Relations in Linked Data

by Markus Tacker

: Relations in Linked Data

This is the translation of this german blog entry.

Even if Linked Data has been around for a while a solid standard for a JSON driven environment is yet to surface. JSON-LD has set its course to becoming this standard and goes great length in explaining their take on linked data in JSON.

In JSON-LD JSON data is enriched with information about its context enabling the client to explicitly know how to interpret this data. A simple example of JSON-Data with embedded linking information looks like this.:

{ 
"@context": "http://purl.org/jsonld/Person",
"@subject": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/John_Lennon",
"name": "John Lennon",
"birthday": "1940-10-09",
"member": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/The_Beatles"
}

This example describes a person named „John Lennon“. By adding a namespace via the @context attribute the data becomes self-describing. The @subject enables the client to identify an this specific entry.

It is also possible to describe subsidiary entries of this object which could be given e.g. in a list.

This is good but not sufficient for my use case.

Defining relations

By following this design I have to include all related objects in the JSON messages. But I want to let the client decide which subsidiary objects he needs. What I really need is the possibility to define relations. In his blog entry „Linking in JSON“ Mark Nottingham shows that this need is not addressed properly or at all. JSON Reference and HAL do provide solutions but they are both lacking a way to define the context of the related objects. Only by knowing the context of a relation the client can decide which relation to follow and which to discard.

In my applictaion I’ve decided to stick with the JSON-LD syntax and add another property: @relations. This property is a list of relations for the object. Every relations describes the context of the related object in relatedcontext and states under which URL (href) this object can be fetched. The role attribute defines the kind of relation. Optionally the attribute list states, if the relation is actually a list of objects.

Example: Again, John.

In this example we use John again and define a relation to his wife Yoko Ono and to the singles he has written.

{ 
"@context": "http://purl.org/jsonld/Person",
"@subject": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/John_Lennon",
<strong>"@relations": [
  {
    "@context": "http://coderbyheart.de/jsonld/Relation",
    "relatedcontext": "http://purl.org/jsonld/Person",
    "role": "http://gmpg.org/xfn/11#spouse",
    "href": "http://dbpedia.org/page/Yoko_Ono"
  },
  {
    "@context": "http://coderbyheart.de/jsonld/Relation",
    "relatedcontext": "http://dbpedia.org/ontology/Single",
    "role": "http://dbpedia.org/ontology/writer",
    "href": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/John_Lennon/singles/",
    "list": True,
  }
],</strong>
"name": "John Lennon",
"birthday": "1940-10-09",
"member": "http://dbpedia.org/resource/The_Beatles"
}

In this way the client can be told that if he follows the (fictive) link http://dbpedia.org/resource/John_Lennon/singles/ he’ll receive a list of Singles written by John. It’s up to the client to decide a person object exists in his application with a relation to singles.

Conclusion

The solution presented above enables us to transfer just the minimum amount of required data but still gives the client the possibility to discover and fetch related objects.