Abstract

Modern information systems require the orchestration of ontologies, conceptual data modeling techniques, and efficient data management so as to provide a means for better informed decision-making and to keep up with new requirements in organizational needs. A major question in delivering such systems, is which components to design and put together to make up the required “knowledge to data” pipeline, as each component and process has trade-offs. In this paper, we introduce a new knowledge-to-data architecture, KnowID. It pulls together both recently proposed components and we add novel transformation rules between Enhanced Entity-Relationship (EER) and the Abstract Relational Model to complete the pipeline. KnowID's main distinctive architectural features, compared to other ontology-based data access approaches, are that runtime use can avail of the closed world assumption commonly used in information systems and of full SQL augmented with path queries.

1. INTRODUCTION

Traditional data management comprises a sequence from requirements to conceptual data model, transforming it into a relational model, and from there creating a physical database schema, at each stage leaving behind the artefact produced in the preceding step. As valuable information is represented in the models early in the pipeline, ideas for trying to reuse the outputs of the first three stages have been proposed over the years, such as query-by-diagram with a Unified Modeling Language (UML)-like notation [1] and conceptual queries with Object-Role Modeling (ORM) [2] in the mid-1990s. From the mid-2000s, theory, techniques, and tools started to advance to reuse the conceptual model at runtime in conjunction with large data stores to create a “knowledge to data” pipeline. This combination, or pipeline, is named with various terms, including ontology-based data access and (virtual) knowledge graphs [3]. Let us illustrate a key advantage of such a “pipeline” with an example about an information request about customers.

Example 1.A member of the Marketing department of some company, say, Juan, would like to ask the company's information systems about customers. If there are no canned queries and Juan cannot write Structured Query Language (SQL) or does not know in which database(s) the customers are stored, then he either has to explore the data himself or ask a database administrator for help. Both options cost time, and time is money. It has been reported that data scientists spend at least 80% of their time on data discovery and integration [4].

Imagine now there is one model representing what data are stored in the systems, possibly graphically displayed. Then Juan himself can find what he can query, reducing the effort of that otherwise time-consuming data discovery task. With an “intelligent” system, he does not have to know where and how exactly that data are stored in which database, just that it is somewhere, and simply pose the query, say, “list all customers”. Here, the scenario diverges on a second aspect, notably cf. query-by-diagram approaches, for in the knowledge-to-data pipeline, the model is used at runtime to answer the query. To see, this, let us assume thatJoanneis an IndividualCustomer that is a Customer; formally, we haveIndividualCustomerJoannein the database (i.e., a table namedIndividualCustomerthat has a row withJoanne) and IndividualCustomer ⊑ Customer in the knowledge layer (e.g., a Web Ontology Language (OWL) ontology). When Juan fires the query “list all customers”, he will observe different results:

  • Default relational database installation: it returns {}, i.e., the answer is empty, as there are no explicitly declared instances ofCustomerin the database.

  • The “knowledge to data” pipeline (with reasoner): it returns {Joanne}, thanks to the inference from the subsumption that inferredCustomerJoanne〉.

An end-user, such as Juan, would expect {Joanne} as answer, but we only obtain that with the second option, where the human intelligence in understanding the situation is in some way woven into the system to obtain that behavior from the system.

The relatively most popular approach to build such intelligence into the system is called Ontology-Based Data Access [5, 6]. It uses the open world assumption (OWA) rather than the closed world assumption (CWA) of databases that endusers are more familiar with, contains a computational costly mapping layer to link the knowledge to the data, and supports only a fragment of full SQL (unions of conjunctive queries). Another option is to store everything in a database, but it has typically only limited, or no, support for automated reasoning, and if so, it is implemented with carefully crafted stored procedures and triggers (e.g., [7, 8]). Alternatives that address these issues are being looked into. A recent alternative proposed to extend the relational model into an “Abstract Relational Model” (ARM) with special object identifiers and a strict extension to SQL for path queries (SQLP) [9]. It addresses a typical database user's expectation of CWA and supports full SQL. It avoids the computationally costly mapping layer of ontology-based data access by means of computationally cheap transformations. However, this ARM+SQLP option falls short on the knowledge (i.e., ontology or conceptual data model) layer in the knowledge-to-data pipeline in that it does not have that knowledge component.

We aim to extend this partial knowledge-to-data pipeline of ARM+SQLP into the knowledge layer by adding a conceptual data model or application ontology and relevant related model management features, in such a way that the runtime use can remain within the closed world assumption and users still will be able to use full SQL. This extension is worked out in detail for the ARM to/from Enhanced Entity-Relationship (EER) transformation by means of a set of rules, which are different from the regular EER-to/from-Relational Model (RM) transformations due to several peculiarities of ARM and the richer set of constraints that can be represented in ARM cf. the RM. The generalization from that can then avail of other extant recent research results to complete a generic knowledge-to-data architecture, which we call KnowID: Knowledge-driven Information and Data access. KnowID's functionality is thus similar to ontology-based data access systems: it allows for queries to be posed at the knowledge layer—i.e., supporting a user in what to query, without the labor-intensive figuring out of the how and where—that will be evaluated over an “intelligent” database that makes use of the knowledge represented in the conceptual data model or ontology. Architecturally, a distinct practical advantage is that it achieves this through a series of automated transformations, rather than (manual or automated) specifications of non-trivial mappings in a separate mapping layer. A further practical advantage is the support for path queries, which has been shown in user experiments to make query formulation faster with at least the same level of accuracy or fewer errors [10, 11].

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. Preliminaries and related work is presented first in Section 2, which presents an overview of the four principal knowledge-to-data approaches to place the architecture in context and a summary of relevant key components of ARM. This is followed by design considerations of the extension in Section 3, and the novel KnowID architecture is introduced. This is followed by the new technical details of the extension, being the transformations from EER to ARM in Section 4. The genericity of the architecture is motivated and discussed briefly in Section 5, and its evaluation in Section 6. We conclude in Section 7.

2. PRELIMINARIES

Accessing data through knowledge requires some background knowledge about the various components in the pipeline, which span subfields within computer science. We therefore introduce some key terms and related work first and then proceed to an overview of one approach—ARM with SQLP—in more detail.

