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Expressiveness of SHACL Features

Authors Bart Bogaerts , Maxime Jakubowski , Jan Van den Bussche

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Author Details

Bart Bogaerts
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Maxime Jakubowski
  • Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium
Jan Van den Bussche
  • Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, Belgium


We thank Dörthe Arndt for inspiring discussions.

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Bart Bogaerts, Maxime Jakubowski, and Jan Van den Bussche. Expressiveness of SHACL Features. In 25th International Conference on Database Theory (ICDT 2022). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 220, pp. 15:1-15:16, Schloss Dagstuhl - Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2022)


SHACL is a W3C-proposed schema language for expressing structural constraints on RDF graphs. Recent work on formalizing this language has revealed a striking relationship to description logics. SHACL expressions can use four fundamental features that are not so common in description logics. These features are zero-or-one path expressions; equality tests; disjointness tests; and closure constraints. Moreover, SHACL is peculiar in allowing only a restricted form of expressions (so-called targets) on the left-hand side of inclusion constraints. The goal of this paper is to obtain a clear picture of the impact and expressiveness of these features and restrictions. We show that each of the four features is primitive: using the feature, one can express boolean queries that are not expressible without using the feature. We also show that the restriction that SHACL imposes on allowed targets is inessential, as long as closure constraints are not used.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Information systems → Semantic web description languages
  • Information systems → Query languages
  • Theory of computation → Description logics
  • Theory of computation → Finite Model Theory
  • Expressive power
  • schema languages


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