontologies?

To be able to do this in a structured fashion, the foundational ontologies have to be matched somehow, and ideally have to have some software support for this. As early as 2003, this issue as foreseen already and the idea of a “WonderWeb Foundational Ontologies Library” (WFOL) proposed, so that—in the ideal case—different domain ontologies can to commit to different but systematically related (modules of) foundational ontologies [1]. However, the WFOL remained just an idea because it was not clear how to align those foundational ontologies and, at the time of writing, most foundational ontologies were still under active development, OWL was yet to be standardised, and there was scant stable software infrastructure. Within the Semantic Web setting, the solvability of the implementation issues is within reach yet not realised, but their alignment is still to be carried out systematically (beyond the few partial comparisons in the literature).

We’re trying to solve these theoretical and practical shortcomings through the creation of the first such online library of machine-processable, aligned and merged, foundational ontologies: the Repository of Ontologies for MULtiple USes ROMULUS. This version contains alignments, mappings, and merged ontologies for DOLCE, BFO, and GFO and some modularized versions thereof, as a start. It also has a section on logical inconsistencies; i.e., entities that were aligned manually and/or automatically and seemed to refer to the same thing—e.g., a mathematical set, a temporal region—actually turned out not to be (at least from a logical viewpoint) due to other ‘interfering’ axioms in the ontologies. What one should be doing with those, is a separate issue, but at least it is now clear where the matching problems really are down to the nitty-gritty entity-level.

We performed a small experiment on the evaluation of the mappings (thanks to participants from DERI, Net2 funds, and Aidan Hogan), and we would like to have more feedback on the alignments and mappings. It is one thing that we, or some alignment tool, aligned two entities, another that asserting an equivalence ends up logically consistent (hence mapped) or inconsistent, and yet another what you think of the alignments, especially the ontology engineers. You can participate in the evaluation: you will get a small set of a few alignments at a time, and then you decide whether you agree, partially agree, or disagree with it, are unsure about it, or skip it if you have no clue.

Finally, ROMULUS also has a range of other features, such as ontology selection, a high-level comparison, browsing the ontology through WebProtégé, a verbalization of the axioms, and metadata. It is the first online library of machine-processable, modularised, aligned, and merged foundational ontologies around. A poster/demo paper [2] was accepted at the Seventh International Conference on Knowledge Capture (K-CAP’13), and papers describing details are submitted and in the pipeline. In the meantime, if you have comments and/or suggestions, feel free to contact Zubeida or me.


[1] Masolo, C., Borgo, S., Gangemi, A., Guarino, N., Oltramari, A. Ontology library. WonderWeb Deliverable D18 (ver. 1.0, 31-12-2003). (2003) http://wonderweb.semanticweb.org.

[2] Khan, Z., Keet, C.M. Toward semantic interoperability with aligned foundational ontologies in ROMULUS. Seventh International Conference on Knowledge Capture (K-CAP’13), ACM proceedings. 23-26 June 2013, Banff, Canada. (accepted as poster &demo with short paper)