2.1 Key Components of a Knowledge-to-Data Pipeline

We focus on combining intensional knowledge (K) represented as formalized descriptions about entity types, relationships among them, and constraints holding for them—e.g., modeled in a conceptual data model or an ontology—with large amounts of data (D) in order to manage that data that represent instances. In surveying the literature, we distilled four core approaches, which are summarized and illustrated with exemplars.

KDKnowledge with Data store and in one system, knowledge representation (KR)-oriented, informally: “push the envelope of the AI logic to manage some data”; e.g., put in the ontology's “TBox”, in the “ABox” (in Description Logics terminology [14]), and store both in a single OWL file [15] for use with Semantic Web infrastructure.

KDKnowledge mapping Data store in a KR-oriented way, as for KD, but delegate to external storage in a database and link the two through a mapping layer () that maps terms from to queries over . Informally, this is the approach of “use each where it's good at”; e.g., Ontology-Based Data Access (OBDA) that links an OWL file to a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) by means of the mappings [6] for which multiple tools and use cases exist [3].

DKData transformation Knowledge exploit data, database schemas, and the relational model layer up back to its originating conceptual model or application ontology that is formalized in a suitable logic, informally: “extend the database with some AI notions”; this option is currently incomplete, but partial theoretical foundations are described in [9, 10, 16].

DKData with Knowledge store both and in one system, database-oriented, informally: “exploit the database technologies and push the envelope thereof”; e.g., the OntoMinD system [7] has separate tables for the knowledge and for the data, and additional triggers and stored procedures in the RDBMS to cater for automated reasoning.

The respective core architectures are depicted in a simplified way in Figure 1. There are a range of design decisions to take to construct specific architectures, such as open vs. closed world, the query language (e.g., SPARQL, SQL, or both, or some extension thereof), choice of mapping (if applicable), the types of queries one can pose, the expressiveness of the logic for representing the knowledge in (e.g., OWL to QL, OWL to RL), and the language and storage system for (e.g., SQL, RDF, Datalog). Actual instances thus also may be more elaborate with more sub-components on how such an architecture may be realized. However, their respective core approach to solving the runtime use of knowledge and data is essentially unchanged. Variants include, e.g., conceptually adding a “second TBox” in the knowledge layer in OBDA, which links the OBDA ontology (de facto a conceptual data model) to a domain ontology [17] or there may be an additional intermediate query language for generalizability purposes [18], yet the overall approach is still that of KD.

Figure 1.

High-level overview of the four approaches, where Lx means (declarative) representation language and Qx the query language. is shorthand for the information and knowledge-level content and is shorthand for instance-level content, irrespective of the formalism and technology used.

Figure 1.

High-level overview of the four approaches, where Lx means (declarative) representation language and Qx the query language. is shorthand for the information and knowledge-level content and is shorthand for instance-level content, irrespective of the formalism and technology used.

A specific design of KD is OBDA, which has one or more particular software implementations, such as Ontop [5]. Ontop permits installations that use OWL to QL or RDFS as ontology language for , Quest as automated reasoner, R2RML and its own native mapping layer languages in , and it supports several RDBMSs for including UnityJDBC, IBM Websphere, MS SQL Server, and Oracle. An example installation will then use one of the options where there is choice, such as OWL to QL and an Oracle database in the case of the Slegge system at the Statoil company [19]. A similar drill-down from the generic principal architecture to the configuration of an actual system is possible with the other architectures.

DK systems have been proposed that exploit relational, object-relational, and object-oriented databases. They have a range of trade-offs as well, such as a comprehensive database schema to store all of the possible OWL axioms but no reasoning other than regular database querying [8] or only a fragment of OWL (e.g., DL-Lite,⊓) but with automated reasoning [7]. Their actual architectures tend to be less elaborate than the orchestrations of the systems of KD in particular; see [7] for a good overview.

The only principal approach that is incomplete in its overall design as well as implementation, is DK. Therefore, we will take a closer look at it in the next section.

2.2 Comparison of Architectures

We compare the four architectures on key points that have a major impact on overall complexity of any particular practical design for such an architecture. These distinctive features are listed in Table 1 and discussed in the remainder of this section.

Table 1.

Summary of the distinguishing features of varying computational cost.

FeatureKDKDDKDK
World OWA OWA+CWA CWA CWA 
Language for  OWL OWL relational, DL relational 
Language for  OWL relational relational relational 
Query language SPARQL SPARQL + SQL (fragment) SQLP SQL 
Automated reasoning yes yes yes depends on system 
Reasoning w.r.t. data no separate approach query rewriting data completion data completion 
Mapping layer no yes no no 
Transformations no no yes yes 
Entity recasting no yes no yes 
Syntactic sugar available available possible possible 
FeatureKDKDDKDK
World OWA OWA+CWA CWA CWA 
Language for  OWL OWL relational, DL relational 
Language for  OWL relational relational relational 
Query language SPARQL SPARQL + SQL (fragment) SQLP SQL 
Automated reasoning yes yes yes depends on system 
Reasoning w.r.t. data no separate approach query rewriting data completion data completion 
Mapping layer no yes no no 
Transformations no no yes yes 
Entity recasting no yes no yes 
Syntactic sugar available available possible possible 

First, note that among options KD, DK, and DK, it is well-known that one has to handle the automated reasoning in a special way, because it does not have the native ABox of the ontology as in KD. One can achieve this by either query rewriting (i.e., reasoning) on-the-fly or data completion, meaning to pre-compute the deductions and materialize the inferences. KD generally uses query rewriting (including Ontop) and DK and DK (including, e.g., OntoMinD [7]) use data completion.

Second, there are other non-trivial issues that involve or affect automated reasoning, in particular:

  1. the expressiveness of the language for ;

  2. which types of queries are supported over D; and

  3. the class of algorithms used (e.g. tableaux vs. stored procedures).

