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Why RDF/XML is the way it is

Web Service Guy

One new feature of the Working Draft that I won't be tackling in a hurry is rdf:parseType = "Collection". Have you seen the triples that this is supposed to produce? And while we are talking syntax, why oh why is RDF / XML syntax so complicated? Any reasons or excuses for this would be appreciated because quite frankly, I just don't understand.
  • The working group charter won't allow syntax surgery. The working group charter didn't allow model surgery either, but it happened.

  • The original syntax was written when XML and particulary XML Namespaces was less well understood. For example they couldn't make up their minds up and so allowed three syntactic forms.

  • The original syntax was written against a poorly specified model.

  • Graphs are tricky in XML.

  • RDF Literals are tricky.

  • Tunneling URIs through XML is tricky.

    Lists and collections are tricky.

  • Untill about 6 months ago, not enough XML and web people were affected by RDF/XML - now XML and web people are having to pay attention, but they are two years too late to the party.

  • If you're an RDFer, you value the model above anything else, syntactic warts are incidental.

  • You can offer an alternative syntax if they want. The model is what matters.

  • You can transform it to something else if you want. Syntax is incidental.

  • Now is not a good time to make serious syntactic changes. This has been a long now.

  • People will adapt to almost anything.

I've been going on about this syntax in one form or another for nearly four years. The RDF community and the working group are not listening to syntax pushback - in my direct experience concerns about the model have always been primary and fundamental belief in RDF is very strong. I hope people with clout, like Sam Ruby and Tim Bray continue to push back now the model is nailed and the syntax spec is close to recc.

August 17, 2003 12:39 AM


Dan Brickley
(August 17, 2003 01:38 AM #)

I for one would certainly listen to proposals for a new (additional / successor) syntax. By a "proposal" I mean a design, backed up with test cases (including fiddly corner cases) and running code. There are many things that folk want of an RDF syntax; working out the details is never as easy as one would hope. All that said, RDF/XML (in its cleaned up recent form) has a fair bit of life in it yet.

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