The Web Ontology Language (OWL) is a family of knowledge representation languages for authoring ontologies. Ontologies are a formal way to describe taxonomies and classification networks, essentially defining the structure of knowledge for various domains: the nouns representing classes of objects and the verbs representing relations between the objects. Ontologies resemble class hierarchies in object-oriented programming but there are several critical differences. Class hierarchies are meant to represent structures used in source code that evolve fairly slowly (typically monthly revisions) whereas ontologies are meant to represent information on the Internet and are expected to be evolving almost constantly. Similarly, ontologies are typically far more flexible as they are meant to represent information on the Internet coming from all sorts of heterogeneous data sources. Class hierarchies on the other hand are meant to be fairly static and rely on far less diverse and more structured sources of data such as corporate databases.
The OWL languages are characterized by formal semantics. They are built upon the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) XML standard for objects called the Resource Description Framework (RDF). OWL and RDF have attracted significant academic, medical and commercial interest.