Within items (1) and (2), one has to divide the options between whether that is (i) under OWA or CWA, (ii) with the unique name assumption or not, for both can affect the computational complexity reasoning problems for 's representation language [20], and (iii) how queries are evaluated over . While the OWA/CWA balance tends to be the same within an approach, they differ across the four approaches, reflecting their origins (AI or DB). These within-architecture variations for actual instances of a pipeline thus mean that there is no single computational complexity figure for each architecture.

Third, one has to appreciate the distinction between ontological principles and engineering. While the philosophical and mathematical differences between classes, instances, and values are clear, one can “play” with it in an architecture for implementation at the back-end. For instance, take customer Joanna again and the class IndividualCustomer:

  • if Joanna is stored in a database, it is not an individual but a value, so if it is to be passed on to the ABox of an ontology, then that value has to be converted to an object.

  • if IndividualCustomer is stored in a database, it is not a class, but a value, so it cannot have, e.g., a set of members as instances, because values do not have such instances; hence, they have to be treated in a different way from those cells that store instances-as-values.

This sort of manipulation of classes, instances, and values, also called entity recasting, is typical for KD and DK, whereas KD and DK stay true to their respective formalisms.

Finally, as general consideration, it has been shown that domain experts' data access at, at least, the relational and also at the conceptual layer improves query accuracy and time (see [10] and references therein). Therefore, it is not uncommon that there may be a “syntactic sugar” layer on top of the principal architecture, such as the early systems of ACE for OWL with KD [21] and WONDER [22] for OBDA with KD that provided a natural language and graphical interface to the system, respectively. More recent systems may also combine ease of user access and systems management, such as Optique [23]. We are not concerned with the quality of a presentation layer here, but note that it is a common extension for either of the four approaches.

2.3 Preliminaries: ARM+SQLP

The Abstract Relational Model (ARM) is a generalization of the relational model (RM) which includes an abstract domain of entities OID used for object identifiers, and a new self attribute for each relation in an ARM that through an underlying theory of referring expressions remains virtual and thus does not cost one another column in a database table. Its details are described in [9, 10, 16]. This seemingly simple extension allows for various other constructs beyond primary and foreign keys, such as declaring disjointness constraints, explicit inheritance, and path functional dependencies. In short:

Definition 1 (Relations and Constraints) LetREL, AT, andCDbe sets of relation names, attribute names (includingself), and concrete domains (data types), respectively, and letOIDbe an abstract domain of entities (surrogates), disjoint from all concrete domains. An abstract relational model schema Σ is a set of relation declarations of the form

tableT(A1D1,,AnDn'ϕ1,ctdot,ϕm)

where TREL, AiAT, Di∊ (CD∪{OID}), and φi are constraints attached to relation T. We write REL(Σ) to denote all relation names declared in ARM schema Σ. Ai is abstract if Di isOID, and concrete otherwise, andselfmust be abstract for each T. Constraint φi has one of the following forms:

  1. (primary keys) primary key (self)

  2. (foreign keys) constraintNforeign key (Ai) referencesT1, where Ai is an abstract attribute in the definition of T

  3. (inheritance) isaTi

  4. (covering constraints) covered by(T1, …, Tk)

  5. (disjointness constraints) disjoint with(T1, …, Tk)

  6. (path functional dependencies) pathfd (Pf1, …, Pfk)→Pf

where each TiREL.An attribute pathPfis eitherselfor a dot-separated sequence of attribute names excludingself.

Primary keys and named foreign keys (“N” in item 2, above) are supported by standard SQL. Inheritance and disjointness constraints are satisfied when all (resp. no) self-value occurring in T occurs as aself-value in some (resp. all) Ti in the inheritance (resp. disjointness) cases. A path functional dependency is satisfied when any pair of T-tuples that agree on the value of eachPfialso agree on the value ofPf.

The identifier aspects of objects with self and its OID is handled by referring expressions, which is rather involved and described in detail in [9, 10]; for the extension of the ARM+SQLP option, it suffices to know that it works. Likewise, the ARM-to-RM [9] and the RM-to-ARM [10] transformation algorithms are internal to the data layer, which does not affect the information and knowledge layer (the focus of this paper)—we may assume they are in place. The basic formalization of ARM as stated above provides the possibility to reason about constraints, as logical consequences. That is, for some Ti in Σ Σ⊨(φTi) denotes that constraint φ for T logically follows from the constraints in Σ even when not explicitly stated. A simple example is when T1 has attribute A1 as PK yet A1 also appears in an FK constraint to T2 where it is the PK as well: this implies the constraint φ = isaT2 for T1. ARM can be formalized in a Description Logic (DL) with n-aries, e.g., the PTIME decidable [24], where the problem of deciding when Σ⊨(φT) holds in ARM schemata can be reduced to reasoning about logical consequence [9].

This approach has a complementary query language, called SQLP [9], which is an extension to full SQL in order to allow queries over paths, availing over those virtual identifiers in the background, and has been shown to improve querying when used with ARM [10] (this is not the focus in this paper). Note that, since SQL and the RM already operate under the CWA, so will ARM+SQLP as its extension with identifiers and paths do no affect CWA. Let us illustrate this with an example.

Example 2.Consider a section of the sample ARM diagram that was evaluated by users by [10], which is depicted in Figure 2 on the left-hand side and that tried to emulate an RM look-and-feel (the right-hand side is alike the ARM sample diagram notation in [25] and emphasizes its graph-like structure). One of the definitions of the relations is as follows:

Figure 2.

Two graphical renderings of a sample ARM schema, resembling a relational model graphical notation (left; source: based on a section of the diagram in [10]) and in ontology-like notation similar to the ARM notation in [25].

Figure 2.

