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The Empusa code generator


During the development of the GBOL ontology it became increasingly more difficult to handle the changes made in the ontology. We had developed RDF2Graph in the past to reveal the structure of a semantic database but was only sufficient once a database was created. To enforce parsers to cohere to the ontology we required a more advanced solution in the form of an API generator based on an ontology.

To manage the large variety of properties and classes in an easy to use format we have developed Empusa as part of the GBOL Stack. Empusa is a java application which converts OWL/Shex like ontologies into an API for Java and R + an ontology website.

As an example, for the GBOL ontology, alone empusa generates from a 4000 line ontology a JAVA api of 50.000 lines, R api of 12.000 lines and an OWL and ShExC file of 12.044 and 3202 lines and this website you are currently viewing.

The input file for Empusa is a combination between OWL and a simplified version of ShEx, which can be edited within for example Protégé.

The classes are defined in OWL, whereas the properties are defined in each class under the annotation property ‘propertyDefinitions’ encoded within a simplified format of the ShEx standard.

Additionally, predefined value sets (for example all article types) can be defined by adding a value set to the EnumeratedValues class. Each subclass of the value set is represented as one element within the value set.

All together Empusa shortens the development cycle, eases the development, consistency and maintenance of GBOL and its associated framework as it generates all the elements from one single entity.

Cite this article

Dam, J.C.J., Koehorst, J.J., Vik, J.O. et al. The Empusa code generator and its application to GBOL, an extendable ontology for genome annotation. Sci Data 6, 254 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41597-019-0263-7

Obtaining Empusa


The Empusa code generator can be obtained from here. The EmpusaCodeGen.jar can be directly used to convert a defined OWL/Shex ontology into the corresponding API / Shex / OWL / Documentation files.

Code base (Advanced)

If you are interested in the further development of Empusa you can access the code base and the various modules at:

The application can be installed through the following command which is located in the folder obtained.

./ install 

Getting started

Empusa input files

Empusa requires an ontolgoy as input. The ontology or input file needs to be written in a combination of OWL/Shex. Structural examples of this files are given below. This files can be generated using Protégé.

Example input files

An example of an ontology project can be found at:

And to obtain it through git you can run the following command:

git clone

There is one ontology (turtle) file located in this cloned project: example-ontology.ttl. We used Protégé to create this file and can be easily opened with Protégé.

In the following image an overview of the example ontology is given.

Example ontology

The root of the ontology is an owl:Thing in which all the other subclasses are defined in.

An important class for the API is the EnumeratedValues. Within this class a limited selection for a specific property can be defined. For example if a class has the property country it should be defined as:

#* The country 
country type::Country;

This makes sure that the predicate country can only be chosen from the list of countries available in the value set Country. This to ensure strict coherence to an accepted naming scheme.

Linking to other classess can be done via

bibo:presents @bibo:Document*;
bibo:organizer @foaf:Agent*;
bibo:place xsd:string*;

In which the @bibo:Document points to the Document class located under Literature in the same ontology file and the organizer points to an Agent class. The @bibo: makes use of the predefined prefixes in which bibo corresponds to

To define other types such as string, integer, date, etc... the following way of writing is used:

bibo:shortTitle xsd:string?;
dc:created xsd:date?;
bibo:numPages xsd:integer?;

To restrict the number of values a specific predicate can have (cardinality), the * ? + = ~ symbols are used where * denotes 0..N, ? 0..1, + 1..N. The = and ~ sign can be used to define the references be stored as an ordered list to ensure that the elements are numbered.

A more complex example is the GBOL ontology, that can be found in the file gbol-ontology.ttl in the GBOL git directory.

Generating the API

Once you have defined (a part of) your ontology, Empusa can be used to generate the API. This is achieved through the EmpusaCodeGen.jar.

java -jar EmpusaCodeGen.jar

The following options are required: [-o | -output], [-i | -input]
Usage: <main class> [options]

    -rg, -RDF2Graph
      File to write RDF2Graph file
    -r, -Routput
      The directory into which the R project should be generated
    -sC, -ShExC
      Generate ShExC file
    -sR, -ShExR
      Generate ShExR file
      Generate a documentation page
    -eb, -excludeBaseFiles
      Do not overwrite the base project and pom files
      Default: false
  * -i, -input
      The additional file followed by the ontology to use
      Generate json framing file
  * -o, -output
      The directory into which the project should be generated
      Generate official OWL file
    -sNP, -skipNarrowingProperties
      RDF2Graph export skip property already defined in parent class
      Default: false

  * required parameter

For example, to build the API associated to the Example ontology discussed above, the following command is to be used:

java -jar EmpusaCodeGen.jar -i ExampleAdditional.ttl -i example-ontology.ttl -o ./MyJavaApi -owl ./file.owl -ShExC ./file.shex

This creates a MyJavaApi folder in which all the source code files and gradle build files are located. You can immediately compile the java code into a jar package such that you can more easily integrate this as a dependency on an existing code base using the install script provided.

cd ./MyJavaApi && ./

The API Usage and examples section provides examples on how to use the API.