Resource Description (Ontology/Schema) Versus Resource Layout (API)

Resource description refers to defining concepts and relationships that represent the content and structure of some subject matter (ontology) or a database (schema) in a formal language. The relationship between ontology and database schema is nuanced – Uschold provides a nice comparison.1 You can formally describe resources using the resource description framework (RDF), SQL’s data definition language (DDL), etc.

Resource layout refers to the arrangement of resources and their relationships for a particular resource-oriented API.2 The layout isn’t intrinsic – it refers to choices regarding what to “lay out”.

Not every conceptual resource needs to “graduate” to be an API resource – some may end their journey at the point of becoming only in-lined data types of other resources (Do you need to atomically interact with a concept?). Hierarchical relationships (i.e. containment/ownership) may make sense when there are cascading actions or inherited access policy / properties.

Resource layout, as a layer on top of resource description, is an opportunity to make the common case awesome – without compromising the feasibility of advanced cases – for a particular application.

This post was adapted from a note sent to my email list on Scientific Data Unification.
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  1. Uschold, M. “Ontology and database schema: What’s the difference?". Applied Ontology, 10(3-4) pp. 243–258, 2015. Based on a talk given in 2011 (slides). ↩︎

  2. Geewax, JJ. API Design Patterns. Manning, 2021. ↩︎