Two graphical renderings of a sample ARM schema, resembling a relational model graphical notation (left; source: based on a section of the diagram in [10]) and in ontology-like notation similar to the ARM notation in [25].

graphic

The other definitions of the ARM relations follow the same pattern. A sample query may be “Find the distinct names of all the professors who work at the CS department that have taught a class of a course offered by another department.” This can be written in SQLP for the ARM as follows:

graphic

Recall that in an RM, all attributes must be declared to be concrete, and only primary and foreign keys constraints are allowed. In contrast, ARM includes self to be the primary key of every table, with object identifiers taken from an abstract domain. This means that ARM generalizes RM in two ways: first, there is no explicit choice in the representation of primary keys for each relation, we just know it exists; second, a set of declarative constraints is available to model the domain data. In this sense, ARM is, strictly, conceptual model-like, but it does not complete the knowledge-data column, for ARM still contains various design decisions, rather than be purely at the conceptual “what”-layer of representing information and knowledge. Those design decisions are, mainly: primary and foreign key choices and naming, data types, the choice of “a new relation for each entity type” of those entity types that are in a hierarchy in a conceptual model, and it assumes other choices, such as the FK side of a 1:1 cardinality of a relationship.

It is this last step of the additional knowledge layer that tends to make the whole pipeline theoretically and technically rather involved. We first deliberate the options for adding that knowledge layer to the ARM+SQLP approach in the next section, and subsequently add it.

3. DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS FOR ADDING A KNOWLEDGE LAYER TO ARM+SQLP

The idea of somehow having a whole knowledge-to-data pipeline or column is intuitively clear, but what does it mean with respect to its distinguishing features and requirements such that one can say “this architecture is one of those, but that one is not”? There are three key components:

  • Knowledge, formally/logic-based representation of it, at the type/class-level (i.e., with entities that can be instantiated). This type-level theory should be independent of systems design aspects and only contain the “what” of the universe of discourse not the “how” components (so, e.g., no PK/FK and OO object identifiers and similar in the model);

  • Structured data, which are representations of individuals (i.e., those entities that cannot be instantiated further); e.g., data as stored in a relational database or an RDF triple store (but not unstructured text documents).

  • Automated reasoning support with, as a minimum, querying the data using the vocabulary elements from the knowledge layer. It should avail of the formally represented knowledge in some way (so, not just a graphical query interface for the stored data like in query-by-diagram).

Holding the ARM+SQLP option against these key components, it falls short on the knowledge layer, for its ARM specification does include design decision, as discussed in the previous section (PK/FK etc.). To complete this approach for knowledge-to-data to also include the knowledge layer, there are two broad strategies to choose from:

  • Add an ontology or conceptual data model, suitably formalized in first order logic or a fragment thereof, such as OWL or another Description Logic (DL), and link it through a mapping layer to the ARM.

  • Construct an algorithm that is similar to the forward pipeline or the reverse engineering one between conceptual models and relational models, but then adjusted for ARM rather than from/to the RM.

Both ARM and the conceptual data modeling language ORM [26] have been formalized in a member of the family of DLs [27, 25], which makes Option a seem doable. However, like all DLs, the logics operate under the open world assumption (OWA), whereas databases assume the closed world assumption (CWA), and from a theoretical and technical viewpoint linking OWA with CWA components in one system is far from trivial. Option b could operate fully within CWA, whilst still permitting a formalization in some DL so as to use standard automated reasoners, provided it is carefully orchestrated. This extension is sketched in Figure 3 and will be elaborated on in Sections 4 and 5. As can be seen already from the figure, it remains within CWA in the crucial stages of querying, since at query formulation only the knowledge layer vocabulary will be used and the query itself—in SQLP throughout—is fully evaluated within the CWA of the database world. Such an Option b is more doable theoretically than Option a, although it leaves to be decided how to deal with which conceptual modeling language and the transformation algorithms between that and the ARM will have to be designed. The choice of conceptual modeling language turns out not to matter, because the constraints that can be represented in the ARM can be mirrored in the popular conceptual data modeling languages, they are interchangeable either through direct 1:1 transformations or through a joint metamodel, as has been demonstrated most recently in [28], or a common core profile can be designed, as proposed in [29]. The former—those transformations—will be addressed in the next section.

Figure 3.

Extending ARM+SQLP toward KnowID, i.e., adding a knowledge layer to the architecture, into the Knowledge-driven Information and Data access, KnowID, architecture.

Figure 3.

Extending ARM+SQLP toward KnowID, i.e., adding a knowledge layer to the architecture, into the Knowledge-driven Information and Data access, KnowID, architecture.

4. TRANSFORMATIONS BETWEEN ARM AND CONCEPTUAL MODELS

Given that the transformations between EER and RM are well known, we will base the approach of our bi-directional algorithms on that and adjust it for ARM's peculiarities. Further, because ARM has several unique constraints that a regular RM does not have, we will present the bi-directional transformations from ARM to EER first, and then from EER to ARM. Observe that these transformations are meant to bridge the gap between the knowledge layer and the data layer, where the former has no known complete semantic formalization, i.e., including weak entity types, and as such no soundness results can be given. Also, the modeling features of both languages are diverse in several ways due to their different aims, therefore making the transformations necessarily incomplete. More details are provided in the description of the respective transformations below.

4.1 From ARM to EER diagram

The reverse engineering from ARM to EER follows the same ideas as for the usual components, notably as presented in [30], such as the classification of relations and attributes, 1:n relationships and a “dangling attribute” indicating a weak entity type. Key differences compared to the regular RM-to-EER reverse engineering algorithms can be observed in rules I-A, I-B, IV, V, and VI.

  • For each T such that Σ contains the declaration

    tableT(A1D1,,AmDm,ϕ1,,ϕn)

    define the basic ERD construct (entity type or relationship type) BT as follows:

    • Choose the primary key of T to be a φi such that

      ϕi=pathfd(Ai1,,Aik)self

      where kn and the indexes i on A denoting that they are part of constraint φi. The order between A(ij) in this constraint is irrelevant, so suppose they are already ordered such that all attributes participating in a FK constraint in T are put at the beginning, and all attributes that do not belong to any FK constraint are put at the end. Then let h be the index such that all attributes A(ij) with jh are also declared as FK, i.e., there is a constraint of the form

      ϕj=constraintNjforeignkey(Aij)referencesTj

      whereas for the remaining A(ij), h<j attributes in the PK such a FK constraint does not exist.

