ARQ - Property Paths

A property path is a possible route through a graph between two graph nodes.  A trivial case is a property path of length exactly one, which is a triple pattern.

Most property paths are now legal SPARQL 1.1 syntax, there are some advanced property paths which are syntactic extensions and are only available if the query is parsed with language Syntax.syntaxARQ.

Path Language

A property path expression (or just 'path') is similar to a string regular expression but over properties, not characters. ARQ determines all matches of a path expression and binds subject or object as appropriate. Only one match is recorded - no duplicates for any given path expression, although if the path is used in a situation where it's initial points is already repeated in a pattern, then this duplication is preserved.

Path example Meaning
dc:title | rdfs:label Dublin Core title or an RDFS label.
foaf:knows/foaf:name Name of people one "knows" steps away.
foaf:knows/foaf:knows/foaf:name Name of people two "knows" steps away.

In the description below, uri is either a URI or a prefixed name.

Syntax Form Matches
uri A URI or a prefixed name. A path of length one.
^elt Reverse path (object to subject)
(elt) A group path elt, brackets control precedence.
elt1 / elt2 A sequence path of elt1, followed by elt2
elt1 | elt2 A alternative path of elt1, or elt2 (both possibilities are tried)
elt* A path of zero or more occurrences of elt.
elt+ A path of one or more occurrences of elt.
elt? A path of zero or one elt.
!uri A path matching a property which isn't uri (negated property set)
!(uri1|...|uriN) A path matching a property which isn't any of uri1 ... uri (negated property set)

ARQ extensions: to use these you must use Syntax.syntaxARQ

Syntax Form Matches
elt1 ^ elt2 Shorthand for elt1 / ^elt2, that is elt1 followed by reverse elt2.
elt{n,m} A path between n and m occurrences of elt.
elt{n} Exactly n occurrences of elt. A fixed length path.
elt{n,} n or more occurrences of elt.
elt{,n} Between 0 and n occurrences of elt.


  1. URI, prefixed names
  2. Negated property set
  3. Groups
  4. Unary \^ reverse links
  5. Unary operators *, ?, + and {} forms
  6. Binary operators / and \^
  7. Binary operator |

Precedence is left-to-right within groups.

Path Evaluation

Paths are "simple" if they involve only operators / (sequence), \^ (reverse, unary or binary) and the form {n}, for some single integer n. Such paths are fixed length. They are translated to triple patterns by the query compiler and do not require special path-evaluation at runtime.

A path of just a URI is still a single triple pattern.

A path is "complex"  if it involves one or more of the operators *,?, + and {}. Such paths require special evaluation and provide expressivity outside of strict SPARQL because paths can be of variable length. When used with models backed by SQL databases, complex path expressions may take some time.

A path of length zero connects a graph node to itself.

Cycles in paths are possible and are handled.

Paths do not need to be anchored at one end of the other, although this can lead to large numbers of result because the whole graph is searched.

Property functions in paths are only available for simple paths.

Extended Language

This involves is syntactic extension and is available if the query is parsed with language Syntax.syntaxARQ.

Paths can be directly included in the query in the property position of a triple pattern:

PREFIX :     <http://example/>
PREFIX rdf:  <>
PREFIX rdfs: <>

# Find the types of :x, following subClassOf
   :x  rdf:type/rdfs:subClassOf*  ?t


Simple Paths

Find the name of any people that Alice knows.

  ?x foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x foaf:knows/foaf:name ?name .

Find the names of people 2 "foaf:knows" links away.

  ?x foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x foaf:knows/foaf:knows/foaf:name ?name .

This is the same as the strict SPARQL query:

  ?x  foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x  foaf:knows [ foaf:knows [ foaf:name ?name ]].

or, with explicit variables:

  ?x  foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x  foaf:knows ?a1 .
  ?a1 foaf:knows ?a2 .
  ?a2 foaf:name ?name .

Because someone Alice knows may well know Alice, the example above may include Alice herself. This could be avoided with:

{ ?x foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x foaf:knows/foaf:knows ?y .
  FILTER ( ?x != ?y )
  ?y foaf:name ?name

These two are the same query: the second is just reversing the property direction which swaps the roles of subject and object.

{ ?x foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> }

{ <mailto:alice@example> ^foaf:mbox ?x }

Mutual foaf:knows relationships: ?x knows someone who knows ?x

  ?x foaf:knows^foaf:knows ?x .

Negated property sets define matching by naming one or more properties that must not match. Match if there is a triple from ?x to ?y which is not rdf:type.

  ?x !rdf:type ?y .

  ?x !(rdf:type|^rdf:type) ?y .

Only properties and reverse properties are allowed in a negated property set, not a full path expression.

Complex Paths

Find the names of all the people can be reached from Alice by foaf:knows:

  ?x foaf:mbox <mailto:alice@example> .
  ?x foaf:knows+/foaf:name ?name .

Again, because of cycles in foaf:knows relationships, it is likely to include Alice herself.

Some forms of limited inference are possible as well. For example: all types and supertypes of a resource:

{ <http://example/> rdf:type/rdfs:subClassOf* ?type }

All resources and all their inferred types:

{ ?x rdf:type/rdfs:subClassOf* ?type }

A path can parsed, then installed as a property function to be referred to by URI. This way, when the URI is used in the predicate location in a triple pattern, the path expression is evaluated.

Path path = ...
String uri = ...
PathLib.install(uri, path) ;

For example:

Path path = PathParser.parse("rdf:type/rdfs:subClassOf*", PrefixMapping.Standard) ;
String uri = "http://example/ns#myType" ;
PathLib.install(uri, path) ;

and the SPARQL query:

PREFIX : <http://example/>
PREFIX ns: <http://example/ns#>
# Find the types of :x, following subClassOf
SELECT * { :x ns:myType ?t}

This also works with if an existing property is redefined (a URI in a path expression is not interpreted as a property function) so, for example, rdf:type can be redefined as a path that also considers RDFS sub -class relationships. The path is a complex path so the property function for rdf:type is not triggered.

Path path = PathParser.parse("rdf:type/rdfs:subClassOf*", PrefixMapping.Standard) ;
PathLib.install(RDF.type.getURI(), path) ;

ARQ documentation index