Semantic MediaWiki 1.6 released!

That’s right, the next big release of Semantic MediaWiki is finally here! :) A little over a year and six minor releases after SMW 1.5. And a big release it is, packing my improvements and several new features. It has been in the making over the past four months and contains contributions by many people. So let’s have a look at all the new awesomeness :)

Support for RDF triplestores

Full support added for storing SMW data directly within an RDF triplestore, and for answering #ask queries based on this data. The communication happens via SPARQL (1.1), and all SPARQL-capable stores should be supported. The following settings are needed in LocalSettings.php:

$smwgDefaultStore = ‘SMWSparqlStore’;
$smwgSparqlDatabase = ‘SMWSparqlDatabase’;
// The following should be set to the URLs to reach the store:
$smwgSparqlQueryEndpoint = ‘http://localhost:8080/sparql/’;
$smwgSparqlUpdateEndpoint = ‘http://localhost:8080/update/’;
$smwgSparqlDataEndpoint = ‘http://localhost:8080/data/’; // can be empty

The specific support that SMW used to have for the RAP RDF store has been discontinued.

The Type namespace has been abolished

Builtin types now are displayed by the special page Special:Types, and there are no “custom types” any longer. By default, the Type namespace is gone and existing pages in this namespace can no longer be accessed. This can be changed by setting $smwgHistoricTypeNamespace = true in LocalSettings.php before including SMW.

Changes to units of measurement

Changed the way in which units of measurement work. Type:Number now does not accept any units, and a new type “Quantity” is used for numbers with units. Units must be declared on the property page (not on the Type page as before), and only units that have a declared conversion factor are accepted.

Type:Record changes

The declaration of Type:Record properties has changed. Instead of a list of datatypes, the declaration now requires a list of properties that are to be used for the fields of the record. The declaration is still done with the property “has fields” as before. Properties must not be used more than once in has_fields, or the order of values will be random.

Reworked internal data model

Reworked internal data model, cleaning up and re-implementing SMWDataValue and all of its subclasses, and introducing new data item classes to handle data. The class SMWCompatibilityHelpers provides temporary help for extensions that still depend on the old format and APIs.

This change is very important compatibility wise, as it removes support for some older behavior and deprecates a bunch more. Older versions of a lot of SMW extensions will not work with SMW 1.6. However, since 1.6 has been in the making for quite some time, most, if not all, of these extensions have released one or more versions that work just fine with 1.6. So if you stick with the latest releases, you should be good.

There are already 2 SMW extensions that now require SMW version 1.6 or later: Semantic Maps 1.0 and the new kid in town: Semantic Watchlist (see Semantic Watchlist release post).

Result formats make use of Validator

Semantic MediaWiki now makes use of the Validator extension to handle parameters passed to result printers. This opens the door to numerous awesome new functionality. For one, it allows for better parameter error feedback to the user. In SMW < 1.6 when you enter a text value for a numeric parameter, it’ll simple be ignored (without giving any warning). With this new approach the user will get a warning along the lines of “The value ‘foobar’ is not valid for parameter limit, it must be an integer.”. Another advantage of using Validator here is that the query argument GUI on Special:Ask can show more fitting controls and display default values. A third win, is that writing new query printers has now become easier, as you just have to specify the parameters they should accept, and then don’t have to bother with cleaning, validating and formatting them. Further things that can be done with this in the future are automatic generation of documentation per result format, which would be a huge improvement over the current documentation and smarter behavior (such as autocompletion and live validation) in interfaces where the values for these parameters can be specified.

New DSV format

I added a new result format to SMW that outputs data as UNIX-style Delimiter Separated Values. For those not familiar with the differences between DSV and CSV (which was already supported), it comes down to sane escaping of the delimiter characters. Instead of the weird and hard to parse approach taken in CSV, the familiar backlashing technique is used in DSV. You can use this format by adding “format=dsv” to any ask query.

New API module for version info

This is a very small feature I added geared towards developers and the SMW registry tool in particular; it has not relevance to regular end users. Up until now the SMW registry tool obtained info about SMW installs by scraping Special:Version, which is a HTML page intended for humans to look at, and by scraping Special:SemanticStatistics, which is also a HTML page. Now the info provided by these pages and used by the SMW registry, ie the version of SMW and the number of properties, users and pages, can be obtained via the MediaWiki API using action=smwinfo.

New smwdoc parser hook

Similar to the new API module, this new parser hook is not geared to most end users, but rather to documenters and site admins. This hook utilizes Validators auto documentation capabilities to display tables with parameter info, such as name, type, default value and description, for a specified result format. It’s in essence a result format oriented  version of Validators more general purpose describe parser hook. As soon as the SMW documentation wiki updates to 1.6, it’ll be possible to use this hook to fill part of the documentation gap there unfortunately is.

Some noteworthy fixes

  • PostgreSQL support
  • Output issues in the JSON result format

I’m probably forgetting others here :)


Do note that as of this release, SMW requires Validator, which is included in the release packages, but obviously needs to be obtained separately when checking out with SVN.

What’s next?

Devayon Das, a Google Summer of Code student, mentored by Markus Krötzsch, is working on improving the search and browse interfaces of SMW (read all about it here). This work will probably end up in one of the upcoming 1.6.x releases. I’d also like to make some improvements to the automatic documentation generation via the smwdoc parser hook by the next release, mainly focusing on internationalization. I’m not aware of any other concrete plans to make changes to SMW itself for now. There are many things that can be done, and several projects that are being looked at, but only time will tell which of these get any traction.

In any case, if you are interested in the future of SMW, I definitely recommend attending SMWCon, the SMW event that’s held once a year in both the US and the EU. The next one will take place from September 21st to September the 23rd, in Berlin, Germany.

More frequent updates

In an effort to provide the community with more frequent updates on the status of SMW development and other news, a Twitter and an account have been set up. You can follow these to stay up to date on the latest SMW developments :)

Further info

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