    • If h=0, i.e., there are no attributes in the PK that are also declared as an FK, then T represents a “strong relation” (sensu [30]). This step decides whether it is a strong entity type or a strong relationship type. If there exists a candidate key constraint

      ϕi,=pathfd(A1',Ak'')self,ii'

      that defines another candidate key for T where all Aj participate in a FK constraint in T, i.e., there exists

      constraintNj'foreignkey(Aj')referencesTj

      for all j, 1 ≤jk′ then set BT to be a new relationship type with participation of all B(Tj) basic constructs. Otherwise, i.e., no such candidate key constraints exist, then let BT be a new entity type.

    • If h = k, i.e., all attributes in PK are also FKs, then all Aj are included in foreign key constraints

      constraintNjforeignkey(Aij)referencesTj

      and T represents a “regular relation”. Set BT to be a new relationship in which those B(Tj) participate that were reverse engineered from their respective Tj.

    • If 0<h<k then some PK attributes are included in FK constraints and some are not, so T represents a “weak relation”. Then let BT be a new entity type with partial key attributes determined by all the dangling key attributes Aj, 1≤jh<k.

      Build the initial ERD with all BT.

  • Assign all attributes A(ij) of PK φi where h<jk (i.e., those attributes of the PK that are not also FK) to BT and declare them as members of the identifier (or partial identifier) for BT.

  • Let Al be any attribute that does not appear in the PK constraint φi, i.e., lij for all 1≤jk. If Al appears in a FK constraint in T

    constraintNlforeignkey(Al)referencesTl

    then add participation to B(Tj) if it is a relationship type, or to a new binary relationship type if it is an entity type. In the latter case, include 1:n participation from BT to B(Tj). If Al does not appear in any FK constraint, then assign it to BT as a regular attribute, ignoring its respective Dl.

  • For each

    ϕi=isaT1

    add a specialisation relationship between BT and B(Tj).

  • For each

    ϕi=coveredby(T1,,Tp)

    used in conjunction with isaTi, (1≤ip and p≥2), then declare the covering constraint over the corresponding isa in the ERD.

  • For each

    ϕi=disjointwith(T1,,Tp)

    used in conjunction with isaTi, (1≤ip and p≥2), then declare the disjointness constraint over the corresponding isa in the ERD.

This transformation has a linear number of steps in the size of the relation declaration clauses. Step I.A selects the primary key, and partitions the set of attributes (no ordering is really necessary). A single scan of the table declaration clause is also enough for steps I.B, I.C, I.D, II and IV. Tagging non-PK attributes in step III can be done with the help of an appropriate data structure. A dictionary of isa-relationships can be built while executing step IV, which enables constraining each member in steps V and VI in constant time.

After this process, some information present in the ARM specification is not in the generated ERD, because EER does not support the features. In particular, all functional path dependencies other than those with consequent self, all datatype declarations for attributes, candidate key attributes, and all disjointness constraints that are not associated with any ISA relationship, are ignored. Thus, the transformation may not be information-preserving at the level of the model specification. However, this information may be attached to the ERD as non-graphical constraints that later can be used in other tasks requiring a formal representation, such as reasoning or exporting to another language.

A possible reverse engineering of the ARM diagram of Example 2 is briefly illustrated now.

Example 3.Let us continue from Example 2 and transform that ARM diagram into an EER diagram, whose outcome is included in Figure 4, having followed the procedure that is described in the previous section. For instance, let us take again theprofessorrelation from Example 2. By rule I, we create an entity typeProfessor(Rule I-A selects the PK and relevantpathfd (pathfd (pnum) -> self), and notices that h=0 (rule I-B), so it is a strong relation), and addpnumas identifier toProfessor(rule II). Add the other attributes not in a FK constraint as regular attributes toProfessorand for the one as FK (department), create a new binary relationship toDepartment(rule III). This binary relationship will have to be named, and the rules applied to thedepartmentrelation for theDepartmententity type in the EER diagram. Rules IV-VI do not apply, because there is noisain the relation specification. This concludes processing the sequence of rules for this ARM relation.

Figure 4.

Possible EER diagram reconstructed from the ARM diagram of Example 2.

Figure 4.

Possible EER diagram reconstructed from the ARM diagram of Example 2.

4.2 From EER Diagram to ARM

The algorithm from an ERD to an ARM follows the standard principles, such as FK on the n-side of a 1:n multiplicity on a relationship, but distinguishes itself from the staple algorithms on three main aspects: the pathfds with self for each entity type when generating an ARM relation, any other pathfd assertions, and, especially, the disjointness constraints also among relations for which there were entity types that are not in an isa hierarchy. These key differences cf. the well-known EER-to-RM algorithms can be observed in rules I-A, I-C, II-A, II-C, III, IV, V, and VI.

As notation convention, an entity type is denoted by E, its attributes as A1, …, An, and participating in relationships R1,…Rm connecting to E1, …, Em in the EER diagram. The transformations assume the machinery of referring expressions to handle identification properly, as described in [9].

  • For each strong E with identifier composed by attributes A1, …, Al and regular attributes Al+1, …, An, 1≤ln,

    • Create in Σ an ARM relation TE with the declaration

      TE(selfOID,A1D,,AnD,An+1OID,,An+mOID)

      where D is anyType until the datatype has been set by the designer or retrieved from the reverse engineering step, and An+i,0≤im are new attributes different from those existing in the ERD.

    • Add to TE the FK constraints

      constraintNiforeignkey(An+i)referencesTEi

      for all i,0≤im.

    • Add to TE the PK constraint

      pathfd(A1,,Al)self
  • For each weak E with partial identifier composed by attributes A1,…, Al and regular attributes Al+1, …, An, where 1≤ln, which is related through weak relations Ri, 1≤ikm.

    • Create an ARM relation TE for E such that

      TE(selfOID,A1D,,AnD,An+1OID,,An+mOID)

      where D is anyType as before, and An+i,0≤im are new attributes different from those existing in the ERD.

    • Add to TE the FK constraints

      constraintNiforeignkey(An+i)referencesTEi

      for all i, 1≤im.

    • Add to TE the PK constraint

      pathfd(A1,,Al,An+1,,An+k)self
  • For each subsumption, i.e., an E1 ISA E in the ERD, take the “separation” option for transformation, so add to relation T(E1) in the ARM the constraint

    isaTE

    which is shorthand for the pathfd constraint that the self of E1 is an FK referencing the self in E.

