Tabulator does N3

In my podcasted chat with Danny Ayers the other day I said that Tabulator doesn’t support N3, the highly readable RDF serialization syntax developed by Tim Berners-Lee.

It turns out I was wrong. I thought Tabulator supported RDF/XML only. But it turns out Tabulator has excellent support for N3 as well. I’m not sure how I managed to miss this. Seems like the Tab’r team sneaked that feature in while no one (or at least I) was not looking!

To make Tabulator eat your N3, you just have to make sure it’s served with the right content type: text/rdf+n3. If you publish N3, you can test this by installing cURL (see my earlier cURL for SemWebbers tutorial) and running:

curl -I ""

If your server is set up correctly, then the output contains a line like this:

Content-Type: text/rdf+n3; charset=utf-8

If you see e.g. text/plain instead, then your server is misconfigured. If you serve static files with Apache, you can fix this by adding this line to your Apache’s httpd.conf file or to a file called .htaccess in your DocumentRoot:

AddType text/rdf+n3;charset=utf-8 .n3

And then make sure that your filenames end in .n3.

Actually, this is really good news. As far as I’m concerned, the Tabulator Firefox extension, being the most readily accessible Semantic Web client currently out there, defines what is on the Semantic Web and what isn’t. If you can’t browse it in Tabulator, then it isn’t. (Insert caveat about RDFa and SPARQL here, which Tabulator probably will support in the future.)

I really like N3, because it is a much friendlier format than the alternative RDF/XML. It is very easy to read, generate, and even hand-write. More so than, say, JSON. A Semantic Web built on N3 would be a much nicer place than a Semantic Web built on RDF/XML. Tool support for N3 is still not quite as good as for RDF/XML, but we are getting there.

So, what does this mean in practice?

  1. Do you develop or maintain an application that consumes RDF from the Web? If you do, then you should make sure that it understands both RDF/XML and N3.
  2. Do you develop or maintain a library, framework or API that can load and parse RDF from the Web, from a URI? If you do, then you should make sure that it invokes the right parser, depending on the Content-Type header of the response. This should happen completely transparently from your users’ point of view.
  3. Do you author educational material, tutorials or slides that use RDF in examples? Do your audience a favor and do them in N3, not RDF/XML!
  4. If you already produce RDF/XML, as an information publisher, you shouldn’t worry. RDF-aware clients won’t stop supporting RDF/XML.

Making these things happen in the tools and documents that I myself maintain will be quite a bit of work. But I think it’s worth it. N3 is a bit like the old days of HTML, you can actually view source and understand what’s going on. N3 is the human-friendly way of writing RDF.

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6 Responses to Tabulator does N3

  1. Nice post! I’m writing up a follow up, but a quick observation: Tabulator’s website mentions it requires application/rdf+xml, not text/rdf+xml. But that .htaccess tip is oh so useful!

  2. Arghh… mixed things up: text is for N3, application for RDF/XML. Sorry!

  3. Graham Higgins says:

    “N3 […] is a much friendlier format”, “N3 is the human-friendly way of writing RDF.”

    I’ve seen this claim made several times but I’ve failed to discover any references to empirical support. Do you have any pointers to relevant work?

  4. Graham, just try it. That will be sufficient empirical support to convince you.

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  6. Aftab Iqbal says:

    Nice Post, Tabulator is a great tool to browse RDF data on the web