W3C Opens Data on the Web with SPARQL

Powerful Technology for Querying Distributed and Diverse Data

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(also available in French and Japanese; see also translations in other languages)

http://www.w3.org/ -- 15 January 2008 -- W3C announced today the publication of SPARQL, the key standard for opening up data on the Semantic Web. With SPARQL query technology, pronounced "sparkle," people can focus on what they want to know rather than on the database technology or data format used behind the scenes to store the data. Because SPARQL queries express high-level goals, it is easier to extend them to unanticipated data sources, or even to port them to new applications.

"Trying to use the Semantic Web without SPARQL is like trying to use a relational database without SQL," explained Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director. "SPARQL makes it possible to query information from databases and other diverse sources in the wild, across the Web."

There are already 14 known implementations of SPARQL, many of which are open source.

SPARQL Overcomes Traditional Query Language Limitations of Local Searches, Single Formats

Many successful query languages exist, including standards such as SQL and XQuery. These were primarily designed for queries limited to a single product, format, type of information, or local data store. Traditionally, it has been necessary to formulate the same high-level query differently depending on application or the specific arrangement chosen for the relational database. And when querying multiple data sources it has been necessary to write logic to merge the results. These limitations have imposed higher developer costs and created barriers to incorporating new data sources.

The goal of the Semantic Web is to enable people to share, merge, and reuse data globally. SPARQL is designed for use at the scale of the Web, and thus enables queries over distributed data sources, independent of format. Creating a single query across diverse data stores is easier than having to create multiple queries; it also costs less and provides richer results.

Because SPARQL has no tie to a specific database format, it can be used to take advantage of the tidal wave of Web 2.0 data and mash it up with other Semantic Web resources. Furthermore, because disparate data sources may not have the same 'shape' or share the same properties, SPARQL is designed to query non-uniform data.

SPARQL Turns Data Access into a Web Service

The combination of the SPARQL query language and protocol creates a Web service in its purest sense; running on top of HTTP or SOAP, it provides a standard Web service for anything which asks a question.

"SPARQL's focus on querying the data models saves time for developers; there's no need for a host of little Web services to retrieve different aspects of the state of a system," explained Lee Feigenbaum, Chair of the RDF Data Access Working Group. "This allows the user of the SPARQL endpoint to ask any question -- it is as though they could design their own interface instead of having to work with a limited set of fixed services."

The SPARQL specification defines a query language and a protocol and works with the other core Semantic Web technologies from W3C: Resource Description Framework (RDF) for representing data; RDF Schema; Web Ontology Language (OWL) for building vocabularies; and Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL), for automatically extracting Semantic Web data from documents. SPARQL also makes use of other W3C standards found in Web services implementations, such as Web Services Description Language (WSDL).

W3C's Data Access Working Group Includes Industry Leaders in Database Technology, Web Applications

W3C RDF Data Access Working Group produced the three SPARQL Recommendations issued today: the SPARQL Query Language for RDF, The SPARQL Protocol for RDF, and the SPARQL Query Results XML Format. The Working Group includes invited experts and participants from Agfa-Gevaert N. V.; Asemantics S.R.L.; Clark & Parsia LLC; Cleveland Clinic; Eindhoven University of Technology; Free University of Bozen-Bolzano; Garlik; HP; IBM Corporation; Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (MEI); Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (NTT); OpenLink Software; Oracle; and Profium, Ltd. The SPARQL Testimonials page contains statements of support and commitments to implement the new Recommendations.

W3C continues to enhance the relationship between the Semantic Web and traditional databases; see the report from the W3C Workshop on RDF Access to Relational Databases from October 2007.

About the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C]

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international consortium where Member organizations, a full-time staff, and the public work together to develop Web standards. W3C primarily pursues its mission through the creation of Web standards and guidelines designed to ensure long-term growth for the Web. Over 400 organizations are Members of the Consortium. W3C is jointly run by the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL) in the USA, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered in France and Keio University in Japan,and has additional Offices worldwide. For more information see http://www.w3.org/