  • For each covering constraint declared in a hierarchy in the ERD, on E1, …, En (with n≥2) that are entity subtypes of E, then add to TE the constraint

    coveredby(TE1,,TEn)
  • For each disjointness declared in a hierarchy in the ERD, on E1, …, En (with n≥2) that are entity subtypes of E, then add to each T(Ei), 1≥in the constraint

    disjointwith(TE1,,TEi-1,TEi+1,,TEn)
  • Disjointness between ARM relations constructed from entity types that are not in a hierarchy in the ERD (and thus are implicitly disjoint) can be computed based on comparing their respective pathfd constraints that have as consequent self for each Ti, because each relation in the ARM resulting from an Ei (that is not in a hierarchy) of the ERD will have a different PK because they have different identifiers in the corresponding ERD.

With the exception of step V, all the previous steps of the transformation are linear in the size of the elements of the ERD since each deals with a specific type of element (strong entities, weak entities, isa's, etc.) and the output does not depend on this size. In step V, a single disjointness constraint generates as many constraints clauses as entities that participate in the constraint, so this step is quadratic. The resulting ARM after this process is a very weak representation of a database since several implementation details are missing, like attribute types, non-key functional dependencies and general disjointness constraints. The instantiation can be done automatically with external annotations (not present in the ERD), or manually with the help of an expert.

5. USING KNOWID BEYOND EER

The “extended ARM+SQLP” option for DK, i.e., the KnowID architecture as shown in Figure 3, covers the knowledge-to-data pipeline, which was worked out for EER diagrams at the knowledge layer, a relational database as structured data, and SQLP as query language. In the light of it being a generic architecture, two central components require some clarifications to justify the claim to genericity, which is the query component with SQLP, and the formal representation beyond EER, i.e., addressing the other items in the box labelled Knowledge and Information Management in Figure 3. Considering the scope of this paper and that the theory and techniques that will be mentioned below have been introduced elsewhere already, we discuss these topics only from the architectural angle, not the details of the logics and algorithms.

5.1 SQLP over the ARM and EER Diagrams

Querying the data through the knowledge is an essential component of the knowledge-to-data pipeline, and therefore illustrated first. We first note that SQLP queries have been shown to be invariant under vertical partitioning, as that amounts to a lossless join decomposition [10]. Put differently, for an SQLP query over an ARM diagram, the query remains exactly the same irrespective of whether the graphical display of the model is denoted such that each class has attributes depicted “inside” the class or that they have (functional) relations where they are depicted as positioned alike another class (i.e., a graph-like graphical notation), because in both cases, formally, it amounts to the same formalization of the paths thanks to self and the OIDs. We have tried to visuaze this in Figure 2 with two different graphical notations of ARM: on the left, the diagram has an RM look-and-feel, whereas on the right, this is flattened, where the attributes are shown as the (special) relationships that they are.

Because the EER-to-ARM, and vv., is transformation-based, the SQLP for ARM can propagate to its use with EER diagrams. The SQLP query does not use the relationship names explicitly, and hence, any naming assignment step for brand new names in case it was a reverse engineered EER diagram has no effect on the formulated query. The relevant vocabulary of EER's entity types, relationships and attributes, on the whole, remain the same with respect to the ARM, so the shape of the query can be the same. More precisely: the written, textual, and version of the query can be exactly the same provided one takes into account that the names of the ERD relationships are ignored except for relationship names of relationships with m:n cardinality (which will become a relation in the ARM diagram). Thus, cognisant of the fact that normally CWA is assumed with EER already, this can indeed be maintained in KnowID thanks to a transformation-based approach and therewith using the option to remain with SQLP. Let us illustrate that in the following example.

Example 4.We continue with our running example from Example 3, and the ERD of Figure 4. A sample query could be, e.g., “Find the distinct names of all the professors who work at the CS department that have taught a class of a course offered by another department.”. This can be likewise executed over an ARM or EER diagram, by availing of the link from the ARM-to-EER transformation and constructing paths “from-the-n-to-the-1-direction-into-an-attribute”. Moreover, this should be easier when queried over the ERD, because the names of the relationships that are present in the EER diagram loosely map onto verbs in the information request. In this case, as follows:

“Find the distinct names of all the professors who work at the CS department that have taught [teach] a class [part] of a course offered by another department.”

This is not the case in an ARM-as-RM-lookalike diagram. Alternatively, in a graphical interface, the path can be selected that includes the relationships in the graphics, which makes it visually clearer that there is that path. Such choices are left to an interface design stage.

5.2 Flexibility in the KnowID Input

We now look into the Knowledge and Information Management box in Figure 3, with its four core sub-processes drawn above that, which depend on the precise input of “conceptual data model or application ontology C”. For instance, the input may be a conceptual data model in UML class diagram notation or an Object-Role Modeling (ORM) diagram. Also, there are several formalizations of EER in various logics, invariably using the OWA for automated reasoning, rather than the CWA common for the database and conceptual modeling setting, which has to be addressed.

Those four steps are briefly explained as follows, and elaborated on afterward:

  1. If C is not in EER, then convert it into EER, using a mapping or metamodel-driven approach; see, e.g., [31, 32] and references therein.

  2. If the EER diagram was not formalized yet, then use one of the logic-based reconstructions to formalize it (elaborated on below).

  3. Taking the formalization as input, compute the inferences (deductions); if there are undesirable deductions or unsatisfiable classes, revise the model and classify it again; repeat the process until the deductions, if any, are acceptable.

  4. Materialize the deductions (if any), i.e., modify the EER diagram by adding the acceptable deductions; one may wish to double-check the modifications by classifying again, which should return an empty list of deductions.

The model resulting from completing step 4 is the one that will be transformed into an ARM and used for querying the data.

