Learning SPARQL by Bob Ducharme

Learning SPARQLI really like an instruc­tional book that begins with “Chapter2 provides some back­ground on RDF, the semantic web, and where SPARQL fits in, but before going into that, let’s start with bit of hands-on exper­i­ence writ­ing and run­ning SPARQL quer­ies to keep the back­ground part from look­ing too the­or­et­ical.” Great decision — great start. I appre­ci­ate this approach to learn­ing by doing and Learn­ing SPARQL by Bob Duch­arme adopts this gen­eral approach through this volume.

At the out­set I will admit that what I know about SPARQL is that it vagu­ley resembles SQL and allows one to query RDF and plunge into the won­der­ful world of linked data. At our Sum­mer School a few weeks back we had a great intro­duc­tion to linked data by Owen Con­lan and Alex O’Connor that had us play­ing with SPARQL through the snorql web inter­face to dbPe­dia. Fun and no sur­prise this same heads first example shows up in the first chapter.


Chapter 2 does indeed delve into a more the­or­et­ical dis­cus­sion of RDF, the semantic web and the glor­i­ous prom­ise of linked data. The dis­cus­sion is through and well presen­ted and a superb intro­duc­tion to basic prin­ciples extend­ing into an advanced under­stand­ing. It provides clear and thor­ough present­a­tion of neces­sary con­cepts and provides all the basis to under­stand why and to approach SPARQL.

Sub­sequent chapters work deeper into the mech­an­ics of SPAQRL using extens­ive samples and also address­ing poten­tial pit­falls. The sense is that you are work­ing along with a sub­ject mat­ter expert that will let you play and do it your­self, make mis­takes and then work with you to work through them.

The real­ity is SPARQL of course if not for every­one and increas­ingly GUI web ser­vices provide much of the mech­an­ics and the backend heavy lift­ing allow­ing most cas­ual users to not need to hand code quer­ies. How­ever, know­ledge of the cap­ab­il­it­ies of the lan­guage and some of the lim­it­a­tions is of great value to novices in ima­gin­ing their research ques­tions and appre­ci­at­ing the bounds of what ques­tions the data may be cap­able of answering.

This volume is not inten­ded for the faint hearted how­ever. A cas­ual user of wiki­pe­dia with no pro­gram­ming exper­i­ence may find a chal­lenge in appre­ci­at­ing data struc­ture and archi­tec­ture and the the rudi­ments of a SQL like query lan­guage. Those work­ing with XML and XPATH and com­fort­able in a data archi­tec­ture envir­on­ment will be extremely well served by this volume as it com­pre­hens­ively leads one through the why and where­fore of SPARQL and provides a through ground­ing in the vocab­u­lary and prac­tice of employ­ing SPARQL to start to bene­fit from the grow­ing world of Linked Data.


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