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ROBOT is licensed under the
BSD 3-Clause License.
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  1. Overview
  2. Logical Validation
  3. Equivalent Classes (--equivalent-classes-allowed)
  4. Generated Axioms(--axiom-generators)


One of the main benefits of working with OWL is the availability of powerful automated reasoners. Reasoning involves two steps: logical validation (described in detail below) and automatic classification. Automatic classification involves asserting all inferred superclasses.

There are several reasoners available, and each has different capabilities and characteristics. For this example we’ll be using ELK, a very fast reasoner that supports the EL subset of OWL 2.

robot reason --reasoner ELK \
  --input ribosome.owl \
  --output results/reasoned.owl

It’s also possible to place the new inferences in their own ontology with --create-new-ontology true:

robot reason --reasoner ELK \
  --create-new-ontology true \
  --input ribosome.owl \
  --output results/new_axioms.owl

Using --create-new-ontology-with-annotations true will place the inferences in their own ontology, along with their annotations (e.g. labels, definitions, etc.).

Sometimes it is important to know which axioms were inferred (designated by an axiom annotation “is_inferred true”):

robot reason --reasoner ELK \
  --annotate-inferred-axioms true \
  --input ribosome.owl \
  --output results/reasoned.owl

Finally, reason includes two more options to help clean the reasoned output:

If no --reasoner is provided, ROBOT will default to ELK. The following other reasoner options are supported:

Logical Validation

ROBOT will always perform a logical validation check prior to automatic classification. Formally, this is known as testing for incoherency, i.e. the presence of either a logical inconsistency or unsatisfiable classes. If either of these hold true, the reason operation will fail and robot will exit with a non-zero code, after reporting the problematic classes.

You can perform detailed debugging using an environment like Protege - load the ontology, switch on the reasoner and use the explain feature. For example, if you have unsatisfiable classes, find one of them (they should show up red) and click on the ? where it says EquivalentTo Nothing.

If you are working on a large complex ontology with multiple imports and you encounter unsatisfiable classes during the release, you can make a minimal ontology for debugging purposes using the -D (--dump-unsatisfiable) option followed by an output file path. This will find all unsatisfiable classes and use the extract operation to create a debug module.

robot reason --reasoner ELK \
  --input incoherent-tbox.owl \
  -D results/debug.owl

If the input module contains at least one import, axioms in the debug module will be tagged with the source ontology, to assist in debugging.

Equivalent Class Axioms

By default, ROBOT ignores one-to-one equivalent classes (e.g. A EquivalentTo B). But, in many cases, inferring equivalence between two classes is usually a sign that something has gone wrong.

Sometimes we want to avoid equivalence between named classes at all (in the case of OBO, where we strive for orthogonality). This can be done through --equivalent-classes-allowed <arg> (shorthand -e).

The <arg> options are:

Excluding tautologies

A tautology is an axiom that would be true in any ontology, i.e., it’s just a given due to the semantics of OWL. For example, every class is a subclass of owl:Thing; it is not generally useful for an ontology to explicitly state this. Some reasoners may however include these kinds of statements as part of their output. The ROBOT reason command provides an option for filtering out tautologies generated by the reasoning process: --exclude-tautologies <arg>.

The options for <arg> are:

Generated Axioms

By default, the reason operation will only assert inferred subclass axioms. This can be configured with the --axiom-generators option. OWLAPI provides the following inferred axiom generators:

One or more of these axiom generators can be passed into the option (separated by spaces). For example, to generate both subclass and disjoint class axioms:

robot reason --input unreasoned.owl
  --axiom-generators "SubClass DisjointClasses"
  --output reasoned.owl

Note that for some of the axiom generators you may need the Hermit reasoner to get meaningful results:

robot reason --input ro-base.owl --reasoner hermit
  --axiom-generators "ObjectPropertyRange ObjectPropertyDomain"
  --output results/ro-base-reasoned.owl

If you are only passing one axiom generator, it does not need to be surrounded by double quotes.

The axioms that are generated for subclasses, class assertions, and sub-object properties can be either direct or indirect. By default, the operation will only generate direct axioms (--include-indirect false). It is recommended to pipe to reduce after to remove any redundant axioms. For example, to generate all direct and indirect superclass expressions:

robot reason --input unreasoned.owl
  --reasoner emr
  --include-indirect true
  reduce --output reasoned.owl

Error Messages

Axiom Generator Error

The input for the --axiom-generators option must be one or more space-separated valid axiom generators, listed above.

Create Ontology Error

You must select between --create-new-ontology-with-annotations (-m) and --create-new-ontology (-n). Both cannot be passed in as true to one reason command, as they have opposite results.

Equivalent Class Axiom Error

ROBOT has been configured to not allow one-to-one equivalent classes (--equivalent-classes-allowed none or --equivalent-classes-allowed asserted-only) and one or more equivalency has been detected. Either remove the axiom(s) causing the equivalence axiom(s), or run reason with --equivalent-classes-allowed none. More details here.

Equivalent Classes Option Error

The argument for --equivalent-classes-allowed must be one of: true, false, all, none, or asserted-only. See Equivalent Class Axioms for more details.