To determine a suitable logic for either step 2 or for having the conceptual model formalized in the first place, we note it ought to be able to formalize at least the following modeling language features in a suitable logic, because they can be dealt with in the ARM and/or RM: entity type (weak and strong), n-ary relationship, attribute, basic cardinality constraints (0‥n, 0‥1, 1, 1‥n) and identifier, entity type subsumption, disjointness, and covering/total. The remaining EER features, such as higher number restrictions (e.g., 2‥4) and multivalued attributes, are generally transferred directly into the physical schema only (if at all), and this “feature gap” is thus not an issue specific to this architecture with the ARM, so therefore acceptable to set aside. A good fit regarding the desired features list is [33] of the Description Logics family, but it is ExpTime-complete in subsumption reasoning. A disadvantage of is that does not have tools, and therefore users are likely to turn to OWL 2 DL [15] or a fragment thereof [34] and one of the DL reasoners thanks to their ample tooling support, despite the feature mismatch (among others, no n-aries, no multiattribute identifiers). KnowID as approach permits either. For better performance, one could drop covering/total and use [24], which is in PTime. Others, notably those in the computationally better behaved DL-Lite family [35], have logic-based reconstructions of EER (e.g., [35]), but have even fewer features at a modeler's disposal. Because the classification reasoning task is separated from querying and can be done “offline” (i.e., not at runtime), there is no need to opt for the low expressiveness.

Regarding step 4, the notion of materializing deductions is not new and was a feature in an earlier version of the Protégé ontology development environment [36]; e.g., if A ISA B is deduced but not asserted in the EER diagram, one adds that explicitly, even though it is “redundant” because implicitly present. The advantage of materializing all the deductions at the knowledge layer, is that then that reasoning service is not needed anymore at runtime, saving processing time. We deem this an acceptable approach, since a conceptual model or ontology does not change very frequently. Regarding the deductions, in OWA they are not the same as in CWA, but in the research on reasoning over conceptual models, this difference is widely ignored (i.e., de facto accepted that there is no good alternative). Here, we follow that same approach for this not-at-runtime step. Note that this does not affect the CWA behavior that users expect during interaction with the system, because it is effectively “closed off” with this fourth step.

5.3 Flexibility in KnowID's Data Layer

The KnowID architecture presented in Figure 3 has a box labelled “Database schema(s) S” and only one RM listed. This is because, practically, there may be an SQL federator at the database schema layer to provide a global schema at the implementation level, as is possible with OBDA systems as well. Such a federator may deliver an RM as global view, which is, for both the basic ARM+SQLP, and thus also the here proposed KnowID, the starting point for the principal novelties that make up KnowID. Therefore, the data storage component of KnowID as architecture, is as flexible as current theories, techniques, and tools for relational database systems and any other data storage that can be queried directly or indirectly with SQL.

Secondly, the ARM+SQLP component within KnowID in Figure 3 includes a Data completion step that uses the data and an ARM (which also could be the formalized EER diagram that uses constraints supported in the EER-to-ARM conversion). Data completion, informally, means that the deductions are computed first and then materialized in the database. Let us return to Example 1 to illustrate this process and how it operates within KnowID.

Example 5.To recall, the database storesIndividualCustomerJoanneand the conceptual data model or ontology containsIndividualCustomerCustomer.The data completion process fires an algorithm that checks the data against the knowledge. In this case, it is alike:

  1. Observation: there is an instance ofIndividualCustomer, being {Joanne}, which is declared in the database tableIndividualCustomer.

  2. Action: use the schema-to-RM-to-ARM transformation logs to look up what the corresponding relation in the ARM model says aboutIndividualCustomer.

  3. Observation: it is aCustomer, as can be read in the constraintisa Customerthat is declared in theIndividualCustomerrelation.

  4. Action: deduce that the instances ofIndividualCustomerare also instances ofCustomer, availing of the semantics of theisaconstraint in the ARM specification.

  5. Action: use the ARM-to-RM-to-schema transformation log to then append theCustomertable (originally generated fromCustomer) withCustomerJoanne〉.

Now the answer to “list all customers” will be, indeed, {Joanne}, as one would expect from human understanding.

There are trade-offs between this data completion approach and query rewriting on-the-fly that is typically incorporated in the KD architecture. Determining which one is the best option for a particular application, depends on the frequency of updates, whether any optimizations are used in the data completion stage (e.g., incrementally [37]), and the tolerance for errors due to out-of-dateness of the data. If there are (near) continuous updates, data completion tends to be costly because it keeps re-computing and storing the implied assertions, but if that is not continuous or an incremental approach to data completion can be taken [37], it is favored over costly query rewriting, which is exponential in the size of the query [38] compared to data growing only polynomially in the size of the data for the queries [39], although this polynomial blowup in the data may still be unacceptable for large data sets. Optimization of rematerialization after updates in the conceptual model is another aspect that must be addressed in future works.

Finally, one could take the SQL result and use R2RML [40] or similar [41] to generate RDF triples from it so as to integrate it with a Web-based knowledge graph, which is already possible with the KD and KD approaches.

6. EVALUATION

We have conducted evaluations of KnowID in two different ways:

  • Proof-of-concept implementation of the transformation rules;

  • Comparison against OBDA (KD) as main contender, as well as KD and DK; which are dealt with consecutively in the remainder of this section.

The aim of the evaluation with a proof-of-concept tool was to ascertain experimentally whether the transformation rules were indeed correct, using test models in EER and ARM to cover all cases. A preliminary flexible tool was designed and implemented, which takes EER and ARM diagrams serialized in JSON, transforms them at the back-end into an array, applies the relevant transformation rules, and returns an ARM or EER diagram and a log file with the record of the transformation (see Figure 5) [42]; the code, some examples, and a few screenshots are available at http://www.meteck.org/KnowID.html. In total, 83 tests were run with the latest version. They were designed such that they would be covering all rules as well as unsupported features to verify it would reject those in the transformation. It showed that the transformation rules defined in Section 4 are indeed concise and correct. It also made clear that some aspects of the transformation are easier algorithmically when stated more explicitly in the serialization of the models. A notable example of that is the isa constraint (rule III in Section 4.2) when taken in the context of computing disjointness among the ARM relations (rule VI in Section 4.2): a brute-force computation among all pathfd constraints to self with a simple foreign key check is easier to implement than unpacking the isa shorthand notation.

