Tools to Manipulate and Query Semantic Data

The Resource Description Framework, or 'RDF' is a widely used data representation model that forms the cornerstone of the Semantic Web. 'RDF' represents data as a graph rather than the familiar data table or rectangle of relational databases. The 'rdflib' package provides a friendly and concise user interface for performing common tasks on 'RDF' data, such as reading, writing and converting between the various serializations of 'RDF' data, including 'rdfxml', 'turtle', 'nquads', 'ntriples', and 'json-ld'; creating new 'RDF' graphs, and performing graph queries using 'SPARQL'. This package wraps the low level 'redland' R package which provides direct bindings to the 'redland' C library. Additionally, the package supports the newer and more developer friendly 'JSON-LD' format through the 'jsonld' package. The package interface takes inspiration from the Python 'rdflib' library.

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A friendly and consise user interface for performing common tasks on rdf data, such as parsing and converting between formats including rdfxml, turtle, nquads, ntriples, and trig, creating rdf graphs, and performing SPARQL queries. This package wraps the redland R package which provides direct bindings to the redland C library. Additionally, the package supports parsing and serialization of rdf into json-ld through the json-ld package, which binds the official json-ld javascript API. The package interface takes inspiration from the Python rdflib library.


You can install rdflib from GitHub with:

# install.packages("devtools")

Basic use

While not required, rdflib is designed to play nicely with %>% pipes, so we will load the magrittr package as well:


Parse a file and serialize into a different format:

system.file("extdata/dc.rdf", package="redland") %>%
  rdf_parse() %>%
  rdf_serialize("test.nquads", "nquads")

Perform SPARQL queries:

sparql <-
 'PREFIX dc: <>
  SELECT ?a ?c
  WHERE { ?a dc:creator ?c . }'
system.file("extdata/dc.rdf", package="redland") %>%
rdf_parse() %>%
#> # A tibble: 1 x 2
#>   a                      c           
#>   <chr>                  <chr>       
#> 1 Dave Beckett

Initialize graph a new object or add triples statements to an existing graph:

x <- rdf()
x <- rdf_add(x, 
#> <> <> "en" .

Change the default display format (nquads) for graph objects:

options(rdf_print_format = "jsonld")
#> {
#>   "@id": "",
#>   "": "en"
#> }


We can also work with the JSON-LD format through additional functions provided in the R package, jsonld.

out <- tempfile()
rdf_serialize(x, out, "jsonld")
rdf_parse(out, format = "jsonld")
#> {
#>   "@id": "",
#>   "": "en"
#> }

For more information on the JSON-LD RDF API, see

Citing rdflib

Please also cite the underlying redland library when citing rdflib

Boettiger C (2018). rdflib: A high level wrapper around the redland package for common rdf applications. <URL:>.

Jones M, Slaughter P, Ooms J, Boettiger C and Chamberlain S (2016). redland: RDF Library Bindings in R. doi: 10.5063/F1VM496B (URL:, R package version 1.0.17-9, <URL:>.



rdflib 0.1.0 (2018-03-02)

New Features

  • rdf() supports BDB backend for disk-based storage for large triplestores #6
  • rdf_parse() gains an argument rdf to append triples to existing graph
  • adds c() method to concatenate rdf objects
  • Performance improvements make it possible to handle triplestores with millions of triples
  • Two new vignettes better introduce RDF and package functions.

Minor Improvements

  • rdf_query now bypasses the the very slow iteration over getNextResult approach and uses an internal redland function call to access all results at once in csv format.

  • experimental as_rdf method now uses a poor-man's nquad serializer to rapidly generate rdf (instead of slowly iterating over add_rdf).

  • rdf_add argument for object can now take all atomic types (numeric, integer, string, Date, POSIX, logical) and will automatically declare the appropriate datatype_uri if the user has not manually specified this.

  • Numerous improvements to documentation from rOpenSci onboarding feedback, see #9 and #10

  • both functions and unit tests are broken out into separate files in their respective directories.

  • additional example RDF data added in extdata

  • rdf_serialize passes ... arguments to serializeToFile (e.g. to set a baseUri)

Bug Fixes

  • rdf_free() will also remove the object from the parent frame, reducing the potential for crashing R by referring to a freed pointer.
  • fix encoding with UTF-8 characters (coming from nquads & ntriples)
  • rdf_query() now coerces data into appropriate type if it recognizes the data URI and can match that to an R type (a few XMLSchema types are recognized, otherwise still defaults to character string)
  • Memory management: All methods free memory from any temporary objects they initialize, tests free memory. (e.g. parsers, serializers, query, statement)
  • extend unit tests to cover new features, check UTF-8
  • turtle parser/serializer fixed


  • trig support removed (not working in redland without optional libraries and alternative compile configuration)

rdflib 0.0.3 (2018-01-02)

Bug Fixes

  • add
  • add package level documentation
  • set base uri when serializing json-ld to rdf (#5)

rdflib 0.0.2 (2018-01-02)

New Features

  • Added a file to track changes to the package.
  • sparql query returns a data.frame format
  • added a vignette
  • added pkgdown website for vignette

rdflib 0.0.1 (2017-12-09)

  • Initial prototype

Reference manual

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0.2.2 by Carl Boettiger, a month ago

Report a bug at

Browse source code at

Authors: Carl Boettiger [aut, cre, cph] , Bryce Mecum [rev] , Anna Krystalli [rev] , Viktor Senderov [ctb]

Documentation:   PDF Manual  

MIT + file LICENSE license

Imports redland, jsonld, methods, utils, stringi, readr, dplyr, tidyr

Suggests magrittr, covr, testthat, knitr, rmarkdown, jqr, DT, tibble, purrr, lubridate, httr, xml2, jsonlite, repurrrsive, nycflights13, spelling

Suggested by RNeXML.

See at CRAN