Figure 5.

Overview of the KnowID transformation tool architecture.

Figure 5.

Overview of the KnowID transformation tool architecture.

We investigated the possibility of an experimental evaluation of KnowID against an instance of KD (OBDA), such as Ontop, on performance of one or more tasks. Aside from any implementation optimizations, from the respective architectures, the variables determining overall complexity (recall Table 1), and their strengths, it is easy to construct a set-up that is guaranteed to have one or the other win on performance. Therefore, the aim of the comparison evaluation presented here is to highlight those crucial factors for a knowledge-to-data system that will make one or the other win when actual instances are compared, i.e., looking at practical consequences of the theoretical generic differences. The three key factors are:

  1. Stability of the data: Do they (i) continuously change a lot throughout the database or (ii) intermittently, rarely, or append-only?

  2. Stability of the schemas: Do they (i) remain unchanged once the system is set up or (ii) will they have to change based on changing business needs and usage optimizations?

  3. Type of queries posed over the data: Are they (i) at most (unions of) conjunctive queries (UCQs) or (ii) also other types of SQL queries (with or without paths)?

If the data change continuously, the schemas remain stable, and one needs at most UCQs, then OBDA will be the winner, whereas for intermittent, rarely, or append-only data updates and UCQs+any other SQL (or SQLP) query, KnowID will win (irrespective of schema stability). The reasons for this outcome are as follows. With many database updates, KnowID will take up many resources to keep recomputing the data completion, which is not an issue for OBDA because it does those inferences on-the-fly for that query only. While those on-the-fly inferences are computationally costly, there is a tipping point where it outperforms the data completion approach in praxis (recall Section 5.3). For the type of queries, it would be easy to construct a list of user queries for evaluation that includes queries that are not UCQs, on which OBDA thus fails outright and KnowID wins since it supports full SQL and thus certainly will obtain a 100% pass rate on the user queries. Finally, creating the mapping layer in OBDA is resource-intensive with a human-in-the-loop, and hence, time consuming to maintain when there are changes to either the ontology or the database schema. Conversely, the transformations in KnowID are computed automatically and simply can be recomputed on-the-fly in the face of changes, be they change conceptually or in the implementation, since the transformation algorithms are specified in both directions.

Configuring experiments to pit KnowID against the other two approaches mentioned in Section 2.1, KD with OWL and DK with OntoMIND, also would be easy to make one or the other win, but for different reasons. It is well-known that KD with only an OWL file already shows noticeable performance degradation when there 10s or 100s of individuals declared in the ontology (depending on the axioms), which is precisely the reason for devising the other architectures; or: this is no real contest. The DK implementations typically have no reasoning component, so a query that requires it will lose against KnowID due to returning fewer tuples than logically implied (recall {} vs. {Joanne} from Example 1). The one DK system that has some form of reasoning with triggers and stored procedures, OntoMIND [7], does not support n-aries and cardinalities in its ontology language (DL-Liteℛ,⊓), and also uses data completion. Since DL-Liteℛ,⊓ is a fragment of our language for EER, and hence, there is less to compute both in the conceptual model and in the data completion process, it should be faster but also retrieve fewer tuples than it ought to on carefully constructed queries.

Overall, KnowID as an instantiation of DK evaluates positively against KD and DK in the light of the knowledge-to-data pipeline in any case, and, depending on the characteristics of the prospective implementation, positively against KD as well.

7. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK

The paper presented a novel “knowledge to data” pipeline, called KnowID, that combines new transformation rules between EER and the Abstract Relational Model with recently proposed components for the data, information, and query components. KnowID's main distinctive features are that runtime use can avail of the closed world assumption with an RDBMS, relational and abstract relational model, and EER as declarative specifications and full SQL with path queries for expressive compact queries formulated over the knowledge.

We are currently investigating the solution space of implementing the transformation rules as a first step toward realizing KnowID as a usable and scalable software system. With the rules having been verified working in the implementation, we are considering multiple usage scenarios, such as the graphical interfaces for both the conceptual model or ontology and an ARM model, usability and human readability of the transformation log in anticipation of knowledge-based querying with SQLP, and compatibility with other tooling infrastructures. The current code and examples are, and anticipated updates will become, available from http://www.meteck.org/KnowID.html.

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

P.R. Fillottrani (prf@cs.uns.edu.ar) and C.M. Keet (mkeet@cs.uct.ac.za) jointly developed the theory. C.M. Keet coordinated the writing of the manuscript and devised the examples. Both authors have made meaningful and valuable contributions in revising and proofreading the resulting manuscript.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We thank David Toman for feedback on an earlier draft. We also thank the 20 students of the 7 capstone projects for exploring the solution space in implementing the transformation rules.

Notes

e.g., with data {〈Joanne, PhD〉, 〈John, MSc〉} and a query “who doesn't have a PhD?”, the answer under OWA would be {} and under CWA, it would be {John} because absence is treated as negation.

Theoretically, conceptual data models are different from ontologies, largely due to the fact that the former is meant to be application-dependent and the latter application-independent, which affects their respective contents (see [12] for detail and examples). Practically, the artefacts developed constitute more of a continuum due to the mixing of modeling styles in some ontologies that make them more like application-specific artefacts [13] as well as generalizing conceptual models into reusable enterprise models that resemble ontology design patterns. It is outside the scope of this paper to dwell on these details.

Observe that this essentially an abstract, implementation-independent, rendering of the syntax for SQL's CREATE TABLE command.

There may be more than one of those pathfds specified, meaning that they are all candidate keys; in that case, the referring expressions machinery described in [9] resolves this to selecting the appropriate one automatically, which is assumed resolved here. Note that cycles are avoided by definition of the referring expression types (Definition 3 in [9]).

For this process to be well-founded, a dependency graph with all T has to be built.

Some of the Ri may not be strong, so a dependency graph must be constructed in order for this step to be well-founded.

The question of what would constitute the best interface for user interaction is a separate line of research; we merely want to indicate that it is possible to change the display.

The display of a visual query may look different for an end-user depending on the chosen user interface.

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